And they did it to generate bad press for the government of Bashir Assad, says ITN news reporter Alec Thomson.
“I’m quite clear the rebels deliberately set us up to be shot by the Syrian Army. Dead journos are bad for Damascus,” Thomson, who reports for Channel 4 News, in Britain, writes in his personal blog:
Please, do not for one me moment believe that my experience with the rebels in al Qusair was a one-off.
This morning I received the following tweet:
“@alextomo I read your piece “set up to be shot in no mans land”, I can relate as I had that same experience in Al Zabadani during our tour.”
That was from Nawaf al Thani, who is a human rights lawyer and a member of the Arab League Observer mission to Syria earlier this year.
It has to make you wonder who else has had this experience when attempting to find out what is going on in rebel-held Syria.
The only video we can find abut the incident is from RT, and hasn’t been posted on You Tube.
Here’s an excerpt from the transcript:
My point is, dead journalists are bad for Damascus. When Marie Colvin, the British journalist got killed because she was in a building which was shelled by the Syrian army in Homs, that was an appalling propaganda blow for the Damascus regime. You don’t have to be very clever to work out that the deaths of any journalist at the hands of the Syrian army are going to be an appalling blow, again, for President Assad. That’s going to reflect all the way to Moscow and all the way to Beijing. Clearly that is going to be a bad thing in terms of propaganda. So the motivation for the rebels to pull a stunt like that seems to be very obvious. I’m not angry about it, I’m not upset about it, this is a war and these things will be done. Both sides are involved in very dirty tactics in this war. This is a nasty and dirty war on both sides.
The perils of ‘parachute journalism’
The mainstream media, as we’ve been chronicling, has been drastically downsized, and costly foreign bureaus have been the very first casualties.
The result has been hit-and-run coverage of a sort given a peculiar name by folks in the news world.
In a 2006 piece for American Journalism Review Sherry Ricchiardi described the peculiar art of what folks in the news biz call parachute journalism:
News managers interviewed for this story seem resigned to the fact that robust overseas bureaus are largely artifacts of a bygone era, like typewriters and rotary phones. Instead, with a few exceptions, foreign news has entered a phase of crisis journalism — the flood-the-zone, event-driven coverage Americans witnessed during July’s Middle East crisis. The audience has little or no history before the story breaks into headlines; there has been no foreshadowing. (This is precisely what has happened in Afghanistan, where the American press corps has dwindled dramatically while conditions continue to worsen — see “The Forgotten War,” August/September.)
This approach results in a shorter media attention span. When the shooting ends, reporters scatter as quickly as they came. “We’ll pull our journalistic shock troops out, and we’ll redeploy them somewhere else because we only have a handful,” [former ABC News journalist Ted] Koppel says.
So who do reporters rely on when they arrive in a strange land whose language they don’t speak?
From a 2002 essay by Marjie Lundstrom of the Sacramento Bee, writing for the Potnter Institute [emphasis added]:
When journalists go to work in a country where they do not understand the language or the culture, they typically make use of the invaluable services of fixer interpreters, whose impact on global public opinion is invariably underestimated. They are the ones who, while remaining largely invisible, offer clear guidance as to how conflicts should be interpreted, as well as which sources should be chosen and which words used.
Now add another ingredient to the mix
It took WikiLeaks to expose the dark side of those“democratic” rebels who fought to overthrow the Libyan government, the same ones who were acting as guides to the Western media types who reported on such notorious disinformation as the subsequently debunked claims that Moammar Gaddafi was dosing troops with Viagra to ensure they’d rape rebels, or that his troops were bolstered by black African mercenaries.
There was no Viagra, no “mercenaries,” though plenty of black Africans were slaughtered by rebel forces.
But the stories worked, whipping up resentment and offering justification to the likes of Barack Obama and Nicolas Sarkozy.
Now that Thomson’s story has come to light, we should be asking lots of questions about just how our news media are getting their stories after they unpack their parachutes.
The obvious questions focus on just who those translator/fixers are. Given that the U.S. has been pushing for the overthrow of the Syrian government for decades, one might reasonably ask if any of those oh-so-helpful folk are tied to intelligence agencies, U.S., British, French, or other.
But when you hit the ground running, you don’t have time for lengthy background checks, so you just take what you’re given.
But if Libya has taught us any lessons at all, we should all be asking serious questions.