When a head of state who behaves impulsively, and shows little interest in filling in the gaps in his knowledge, becomes commander in chief of the world’s most powerful army, there need to be plenty of safeguards. Yet, after President Donald Trump ordered his generals to bomb Syria and execute naval manoeuvres in Asia, he won the approval of US politicians, Republicans and Democrats alike, as well as almost all the media, including Europe’s. (A French national daily described the strikes on Syria as ‘somehow liberating’ (1).) The 59 missiles fired at an air base in the Middle East turned a president mired in unpopularity, amateurism and nepotism into a determined and sensitive man, unable to contain his humanity on seeing photographs of ‘beautiful babies … cruelly murdered in [a] very barbaric attack.’ The symphony of praise was all the more worrying in a climate of international tension, because Trump loves adulation.
Tag Archives: Media
IN EVERY TYPE of government, nothing unites people behind the leader more quickly, reflexively or reliably than war. Donald Trump now sees how true that is, as the same establishment leaders in U.S. politics and media who have spent months denouncing him as a mentally unstable and inept authoritarian and unprecedented threat to democracy are standing and applauding him as he launches bombs at Syrian government targets.
Trump, on Thursday night, ordered an attack that the Pentagon said included the launching of 59 Tomahawk missiles which “targeted aircraft, hardened aircraft shelters, petroleum and logistical storage, ammunition supply bunkers, air defense systems, and radars.” The governor of Homs, the Syrian province where the attack occurred, said early this morning that the bombs killed seven civilians and wounded nine.
So now we know what it takes for an unhinged, bigoted demagogue to win liberal applause: just bypass a constitution to fire some missiles. It had seemed as though there was consensus among those in the anti-Trump camp. This man was a threat to US democracy and world peace. The echoes of 1930s fascist leaders were frightening. “This republic is in serious danger,” declared conservative writer Andrew Sullivan on the eve of Trump’s triumph. That this megalomaniac “pussy-grabbing” ban-the-Muslims ex-reality TV star would soon control the world’s most lethal military arsenal was chilling. Opposition would be uncompromising, a reflection of the Republican intransigence that Barack Obama faced from day one.It has taken less than three months for these illusions to be shattered. A man widely castigated as a proto-fascist only needed to drop bombs without observing due process.
People who care about truth and facts are up against a lot of challenges these days, from fake news to filter bubbles. But there’s another big problem we can’t ignore: The rise of the pseudo-experts who dominate our airwaves and social networks, offering opinions on subjects they know little to nothing about.To understand the issue, consider the old toothpaste slogan: “Four out of five dentists recommend Colgate.” If you take this claim at face value, it makes sense. Why not survey dentists about toothpaste? They are, after all, in charge of dental care and your overall oral health.
They are cynical about human rights. They don’t like immigrants or the European Union. They want the state to be strong and “defence”, generally, to mean attack. They are, basically, the racist grandad who is going to spoil your Christmas.
These are the people pollsters have labelled “authoritarian populists” and according to YouGov there’s a lot of them. Forty eight per cent of Brits surveyed exhibit some or all of these traits, according to evidence presented by the YouGov Centre Cambridge last week.
There was no real cognitive dissonance existing in the minds of most people in the Soviet Union of the nineteen-seventies and eighties. Everyone knew that everything said on the radio or on television, everything (with the exception of weather reports or sports results) was a blatant lie, spoken pro forma, just because that’s the way things were and had to be: outside, it was dark or light or drizzly or sunny or cold and snowy or pleasantly warm or too hot for comfort—and on the radio and on TV and in newspapers and magazines the untold legions of official-propaganda folks talked about the kind of reality which did not remotely exist in the reality of Soviet people’s lives.
PULITZER PRIZE-WINNING journalist Seymour Hersh said in an interview that he does not believe the U.S. intelligence community proved its case that President Vladimir Putin directed a hacking campaign aimed at securing the election of Donald Trump. He blasted news organizations for lazily broadcasting the assertions of U.S. intelligence officials as established facts.
This is the one thing Donald Trump, Syria’s Bashar al-Assad and President al-Sisi in Egypt have in common
We reporters love crowd figures. The bigger the mob, the better the story. Politicians love them too. The greater the masses, the greater the popularity. Ask not who said: “I’m like, wait a minute. I made a speech. I looked out, the field was, it looked like a million, million and a half people.” Ah, those millions.Back in 2011, the crowds in Tahrir Square were in their hundreds of thousands. A million Egyptians – that’s the figure Al Jazeera went for. Or maybe it was a million and a half people in central Cairo. They helped to overthrow Hosni Mubarak – with the help of the army, of course, the people’s protector. Experts thought 300,000 was the greatest number of Egyptians you could cram into the Tahrir district. But what the hell? It was a revolution.
The nadir of Western media coverage of the wars in Iraq and Syria has been the reporting of the siege of East Aleppo, which began in earnest in July and ended in December, when Syrian government forces took control of the last rebel-held areas and more than 100,000 civilians were evacuated. During the bombardment, TV networks and many newspapers appeared to lose interest in whether any given report was true or false and instead competed with one another to publicise the most eye-catching atrocity story even when there was little evidence that it had taken place. NBC news reported that more than forty civilians had been burned alive by government troops, vaguely sourcing the story to ‘the Arab media’. Another widely publicised story – it made headlines everywhere from the Daily Express to the New York Times – was that twenty women had committed suicide on the same morning to avoid being raped by the arriving soldiers, the source in this case being a well-known insurgent, Abdullah Othman, in a one-sentence quote given to the Daily Beast.
The most credible of these atrocity stories was given worldwide coverage by Rupert Colville, the spokesman for the UN High Commission for Human Rights, who said on 13 December that his agency had received reliable reports that 82 civilians, including 11 women and 13 children, had been killed by pro-government forces in several named locations in East Aleppo. The names of the dead were said to be known. Further inquiries by the UNHCHR in January raised the number of dead to 85, executed over a period of several days. Colville says the perpetrator was not the Syrian army, but two pro-government militia groups – al-Nujabah from Iraq and a Syrian Palestinian group called Liwa al-Quds – whose motives were ‘personal enmity and relatives against relatives’. Asked if there were other reports of civilians being executed in the final weeks of the siege, Colville said there were reports of members of the armed opposition shooting people trying to flee the rebel enclave. The murder of 85 civilians confirmed by multiple sources and the killing of an unknown number of people with bombs and shells were certainly atrocities. But it remains a gross exaggeration to compare the events in East Aleppo – as journalists and politicians on both sides of the Atlantic did in December – with the mass slaughter of 800,000 people in Rwanda in 1994 or more than 7000 in Srebrenica in 1995.
When is a lie not a lie? Recently, the Daily Telegraph reported that university students had demanded that “philosophers such as Plato and Kant” be “removed from [the] syllabus because they are white”. Other outlets followed suit, wringing their hands over the censoriousness of today’s uninquiring young minds. The article generated an extraordinary amount of consternation click bait. Angry responses were written and hot takes were quick-fried and served up by outlets anxious to join the dinner rush of ad-friendly disapproval.
It’s a story that could have been designed to press every outrage button of the political-correctness-gone-mad brigade. It has students trying to ban things, an apparent lack of respect for independent thought and reverse racism. It seemed too good to be true.