US corporate media and the suffering in Syria (contd.)

Just a contrast to the NYT!

(This piece was originally published on February 20.)

The New York Times been continuing its wilful hiding of the political facts around the fighting in Syria’s Idlib province. In yesterday’s print edition, the paper had yet another humanitarian-only tearjerker, “reported” by Carlotta Gall (who should know better!) out of Reyhanli, Turkey. Her piece quoted some of the small numbers of people crossing the nearby crossing into Syria, along with a “mother of three” who was reached by phone in a Syrian village less than four miles from the front line, and “Fouad Sayed Issa, the founder of Violet, a Syrian nonprofit relief organization.”

Given that Gall almost certainly speaks little or no Arabic, she was presumably reliant on Saad al-Nassife, who was named in a footline, to conduct the phone interview, and maybe all the other interviewing, too.

Gall’s report- like the whole stream of humanitarian tearjerkers the NYT has published about Idlib over the past year- made zero mention of the force that has been controlling Idlib for the past few years, against which the Syrian army and its allies have been fighting. It is an alliance of genocidally takfiri*/jihadi militias led by the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS).

Today’s Washington Post carried an article that also, like Gall’s focused on the extreme challenges that humanitarian actors have been facing in Idlib. But at least this article, reported by Kareem Fahim out of Gaziantep, Turkey, did mention the political color of the forces “defending” Idlib from the Syrian government campaign:

The government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has vowed to retake all the country’s remaining rebel-held territory and defeat opposition militias in Idlib, including extremist militants linked to al-Qaeda who largely control the province.

That mention was a little caveated- the wording lets it seem as though this characterization of the opposition militias is only President Assad’s, and is not necessarily shared by Fahim. It was also brief, and buried deep down in the piece.

Why is it important that responsible journalists should mention the fact that the Idlib enclave is under the control of fairly heavily armed Al-Qaeda-affiliated militias? For a number of reasons:

I am planning to write more about these dilemmas very shortly. For the moment, though, as many of us consider the situation in Idlib and how to bring the intense suffering there to an end, maybe we should all be a lot more demanding of pillars of the Western corporate media like the NYT that have been wilfully misinforming/disinforming the public about the situation there and elsewhere in Syria, for many years now.

Just as a matter of contrast, I note that the NYT has recently carried two strong articles of reporting from troubled zones in the Middle East, written by reporters who took the risks and the time needed to do their reporting from on-the ground. The first was the piece that Alissa Rubin reported from Neptis (near Kirkuk), in Iraq, last week, in which she quoted numerous official Iraqi and local vox-pop sources as casting severe doubt on the Trump administration’s claim that a pro-Iranian militia had carried out the December 27 rocket attack that killed a US military contractor and sparked an extremely fearsome bout of escalation between the United States and Iran. The second came in today’s paper, David Kirkpatrick’s piece reported from inside the portion of eastern Libya controlled by brutal former CIA asset Khaled Hiftar. So it’s not that the NYT doesn’t know how to do real reporting. It is more like, in the case of Syria, they have for a long time deliberately chosen not to.

* I use the term “takfiri” to denote the most extreme and genocidal of the many Islamist political trends that are active today. “Takfir” is the Arabic word for, essentially religious excommunication. So a translation for “takfiri” as a political description might be “excommunicators” or perhaps “Inquisitors”. Some other people just call them “headchoppers.”

Originally published at

Veteran analyst of global affairs, with a focus on the Middle East. Senior Fellow, Ctr for International Policy. Fuller bio at my Wikipedia page.

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