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    Syrian Conflict Reporting Highlights MSM’s Failure to Question Veracity of Its ‘Independent’ Sources

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    Reporting on the Syrian conflict is replete with citations from supposedly “independent sources,” but when you “peel back that layer,” a list of financiers and managers with connections to the central orchestrators and beneficiaries of the conflict appears, journalist Max Blumenthal told Radio Sputnik Friday.

    In Blumenthal’s new article on The Grayzone, “Behind the Syrian Network for Human Rights: How an opposition front group became Western media’s go-to monitor,” he dives deep into the non-governmental organization to expose its deep connections to some of the central supporters of the armed Syrian opposition as well as the Western figures calling for intervention and regime change in Syria. Moreover, he questions why the group continues to be cited uncritically by media outlets that should know better.

    “I’ve been just seeing it come up again and again, increasingly in reporting on Syria in a bid not just to link or liken the Syrian government to Nazi Germany, but to pave the path for prosecutions that complement crushing sanctions,” Blumenthal told Radio Sputnik’s By Any Means Necessary Friday, noting that the group had been cited by the Intercept, the Washington Post, the Guardian, the Daily Beast, “I mean, you name it.”

    However, there was one particular citation that really ground his gears: a May 11 piece in the New York Times by Anne Barnard titled “Inside Syria’s Secret Torture Prisons: How Bashar al-Assad Crushed Dissent,” based on a report by the SNHR that concluded “nearly 128,000 have never emerged” from a “secret, industrial-scale system of arbitrary arrests and torture prisons.”

    “Nearly 14,000 were ‘killed under torture,’” Barnard writes. “Many prisoners die from conditions so dire that a United Nations investigation labeled the process ‘extermination,’” citing the claim for the death toll (it’s from the SNHR), but not the passive voice descriptor attributed to the UN.

    “Amnesty International based a gigantic report on Syria’s Sednayah Prison on verifications performed by the Syrian Network for Human Rights. And so, Anne Barnard of the New York Times calls it ‘an independent monitoring group that keeps the most rigorous tally,’ and what I showed is that it’s actually a front for the Syrian opposition, that its statistics are essentially worthless; they never back them up or produce anything other than these cartoon graphs. They’ve claimed that something like 95% of deaths in the Syrian conflict were carried out by the Syrian government, and that over the past years, al-Qaeda and ISIS [Daesh] have killed something like 50 people,” Blumenthal said. “It’s just cartoonishly absurd.”

    ​“On the group’s board of directors is a person named Burhan Ghalioun, who was the original president of the Syrian National Council, which is the US and Turkish-backed government-in-exile that was supposed to replace Bashar al-Assad after the West achieved regime change,” Blumenthal said. “He doesn’t acknowledge that role or that he remains a major opposition leader, and it just says that he’s a professor at the Sorbonne in Paris. So, it’s just this gigantic propaganda operation that can’t be taken seriously.”

    “And when you look at their funding, they say, ‘We’re funded by states.’ Well, we don’t know which states they are, but we do know that this organization, which was initially registered in the UK, is now based in Qatar. Qatar is, of course, the permanent monarchy that pumped tons of oil money into the Syrian armed opposition and was a direct funder of the local affiliate of al-Qaeda in Syria. So I mean, there’s just layer after layer of ridiculousness to the idea that this is an independent monitoring group.”

    “So once you peel back that layer, then the whole thing starts to fall apart; the whole report starts to fall apart. And then you look at other sources in this giant New York Times blockbuster, which was endorsed by Hillary Clinton, and you see that this isn’t the only source that’s described as ‘independent,’ [but] which is in fact funded by the same countries that funded the armed opposition in Syria.”

    Blumenthal said that while some in the mainstream media are willing to be so uncritical of such sourcing because they believe the criticisms of those sources to be “Russian propaganda,” there are undoubtedly many independent journalists who self-censor “because you get attacked harshly if you dare to scratch the surface of this massive propaganda operation,” he said.

    When institutions of the US state attack the “designated evil-doers” and “the designated enemies of America,” Blumenthal noted, “it often matches up with a popular prejudice” about that country. “Whether it’s North Korea being a totalitarian police state or Syria having this massive secret prison system - I mean, these are countries that can be harshly repressive and that have been under enormous pressure from the outside and have often responded [to internal criticism] with political repression - so it kind of matches the critique, even if it’s not necessarily true.”

    “But what my piece is about is about journalistic dereliction of duty. It’s about a complete lack of ethics. It’s about the top journalists and the top publications in the country deceiving their readers into believing that they are getting factual information from independent sources, when in fact they’re getting disinformation spun out by a Syrian opposition that has told so many lies over the past eight years that we just can’t sort out fact from fiction anymore. It’s essentially fake news,” he said.

    The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.


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