How The Media Reveal Inconvenient Truth About Syria

The truth is sometimes revealed through words, but more often through deeds.

The Times and several other papers recently carried alarming stories about “Apologists for Assad” to be found in social media, in independent journalism, and even in universities. Passive consumers of corporate media communications may have taken the papers’ word for it and been perturbed. The more alert, however, will have taken this conspicuous flagging of certain journalists, tweeters and academics to be a strategic communication: “these are people you must not listen to and definitely not think of emulating!” 

The response from the critically aware has been spectacularly resistant – not least on Twitter, which, ironically, was the main source of the “evidence” used in the coordinated smear campaign. The fact of a campaign, and a coordinated one, appeared obvious. Perhaps a rush to launch the attacks all at once was due to an unexpectedly quick unravelling of the authorized narrative in Syria. As the Syrian Arab Army brought Douma back under government control, the liberated citizens were bringing horrendous storiesabout conditions of life under the UK-sponsored “moderate rebels”, speaking of terror, humiliation, deprivation, rape, murder and forced labour. These stories, if verified, would severely undermine the mainstream narrative. As would the discovery of exceedingly inconvenient facts relating to the alleged chemical attack that recently served as justification for the F-UK-US bombing raid.

So it is that those of us who strive to get a fair hearing for the inconvenient testimonies are branded “Apologists for Assad”.

Whoever devised the smear campaign perhaps underestimated the public’s instincts of fairness and its appetite for truth. They are also up against a strong streak of decency that runs even through parts of the establishment. Thus in the same week as the attacks on us we could also hear dissenting voices from sections of society that would be especially surprising hotbeds of “Assad Apologism” (whatever that even is). They include lords of the realm, generals and admirals of Her Majesty’s armed forces, United Kingdom ambassadors, Church of England clergy, Westminster politicians, academics from world-leading universities, and even celebrities on mainstream media (apparently including The Great British Bake Off).

The smear campaign also didn’t seem to have effective personnel for the job. The poor hacks who were dispatched to rummage through people’s old twitter feeds and contrive loose chains of supposedly incriminating association seem hardly to have had their hearts in it. Understandably, perhaps, given how far outside their sphere of competence it is to engage with the careful, detailed and often highly sophisticated presentations of serious independent investigators.

Then there was downright idiocy. Riding on the bandwagon of Russophobia is an opportunistic assortment of self-styled sleuths, deploying sometimes hilarious methods of “Russian bot” identification. This has led to the fingering of the now celebrated Ian Shilling, for instance, and the already greatly celebrated Syrian chemist in Australia who goes by the handle @Partisangirl.

Hilarity aside, the campaign has revealed how serious the situation is. To listen to Ian and Mimi is to learn what ideas get equated with Russian propaganda today. I find it chilling that to share such ideas is to be regarded as an enemy in an information war with Russia –  a war that even Lord West was publicly recommended to be mindful of by a BBC interviewer last week (who warns him about his loose talk here, from 04:30).

Such a mass mobilisation of controlled information should be no less worrying than the mobilisation of armed force. It is what generates the atmosphere of acquiescence required to get a military war going.

By coordinating their concerted smear campaign, those with centralised power over information have literally revealed what they don’t want revealed. Nobody reading their words will be much the wiser about the alleged problem of “Assad Apologists”, but anyone reflecting on the mere fact of this extraordinary campaign will know that they are pointing out with neon light the people who must not be listened to and certainly not emulated.

So anybody who likes to take the media’s word at face value will not want to click any of the links below. For everybody else, they constitute a collective declaration of solidarity with what we all hold dear.

[Personal thanks go the authors and speakers linked below, but also to those many people who have shown support, whether in public or in private, and including, of course, fellow members of the Syria, Propaganda and Media working group and international advisory board. Thank you all!]

Standing together

MediaLens ‘Douma: Part 1 – Deception In Plain Sight’ (25 April 2018)

Caitlin Johnstone, ‘Never Let Anyone Call You Crazy For Doubting Establishment War Narratives’ (25 April 2018)

Elijah J. Magnier, ‘Syrian Dirty War Backfires on International Media’ (25 April 2018); or, in French,  La sale guerre syrienne éclabousse les médias internationaux (25 April 2018)

Max Blumenthal, ‘Syria Controversy: Don’t Believe the Official Narrative’ (Truthdig, 23 April 2018)

Caitlin Johnstone, ‘MSM Is Frantically Attacking Dissenting Syria Narratives, And It Looks Really Bad’ (23 April 2018)

Mark GB Blog, ‘How did the media sink this low?’ (23 April)

[‘Massive mass media attacks on people who do not accept the official truth about Syria’] ‘Mahniti napadi masmedija na osobe koje ne prihvaćaju službenu istinu o Siriji’ (Balkan Express, 23 April 2018)

Craig Murray, ‘Index on Disgrace’ (22 April 2018)

‘The emergence of a Christian United Front against the war in Syria’, Voltaire Network (22 April 2018) [and the prior statement by Patriarchs since endorsed by Pope Francis]

Moon of Alabama, ‘The Media War On Truthful Reporting And Legitimate Opinions – A Documentary’ (21 April 2018)

Patrick Cockburn, ‘We should be sceptical of far-away governments who claim to know what is happening on the ground in Syria’ (The Independent, 20 April 2018)

Lissa Johnson, ‘SICK OF DYING (PART 2): Why The Skripal Poisoning, Foreign Interference Legislation And Legality Of US Interventions Are The Business Of Health Professionals’ (New Matilda, Australia, 20 April 2018)

Claire Connelly, ‘When the press attacks – the Times’ & BBC’s war on truth’, (Renegade Inc, 20 April 2018)

Caitlin Johnstone, ‘What Are “Assad Apologists”? Are They Like Those “Saddam Apologists” Of 2002?’ (Medium 20 April 2018)

Julie Hyland, ‘Murdoch’s Times witch-hunts academics for questioning UK government’s Syria lies’ (World Socialist Web Site, 19 April 2018)

Hala Jaber, ‘In my entire career, spanning more than three decades of professional journalism, I have never seen MSM resolve to such ugly smear campaigns…’ (Twitter thread, 19 April 2018)

Open Letter to The Times on Assad and Academic Freedom, (not published by The Times, signed by twenty academics unconnected to those attacked by The Times, 18 April 2018)

Phil Hammond, Syria: stop asking questions (OpenDemocracy 17 April 2018)

Academic Freedom? — ‘Syria Working Group’ Attacked By The Times (posted in Intel Today 16 April 2018)

Gavin Ashenden, ‘Syria, censorship and ‘The t/Times’ (14 April 2018)


The academics respond in first person:

Tim Hayward, ‘Academic Freedom And Setting An Example’ (20 April 2018)

Tara MacCormack, ‘Syria, The Times, and Free Speech‘, (Spiked, 19 April 2018)

‘”Assad Apologists”: media attacks academics over dissenting posts’, RT news video, with Tara MacCormack (18 April 2018)

Piers Robinson, ‘UK Academics Questioning Western Foreign Policy in Syria’ (Sputnik, 17 April 2018)

Piers Robinson, International mainstream media ‘failing’ audiences (Newstalk ZB, New Zealand – audio – 17 April 2018)

Piers Robinson, The smear attack on a small group of academics shows they have the government concerned (Sputnik – audio – 16 April 2018)

Louis Allday, Twitter thread (14 April 2018)

Tim Hayward, ‘Attacked by The Times’ (14 April 2018)



Nadiya Hussain, vilified for criticising Theresa May over air strikes on Syria

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________Originally published (

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