When it comes to warmongering, the establishment is united

In reading the news, one would think that the mainstream media and the Trump administration are at loggerheads. But when it comes to warmongering, they are united. Note the strange silence surrounding Seymour Hersh’s reporting about the doubtful evidence that Syria had used sarin gas in the bombing in Idlib, Syria in April. Given that Donald Trump had made the use of that nerve gas as the prime reason for his launching of missiles at a Syrian airbase, you would think that they would have covered the story, even if just to refute it.

Jonathan Cook looks at the story.

One might assume that an alternative narrative of the events would be of great interest to the media, given that Donald Trump approved a military strike on Syria based on the official narrative. Hersh’s version suggests that Trump acted against the intelligence advice he received from his own officials, in a highly dangerous move that not only grossly violated international law but might have dragged Assad’s main ally, Russia, into the fray. The Syrian arena has the potential to trigger a serious confrontation between the world’s two major nuclear powers.

But in fact, the western media were supremely uninterested in the story. Hersh, once considered the journalist’s journalist, went hawking his investigation around the U.S. and UK media to no avail. In the end, he could find a home for his revelations only in Germany, in the publication Welt am Sonntag.

No administration official has responded to Hersh’s story, which gives our media an excuse to ignore it, while at the same time they reported new allegations: one from the administration that Syria was planning to use chemical weapons again, and the other a resurrection of an old report from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) that traces of sarin gas may have been present on some of the victims. Reporting these stories without mentioning Hersh’s revelations that challenge that narrative constitutes journalistic malpractice.

Kevin Drum, a liberal blogger, thinks that there is a more benign reason for the mainstream media ignoring Hersh’s story and that that is because the story lacks credibility and that Hersh is just recycling rumors and stories from the past.

Plus there’s this: the Trump administration is one of the leakiest in memory. If Trump flatly ignored the advice of every one of his military advisors—which is what Hersh says—it’s hard to believe that this wouldn’t also have leaked to one of the legion of national security reporters in DC, who have demonstrated that they’re pretty sourced up. But so far, no one has even remotely corroborated Hersh’s story.

Is this because the mainstream media is afraid to report this stuff? Please. They’d see Pulitzers dancing before their eyes. There’s not a reporter in the entire city who wouldn’t go after this story.

Drum is flat-out wrong on this one. US mainstream media loves their little prizes but hates stories that show that they were stampeded by the government into supporting warlike actions and were wrong about endorsing the government’s case. Surely the evidence from history is overwhelming? Remember the government’s many claims of Iraqi WMDs that were reported uncritically? And what about Colin Powell’s infamous speech before the UN waving little vials of chemical weapons that Saddam Hussein was supposedly producing in mobile laboratories for which he showed satellite photos? International media visited those sites the very next day and reported that there was nothing there but the US media ignored that counterevidence. Remember in 1998 Bill Clinton’s bombing a supposed chemical factory in Sudan that turned out to one of the largest pharmaceutical factories in that poor country, producing half of its medicines? This act was done at the height of Clinton’s troubles over Monica Lewinsky.

But by the time the first TV crews arrived in protective clothing, it was already clear that something was wrong. The fallout of aspirins, carpeting the sandy ground all around, gave it away. So did the fact, overlooked by American intelligence, that the factory was privately owned, though part-financed, by a Kenya-based development bank.

“The evidence was not conclusive and was not enough to justify an act of war,” concedes Donald Petterson, former American ambassador to Sudan. With a £35m compensation claim working its way through the American courts, that is as much as any official will say on the record. The evidence was supposed to consist of incriminating soil samples; they have never been produced. Sudan’s proposal that the UN should investigate was vetoed by America. And Washington is currently trying to fight the case by pleading sovereign immunity. But shortly after filing his suit, the factory’s owner, Salah Idris, had his American bank accounts quietly unfrozen.

I remember at that time looking in vain for corrections to that story in US media and did not find one even though the horrible truth was revealed almost immediately. Liberals cheered the bombing because Clinton was ‘their’ president. People may not realize how devastating it is for a poor country to suddenly lose half its supply of medicines.

I could go on. Sure the media loves Pulitzers but not if it requires them to eat crow first. Hersh’s story may or may not turn out to be totally accurate but the media’s silence is not evidence of the latter.

The reality is that the media loves wars. It is good for their business. So they will hype such threats, just as they are now hyping Trump’s belligerent rhetoric against North Korea where he said that “The era of strategic patience with the North Korean regime has failed, many years it has failed. Frankly, that patience is over,” What exactly does that mean, other than laying the groundwork for some warlike actions, since severe economic sanctions are already in place? And the more that Trump feels beleaguered the more likely he will do something rash.

Trump may be an vicious and ignorant fool in almost anything to do with governing but one thing he does understand really well is how the US media works and their love of wars and he plays them like a fiddle.


  1. hyphenman says


    Like you, I’ve been watching for others to pick up Hersh’s story.

    One of the first people I expected to talk about this was Naomi Klein because the gas attack fits so well into her Shock Doctrine paradigm. I have yet to read or hear any reaction from her on Hersh’s piece.

    The silence is indeed disturbing.

    Jeff Hess
    Have Coffee Will Write

  2. jrkrideau says

    After watching the US media in the Panama occupation and in the lead-up to the Iraq fiasco I am not at all surprised at their gullible cheerleading.

    We, here in Canada, watched the build-up of lies and fantasies from the US Gov’t and its propaganda arm, err the US media, in amazement. It was blindingly obvious that Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction but none of the US mainstream media seemed to be able to handle even one critical thought and it looks like the same thing is happening now.

    The Russians must be getting considerably annoyed with the USA and the orange idiot in particular. And he does not seem to have any advisors, with the possible exception of the National Security Advisor, who have the slightest idea what the fool is doing or have the slightest idea that these actions are not just impinging on Syria but on a probably highly pissed off and heavily armed Russia.

    Presumably Iran is just as happy as Russia. While Iran is not a major power like Russia, it is a significant regional power and is perfectly well aware that a lot of US politicians are out to get it.

    I have been under the impression that the USA has not had any actual plan or strategy in the Middle East since the Iraq Invasion, except perhaps to reduce the region to a set of failed states, and Trump is advancing the “plan”.

    Russia, Iran, and other regional powers such as Turkey, Jordan, or Lebanon may not be all that pleased about another failed state in the neighbourhood.

  3. Brian English says

    The Guardian ran a story the other day that UN’s chemical weapons ‘watchdog’ had confirmed that Sarin was used at Khan Sheikhun, which is near Idlib, so I presume it’s the same attack. Either that or the Guardian is throwing a nice, smelly, herring out to distract for the powerful.

    It’s hard to know what is true or false when you have no idea. I used to think the Guardian was a pretty good (virtual-)rag, but a lot of their reporting seems d-grade and who knows?


  4. Brian English says

    D’oh, I just read in your linked to previous post that it was at Khan Sheikhun, so same attack.

  5. says

    I have had a few backchannel conversations about Hersh’s article with some of the intelligence set that I know and the general sense seems to be split between “oh fuck” and “Hersh has lost it.”

    There was a similar reaction to his piece about Obama’s red line, which faded into a grudging sense of “no idea but he may have saved Obama a world of shit.” (A direct quote)

    The silence on this article is deafening indeed.

    My feeling is that nobody with any sense will try to dismiss Sy Hersh. He has a track record of being horribly right at inconvenient times. When someone says Hersh is past it, I think they are mostly saying his timing is really really inconvenient.

    And, by the way, I fault the NYT for sitting on Hersh’s story about Abu Ghraib for reasons of domestic politics and I suspect that’s a reason Hersh is publishing elsewhere. That ALSO inclines me to believe Hersh.

  6. says

    The report on the forensics is fascinating. The “crater” looks nothing like what a ballistic missile or MLRS or bomb leaves. It’s tiny. It’s small even for an 81mm mortar, for example.

    I have to say I have no idea what we’re looking at -- none of it makes sense unless I start spinning wild conspiracy theories. I’m really unhappy that the forensic team are also being exceptionally cautious about their assessment -- there are people who can look at a crater and tell you if it was a particular munition, type, caliber. They are remaining silent for now. In a couple years I expect there will be stories like “no shell casing fragments” and “no missile parts” leaking out. Hopefully the US will not get lured into another Iraq war in Syria though for all intents and purposes, Nobel peace prize winner Obama has already done that, damn him.

  7. Dunc says

    The problem that I always had with the original story was that it made absolutely no sense for the Syrian regime to kill a bunch of civilians with nerve gas at that particular time. They had the upper hand militarily, and they were just about to go into ceasefire negotiations, so not only did this attack not advance any of their interests, it actively harmed them. You needed to believe that they were both moustache-twirling villains, intent on committing evil acts for no purpose other than evil, and that they were completely stupid.

    On the other hand, it made perfect sense for Al Nusra to claim that the regime had done this, because they were about to lose pretty decisively both on the battlefield and at the negotiating table, and the only way to avoid that was to bring in US air support.

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