In the political realm, all sides are guilty of promoting disinformation. It really is a “reader beware” situation in that the intelligent consumer of news should assess information critically and sensibly. Not trusting in news reports simply because they come from “their side.”
So, while I have been critical of “our” mainstream media, in this respect, I must acknowledge there are rare examples where it will allow the truth to break through. Ironically, I see the video above from the New York Times as the exception proving the rule.
The video shows burning of “aid” trucks on the Venezuelan-Columbian border – widely reported by “our” media and politicians as an act of infamy by the Venezuelan side. Readers of alternative media know better having already seen videos showing use of Molotov cocktails by anti-Venezuelan protesters. But now, the New York Times, shows “our” mainstream media and politicians were wrong. And this disinformation, together with its multiplication by prominent USA politicians, had serious consequences. Not only in spreading more anti-Venezuelan propaganda, but in the US imposing even more sanctions on that suffering country.
It’s an old truism – the first casualty in war is the truth. But this has become even truer over the years as psychological propaganda has become more sophisticated. And the mainstream news media is playing a more active role in hiding the truth and promoting lies to support wars.
Just look at the current political and media propaganda around the war in Syria, and particularly around the battle in east Ghouta. You would think the UN politicians and the people who run our media would have a bit more of a conscience. Yet, no. They are repeating the same stories and lies they fed to us during the battle in east Aleppo just over a year ago.
Remember all those hospitals and schools that were allegedly bombed by the Syrians and Russians. Talk of “barrel bombs,” chemical weapons and Assad’s war against his people. Claims that civilians would not leave the battle area because they were scared of reprisals from government forces and, anyway, it was a form of ethnic cleansing – transferring people away from their homes into areas they did not know.
Yet the reality was that when the terrorist groups were on the verge of defeat over 90,000 civilians did leave and came under government protection and aid. Today several hundred thousand former residents of Aleppo are returning to their homes as reconstruction proceeds.
Yes, as part of their surrender the “rebel”/terrorist armed groups and their families were relocated to Idlib province. That is simply a sane way of protecting civilians who had formerly been used as human shields by the terrorists – and shot by terrorist snipers when they intended to leave.
I can only hope that one day these “rebels”/terrorist will get their just deserts as Idlib is liberated. But sadly, some of these terrorists will have made their way to Afghanistan or Libya – or to Europe where they will wait for the opportunity to renew their battle, even by carrying out terrorist acts in their new countries.
Now it is Ghouta’s turn
Every night I watch Al Jazeera as it presents its substantial coverage of the battle for Ghouta. But all their news sources used are local (in Ghouta) “activists” and “independent” reporters. These sources are simply fighters and propagandists in the “rebel”/terrorist forces.
One of their propaganda arms is the “White Helmets.” They are a well-funded (by countries like the UK, Holland, and USA) civil defense and propaganda group for Al Qaeda. Yet they fool a lot of people.
Nevertheless, their video propaganda has a sameness about it which sticks out as propaganda – or at least professionally-managed reporting and sometimes as fake acting. See the video above for some analysis of this propaganda.
Reporters on Al Jazeera have been telling me that civilians refuse to use the humanitarian corridors to exit the area because the Syrian Army has snipers on the exits to kill any refugees. And, anyway, the people in Ghuota do not want to be forced to leave their homes. But, from other sources, I hear that the snipers are from the “rebel”/terrorist groups. These groups enforce a curfew during the hours the humanitarian corridor is open and civilians have been banned from leaving. A humanitarian aid convoy that did manage to get into the area recently had to turn back because it was shelled by “rebel”/terrorist activists.
Two children have escaped
Yet there has been an escape – two young children who managed to get out, although the fate of their parents who were with them is not known. And the children reported that there were hundreds who were attempting the escape but were unsuccessful
But I didn’t learn this from Al Jazeera – and there is no excuse for that because videos of the escape and interviews with the children were available and screened by alternative media sources.
RT also screened these videos and provided some background to what is happening in Ghuota.
But people keep telling me I should never watch RT – it is just propaganda for the Kremlin. These people seem to keep insisting I wear blinkers or blinders to protect me from the truth. And that I should accept only media reports from “official” media like Al Jazeera.
Yes, the first casualty of war is the truth – we all accept that. Yet most of seem to fall victim the sophisticated propaganda being used to serve up these lies.
And worse, some people seem to be unthinkingly accepting demands from the establishment to cover our eyes and block our ears when it comes to information from war scenes. Even worse, these people attempt to demonise and attack anyone who refuses to go along with such self-imposed censorship.
I have been called one of “Putin’s useful idiots” for daring to mention RT. But perhaps the more relevant term when it comes to the Syrian war and the comments of politicians and mainstream media reporters is one of “Al Qaeda’s useful idiots.”
The acted White Helmets “rescue” video, the crew involved and the professional actor who was the “victim”
It really is a case of “reader beware” these days. There is so much misinformation about – in the mainstream media as well as in alternative and social media – that the reader really has to avoid accepting things at face value.
I am strongly aware of this when I attempt to follow-up a lead from social media that looks interesting. The video I posted yesterday is an example (see Manufacturing news, and opinion, about Syria). I believe things like this get faked all the time. Searching through social media I even found suggestions the video was a “false flag” – prepared by supporters of Syria to discredit the White Helmets.
What convinced me the video was genuine was that my original source for the video was the web site of RFS – the antigovernment Revolutionary Forces of Syria Media Office – website. I was also convinced by the fact that on visiting that site several hours later the video had been removed, suggesting that it had been uploaded by mistake
I think I was right to conclude this was an enacted video that had been uploaded by mistake and had been removed to remove the evidence once the internet uproar about it had spread. Trouble was, though, the video had by then been saved to other servers.
Today the RFS Media Office issued a statement that confirming this was a genuine – enacted – video produced by the White Helmets (see RFS Statement of Clarification and the image below).
They attempt to explain it, and its enactment, away by saying it had been prepared more or less as a publicity video for entry on the International Mannequin Challenge!
OK, any person or group is welcome to join in the latest social media craze. But a respectable “first responders” group? Where would such a group find time for this playing around in the midst of a brutal war?
At the very least this fiasco indicates the White Helmets has more to do with propaganda and publicity – with producing high-quality videos – than saving people. It helps explain why none of their videos show credible paramedic equipment or genuine recovery procedures – usually only kids who are miraculously saved injury-free (except for being covered in dust) from bombed buildings. Sometimes these children seem to be recovered multiple times as they occur in different videos, carried by different White Helmets men, being recovered from different buildings.
The other thing that rings alarm bells is that their Mannequin Challenge video (they have titled it “On the Edge of Death”) looks exactly the same (except for the stationary introduction) as all their other videos. Well lit, well produced, frantic rescuers – but no credible recovery or treatment equipment in sight. And I can’t help asking – what genuine first responders group only goes into action attended by a professional camera crew and lighting? Surely they are too busy doing their job – saving people.
The White Helmets and their “rebel”/”terrorist” friends in the Revolutionary Forces of Syria Media Office have obviously screwed up big time. Uploading this video only reinforced all the suspicions that this group is a propaganda arm for the “rebels”/”terrorists” and not a genuine recovery group. It was too late to deny what had happened so they try to make the best of it in their statement (see below) and blame their fiasco on the Syrian Government:
“the regime used the video to distort facts and twist perceptions. As usual, the Syrian regime’s media workers took the video, abstracted of its background, and started spinning false stories about it to serve their own purposes and the purposes of Assad regime, that has been killing Syrians for nearly six years, accusing RFS media office of creating fabricated videos of rescue operations by civil defense teams.”
It is one thing for groups to be involved in publicity and propaganda for participants in a brutal war and to pretend to be something they aren’t. But it is another thing, and this is what really concerns me, when people in authority and power take such groups and their propaganda seriously.
For example, Al Jazeera relies heavily on the White Helmets as a source for their news coverage of Syria – particularly Aleppo. White Helmets videos or often used and members of the group quoted for information. Beyond that I think Al Jazeera’s other most common source for new sin Syria are simply “activists.’ To me, that means participants in the war – “rebels”/”terrorists.”
My second example is closer to home – the New Zealand government (see White Helmets dupes New Zealand government?) The New Zealand Ministry’s of Foreign Affairs and Internal Affairs are coughing up about $100,000 to provide training for White Helmet’s members. Not much money – but it gives respectability to a publicity and propaganda organisation while ignoring the real Syrian Civil Defense Forces.
Let’s hope this fiasco, which can longer be blamed as a “false flag” operation or misinformation promoted by the Syrian government and their allies, is another relatively large step towards the final discrediting of the White Helmets. Similar articles
I originally posted this video from the RFS (Revolutionary Forces of Syria Media Office) Channel – but after realising that they were a “rebel”/”terrorist” group and had probably posted it by mistake I instead used a version saved by Moon of Alabama. Sure enough, when I checked a few hours later RFS had removed the video. (* See Footnote below).
For a while now I have felt our mainstream media has presented a very biased picture of the war in Syria.
I have been particularly concerned about the way the media relies on “activists” from areas held by “rebels”/”terrorists” – surely that is just an admission that the media is using propaganda provided by these very “rebels”/”terrorists” who are fighting this war.
In the video above they appear to be doing what is called a Mannequin Challenge where people remain frozen in action like mannequins while a video is recorded. It’s the sort of thing one could do while recording a fictional enactment – but certainly not while recording an emergency rescue situation.
In the past, I have found the White Helmet rescues presented on our mainstream media very unconvincing. Almost always a child was being rescued, often from very deep in a pile of rubble, and the White Helmet rescuer would run with the child toward or way from the camera. The videos played on our sympathy for children – but the lack of real injuries (a little bit of blood – or tomato sauce – and dust) were not consistent with a real situation. The lack of proper rescue equipment and provision of aid to the “victims” was also suspicious.
So what we have here is apparently an enactment. The two White Helmets rescuers and the “victim” were set in place and remained still and silent while the mannequin challenge was filmed. Then “action!” The victim screams, the White Helmets leap up and what appears to be recorded background noise starts.
The White Helmets propaganda videos have been very effective. Full of action, playing on natural sympathy for children. But the organisation operates only in the “rebel”/”terrorist” areas. And our media very rarely shows any coverage of the children and other civilians killed, injured or rescued in the government areas. There are plenty of these incidents and they are being filmed. (The little girl below is a survivor of terrorist shelling of two primary schools in west Aleppo where at least 8 children were killed). It’s just that our media very rarely shows them.
This photo from the filming session for the White Helmets video above has also appeared online. Furtherer evidence the video is fake?
The discussion is quite revealing, for a number of reasons, including divisions within the US ruling political circles and Syrian opposition beliefs that the US is not doing enough for their cause. But here I will just concentrate on aspects relevant to the anti-Syrian propaganda our news media seems to be saturated with.
I think this is important because there is a section of the US political system lobbying for military intervention, such as attacking Syrian armed forces or attempting to enforce a no-fly-zone. Kerry, who originally supported military intervention, pointed out that the US people did not have an appetite for this. However, as we saw with Libya, such an appetite can be promoted by carefully playing the card of suffering civilians (and especially children) and arguing for “humanitarian intervention.”
That is certainly happening at the moment. One could be excused for believing that the Syrian war is all about the government and their allies, the horrible “Russkies,” purposely attacking civilians, destroying civilian buildings and, particularly, burying young children in rubble.
This image is typical of what we are exposed to – and news services like Al-Jazeera seem to present variants of this image almost every day.
Typical media photo of White Helmet “first responders” rescuing children in a ‘rebel”/”terrorist” held area of Syria.
Of course, if this was the true intention of Syria and its allies the war would be over by now. But in fact, the Syrians and their allies are fighting armed “rebels”/”terrorists,” very many of them from outside the country. Armed and financed by external powers directly or indirectly. Countries like Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar, USA, UK and other NATO countries.
Civilian casualties, including children. may, at times, be an accidental by-product of this sort of war (what the US calls “collateral damage”) and can be caused by either side. But it is disingenuous to portray this as the intention of Syria and their allies. On the other hand, let’s not forget that terrorists very often deliberately target civilians, including children.
Aleppo has become the Middle Eastern Stalingrad. I sometimes wonder what sort of propaganda the German citizens at home were served with during the Stalingrad battle in World War II. Did they get images of children being pulled out of the rubble and hysterical complaints about those horrible Russians bombing and shelling the city indiscriminately – perhaps purposely bombing hospitals, schools and civilians? That sort of propaganda seem ludicrous to us now – but how different is it to what we are currently fed by most of our media?
And how often does our media cover the civilian casualties caused by “rebel”/”terrorist” attacks on areas under government control? Very rarely – and when they do we are often still left with the impression that the guilty parties are Syrians and Russians and not the terrorists. A recent classic example was UK newspaper, The Independent, report of the death of a Syrian Olympic swimmer and her brother in Aleppo (See Syrian swimmer and her 12-year-old brother killed by shelling in Aleppo). These deaths were originally reported as a result of Russian and Syrian bombing – but many readers protested because the swimmer was killed in the government-held part of Aleppo during a terrorist missile attack. The Independent backed away (slightly), adding this sentence:
“A number of commentators claimed the deaths were a result of a rebel-led attack, although those claims could not be verified.”
But their report still claimed the deaths occurred “amid a sustained assault on the city by pro-Assad forces backed by Russian warplanes.”
Images and videos like those produced by the White Helmets are very effective. News readers are inclined to weep and it is hard not to empathise. After all, these are children. And the “first responders” rescuing them, the White Helmets, must be angels. Hell, they have even been recommended for the Noble Peace Prize and who would deny them that?
Well, I would – but more of that below.
Kerry’s concern about this propaganda
The Syrian opposition people referred Kerry to images videos like this as reasons for the US to become more involved – to impose a fly-free-zone in Syria. But the US officials present pointed out that these images and videos were of no use to them. If these opposition people have video cameras around to film such events they should be filming the attack itself. Providing evidence that it is specifically the Syrians or Russians who are attacking civilians. These officials believed such information would be more useful to their cause.
The US officials also directed this critique at the White Helmet coverage of the attack on the humanitarian aid convoy in Aleppo province. A White Helmets’ spokesperson fronted images of burning trucks, claiming the attack was by Syrian helicopters, barrel bombs, and Russian bombers (he didn’t seem to want to miss anything out). But the officials’ response was that coverage was not useful – they need images of the attackers themselves. They need evidence of the munitions used.
Incidentally, the White Helmet spokesperson in this report leads a double life – see below.
As an aside, this plea for evidence, especially the munitions used, shows how hypocritical is the US claim it was the Russians who were responsible for the attack on the aid convoy. Unfortunately, such unfounded (or at least evidence-free) claims from John Kerry and other US spokespersons are not new to us. But also, unfortunately, this claim is being used specifically to justify breaking off diplomatic negotiations on Syria and to argue for “Plan B” – the military option of a fly-free-zone or outright attacks on Syrian armed forces.
Who are the white Helmets?
This brief video from The Friends of Syria in Australia provides some information and background on the White Helmets organisation.
If nothing else, the fact that the group operates only in areas held by “rebels”/”terrorists” (despite claiming in its propaganda that it is neutral) is telling. The fact they receive funding from anti-Syrian governments including the US and the UK (despite claiming they don’t) is also telling. Their spokespeople also never seem to miss any chance to attribute all the damage and loss of life to “the regime,” barrel bombs and the Russians – often in hysterical tones.
I referred above to the White Helmet coverage of the humanitarian aid convoy attack. The image on the right is taken from the White Helmet report video. That on the left shows that the same guy is also involved in an armed “rebel”/”terrorist” group.
Armed “rebel”/”terrorist” in Aleppo dons white hat and becomes an unarmed member of “aid” group – the White Helmets – reporting the attack on the humanitarian convoy. Image Source Friends of Syria.
Investigators have published on-line a number of similar images portraying White Helmet people in action as “first responders” but also of the same people posing with rifles and along with other “rebels”/”terrorists.”
There are also plenty of images and videos online showing members of the White Helmet group cooperating with “rebels”/”terrorists” in demonstrations They are easily seen in groups where Al Nusra flags are flying. And this video shows a White Helmet member participating in the assault on a prisoner captured by “terrorists.”
And isn’t this revealing, although not surprising considering where the White Helmets are active. A spokesperson for the Al Nusra front (recognised by the UN as a terrorist group) describes the White Helmets as Mujahideens
Actors staging a typical White Helmet “rescue” during anti-Syrian protests in Europe.
Of course, that charge is also easy to make and hard to prove. But there has been at least one official complaint to the BBC about them running videos of staged scenes in their programmes about Syria.
I find it suspicious that the White Helmets always seem to go into action with a sizable camera crew in attendance – or at least with mobile phones recording the events. And there seems to be a common elelementf a guy, wearing a white helmet and White Helmet logos or uniform, carrying a child and urgently rushing forward or away from the camera. I can’t help feeling such videos are contrived.
Contrived or not the White Helmets’ videos are certainly emotively picked. They know what works. And our media goes along with the game – ignoring the children and civilians injured and killed by “rebel”/”terrorist” missiles in government-held areas.
The above video shows the aftermath of a “rebel”/”terrorist” attack in west Aleppo. Not a single White Helmet in sight!
The video and photographic propaganda promoted by the White Helmets is not “proof” of their claims – but it is very effective in promoting a narrative. A narrative which can be used to justify direct military attacks by the US and NATO on the Syrian forces and their allies. (Yes, the US and NATO already illegally bomb Syria and have armed forces on the ground – but so far these have not intentionally been directed at Syrian forces).
That narrative fits in with the agenda of a section of the US political establishment promoting “humanitarian intervention” aimed at regime change. It fits in with the often repeated chant of politicians in the US and other NATO countries that “Assad must go!”
We saw what this led to in Libya – it was disastrous. And considering the support Assad has in Syria this regime change, or attempted regime change, would be much worse.
Russia is deploying advanced S-300 and S-400 Air Defense systems in Syria. An attempted Libyan-style “regime change” by the US and NATO would be disastrous.
Tactics used in anti-science and pseudoscience propaganda are essentially the same as used in political propaganda.
Everyone has their own ideological and political starting points – and none of us are really rational, even when we think we are. So we shouldn’t be surprised to find we are fully in agreement with some people on one issue but on the opposite sides of the fence with the same people on other issues.
I often find this in my on-line discussions . Some of my “allies” in the fight against pseudoscience (for example, in debunking anti-fluoride propagandists) will become my “opponents” when I discuss issues like the war in Syria. (I use quote marks because I do not feel any enmity towards discussion partners when the discussion is civil).
Nevertheless, I do not consciously separate my approaches to science and politics (and I guess my discussion partners would make the same claim). People can often be more resistant to anti-science propaganda because claims can be tested against reality. This is sometimes harder to do with political issues but if we don’t try we can be fooled by political propaganda. So, a recent article – Dissecting the Propaganda on Syria– appealed to me as I immediately recognised that the tactics used by propagandists against the Syrian government are essentially the same as those tactics used by anti-fluoridation propagandists.
The article identifies three propaganda tactics:
1: Demonise the enemy
Those pushing pseudoscience do this continually. Scientists are claimed to be only in it for the money. How often do we hear the chant “follow the money” (and how hypocritical is this considering many of these propagandists are making money out of the “natural”/alternative health industry.
Anti-fluoride campaigner Paul Connett regularly charges NZ scientists with fraud – but he fraudulently distorts the evidence to do so.
Honest scientists are accused of fraud and researchers whose work contradicts the propaganda are personally attacked.
On Syria, we continually hear about the Syrian “regime” and its “brutal dictator” – despite the fact that the Syrian government and president have been elected. Words like “regime” instead of “government” are a way of demonising.
Responsibility for all the deaths in this war is often attributed solely to President Bashar al-Assad. This is absurd as these deaths also include those fighting on the government’s side. As the article says:
This propaganda “deems Assad responsible for everything, including the killing of Syrian soldiers by the armed opposition. This opposition, which is financed and armed by Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and the U.S., includes extreme jihadist groups, including Al Qaeda’s longtime affiliate and the Islamic State. Yet, none of the leaders supplying these rebels – in defiance of international law – bears any blame for the death and devastation of Syria, according to” the propaganda.”
This demonisation of Assad is part of the interventionist strategy of “regime change.” We saw it before in Iraq and Libya. Liberal intervention to correct a wayward government appeals to many, and fools even more. After all, it is easy to find fault with the governments and leaders in these countries. But those who want regime change in Syria do everything to protect the regimes and leaders of other countries, like Saudi Arabia, with far greater violations of human rights. And the “regime change” doctrine violates the fundamental rights of people to decide their own government and leaders.
What better way to demonise advocates of community water fluoridation than to compare them to Hitler?
In a parallel way those anti-fluoride propagandists who demonise honest scientists can easily be found to be guilty of the very charges they lay against others. Aren’t these propagandists often paid shills for big business – the “natural”/alternative health industry? And don’t they frequently misrepresent and distort the science? Are they not the ones who should be charged with fraud?
2: Romanticise the opposition
Anti-fluoride propagandists continually describe themselves as fighters for truth who have “done their research.” They are fighting for natural, pure, food and water and against the wicked big business “fluoride industry” which is disposing their contaminated waste by dumping it in our water supply. And how often do we get the David vs Goliath analogy – even when it is the anti-fluoride activists who have dominated submissions to local bodies?
On Syria, our mainstream media
“portrays the conflict as a “civil war” which began with peaceful democracy-loving Syrian revolutionaries who were ruthlessly repressed by a brutal regime.
In reality, there was a violent faction from the start. In the first protests in Deraa, seven police were killed. Two weeks later there was a massacre of 60 security forces in Deraa.
In Homs, an eyewitness recounted the situation: “From the start, the protest movements were not purely peaceful. From the start I saw armed demonstrators marching along in the protests, who began to shoot at the police first. Very often the violence of the security forces has been a reaction to the brutal violence of the armed rebels.”
In the first two months, hundreds of police and security forces were killed. Yet, . . . the West’s mainstream media, ignores this reality because it clashes with the desired image of white-hatted protesters being victimized by a black-hatted government.”
Violence against the Syrian government occurred even during the early demonstrations.
This romanticisation is hardly suprising when we realise that most of our information on the Syrian war is coming from rebel or terrorist sources – or sources sympathetic to antigovernment fighters. Al Jazeera has reporters embedded in “rebel”/”terrorist” militia forces. And so often our news reports cite “activists” or sources like the Aleppo Media Center, White Helmets, or the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights which are sympathetic to the rebels.
Similarly, anti-fluoride propagandists very often cite sources from their own anti-science side. Their hope is that their reliance on sources such as “NaturalNews”, The Health Ranger, the Fluoride Action Network and Mercola, and continuous promotion of articles from those sources, can be translated into a similar acceptance by our mainstream media.
3: Attack anyone who questions the dogma
Many health professionals who recognise community water fluoridation as a safe and effective social health measure refuse to speak up in its defence because this can lead to personal attacks. A dentist who recently took issue with the misinformation being promoted by an anti-fluoride group was told in an anonymous personal letter:
“How dare you try to shut the truth down, people like you are a total insult to the art of Dentistry.”
And that is a mild example. How often are people who attempt to inject some logic and fact into this argument accused of being “shills?” Or attacked in a memes on social media – almost always from behind a wall where they are banned from participating in the discussion or answering their critics.
Similarly, those who attempt to debate the “party line” on Syria are often accused of being “Asad supporters” or worse. I was recently described as being a “fanatical follower of the Soviet camp” when I attempted to argue that there are child casualties in the government-held west Aleppo as well as in the “rebel”terrorist” held east Aleppo. (Some readers may object to my use of the word “terrorist” in this context – but the fact is the anti-government “Army of Conquest” which unites all the “rebels forces” in the current battle for Aleppo is led by Al Nusra – officially recognised as a terrorist organisation by the Russian Federation, USA and the United Nations).
Such attacks are simply a way of shutting down honest discussion of this conflict. A way of preventing information undesired by our political leaders from getting through the propaganda we are exposed to. Such attacks are really just a neo-McCarthyist tool in the information war.
Anti-fluoride propagandists and their allies in the “natural”/alternative health industry use exactly the same tactic. By attacking and labelling honest scientists and others who attempt to debunk the pseudoscience propaganda they hope to intimidate people and raise doubts about the science. We have seen this before from climate change deniers and creationists. They also use such attacks to raise doubts about the science of evolution and the findings of climate scientists.
This article quotes a leader of the US Veterans of Peace:
“The U.S. peace movement has been demobilized by disinformation on Syria.”
I think he is correct. The tactics of demonising the Syrian government and president, of romanticising the “rebels” by selective reporting of history and current events, and of attacking anyone who speaks out against such propaganda, has been very effective in muting opposition to this war and encouraging “regime change.”
While the same tactics being used by the anti-fluoride and similar pseudoscientific or anti-science movements has been less effective for the population at large it still resonates with many.
I guess most readers have become familiar with barrel bombs – an indiscriminate weapon currently being used by government forces in the Syrian war. But how many have heard of “hell cannons?”
I hadn’t until recently and I think this shows the bias in our media coverage of the conflict. Hell cannons are an indiscriminate weapon used by rebel/jihadist forces, cause terror and civilian damage and loss of life. Unfortunately, our media often seems to paint the picture that only government actions cause civilian losses.
“Rebels” load hell cannon with explosive filled gas bottle in Aleppo. (Getty)
This bias seems particularly bad in their current reporting of the civilian deaths in Aleppo. Here are some of the mythical stories our news media is promoting:
1: The government is not attacking a city held by “rebels” as many of our media stories imply. Rebels hold the smaller part of the city in the east and attacks by the government forces and its allies are aimed at removing them. There is also intensive fighting in areas around Aleppo – particularly in the north where Syrian and allied forces recently disrupted rebel supply lines with Turkey.
So, if anyone is attacking Aleppo it is the rebels/jihadists.
2: The claim that the government and its allies are attacking “moderate rebels” is biased propaganda. the anti-government militias are numerous and allegiances are complex. They often fight among themselves. Some may well be “moderate” but they cooperate and are often integrated with Al-Nusra – the main terrorist/jihadist group in the area.
How does one define “moderate” in Syria, though? I guess one way is to characterize those rebel militia which accepted the recent cessation of hostilities and signed ceasefire agreements with the Syrian government, as outlined in the US/Russian initiative, as the real “moderates” ready to take part in a political solution. It would seem that the “rebel” militia fighting in Aleppo have not accepted the cessation of hostilities agreement.
3: I recently heard an Al Jazeera reporter imply that only the Russians and Syrian government classifies “rebel” groups like Al Nusra as “terrorists” implying this was unfair. Again biased propaganda. The UN specifically lists Al-Nusra, together with Daesh (ISIS) as a terrorist organisation. Those groups were specifically excluded from the cessation of hostilities agreement.
There is a media tendency to describe only Daesh as terrorist or to present the aim of the US-based coalition and the Russian Federation in Syria as fighting Daesh. US spokespersons seem to repeat that description. This is very misleading. The UN and the cessation of hostilities agreement make clear that Al-Nusra is also the enemy.
Al-Nusra is the Al-Qaeda group in Syria (ISIS/Daesh originally broke away from Al-Nusra). Its aims and programme are just as obnoxious as those of Daesh but Al-Nusra has been able to form links with other anti-government militia – often groups that have been backed, armed and financed by the US and its middle eastern allies (eg. Saudia Arabia and Qatar). Very often these militia are operating under the command and structures of Al-Nusra. The ability of Al-Nusra to form these arrangements probably means it will outlast Daesh – and may actually be the bigger danger.
The death of the “last pediatrician” in Aleppo?
A blatant example of bias has been the media claim that a pediatrician who died in the bombing or shelling of a hospital in the rebel-held eastern part of Aleppo meant Aleppo no longer had any pediatricians. Horrible Syrian government denying medical care for children!
But Dr Nabil Antaki, who works in Aleppo, responded to this propaganda with this:
“For three days now, these media outlets have been accusing the “Assad regime” of bombing an MSF hospital [Medecins sans Frontieres] to the east of Aleppo and of killing the last paediatrician in the city. This demonstrates that, for these media, the only priority is this pocket of the city where terrorists are embedded.
The three-quarters of Aleppo under Syrian Government control where numerous paediatricians are practicing is of no consequence for this media. We witnessed the same bias when Al Kindi, the biggest hospital in Aleppo, was targeted by terrorist mortars and then intentionally burnt down about 2 or 3 years ago. The media ignored this criminal act.”
He refers to this sort of propaganda as “lying by omission” saying:
“This media never mention the continuous bombardment and the carnage we have witnessed in western Aleppo where every single sector has been targeted. On a daily basis we see dozens of people murdered.
What makes these omissions even more despicable is that these areas represent 75% of Aleppo and there are 1.5 million people living in them. Compare this to the 300,000 living in the eastern zone which is occupied by terrorist groups.
This twisted narrative engenders the belief that these terrorist groups that are attacking us are actually the victims. Even more abhorrent, these media have distorted our “Save Aleppo” appeal, to make it look as if we are calling for Assad and the Syrian Army to cease hostilities!
This is FALSE. Added to which, they are not “Assad’s forces“, they are the national forces of the regular Syrian army that is defending the Syrian State.
The western and gulf media could at least have had the decency to mention the terrorist massacres of our people. For example, on Friday 30th April, when one of their mortars targeted a mosque at prayer time.”
Footnote: I find the New Zealand media pathetic in its coverage of events like the Syrian war and tend to search for other sources. I regularly watch Al Jazeera but now find their coverage of Syria extremely biased. Perhaps this is because the organisation is based in, and financed by Qatar, a sponsor (together with Saudi Arabia and Turkey) of anti-government forces in Syria.
Of late I notice that Al Jazeera has been smudging out the logos identifying sources in many of the videos they display. Can’t help thinking they wish to cover up they fact they are relying on the “rebel’ news media for their videos of action in Syria.
This poster/internet meme is making the rounds at the moment. A “true believer” asked for my comments on it as he seemed to think its arguments amounted to “gospel truth.”
So here are some comments:
“Natural” vs “man-made”
They are comparing crystals found in nature with a processed chemical here. But if CaF2 (the ore fluorite) was meant be used for water treatment it would have to be processed to remove impurities (the natural ore is far from pure). The most effective way of removing contaminants is conversion to hydrofluoric acid and precipitation of calcium fluoride (CaF2). Ending up with a “man-made” product!
Some anti-fluoride campaigners seem to argue that fluoridation would be OK if the fluoridating agent used was CaF2. The contaminants present and need for purification are only two of the flaws in their argument. The low solubility of CaF2 is another flaw.
Incidentally, fluorosilicic acid is effectively purified in its manufacture because of the differing melting and boiling points of heavy metal fluorides and silicon tetrafluoride.
“Safe to hold” vs corrosive
True, concentrated fluorosilicic acid is much more corrosive than CaF2. But so what – this is an issue for those manufacturing, transporting and handling the source material. It is not an issue for consumers as drinking water does not contain either CaF2 or fluorosilicic acid.
“Potential Acute Health Effects: Hazardous in case of skin contact (irritant), of eye contact (irritant), of ingestion, of inhalation. Corrosive to eyes and skin. The amount of tissue damage depends on length of contact. Eye contact can result in corneal damage or blindness. Skin contact can produce inflammation and blistering. Inhalation of dust will produce irritation to gastro-intestinal or respiratory tract, characterized by burning, sneezing and coughing. Severe over-exposure can produce lung damage, choking, unconsciousness or death.”
“Precautions: Keep locked up.. Keep container dry. Do not ingest. Do not breathe dust. Never add water to this product. Wear suitable protective clothing. In case of insufficient ventilation, wear suitable respiratory equipment. If ingested, seek medical advice immediately and show the container or the label. Avoid contact with skin and eyes.”
So the advice to those manufacturing, handling and transporting CaF2 is that it is not safe to hold with bare hands!
Sparingly soluble in water
This is one of the disadvantages of CaF2 as a fluoridating agent as a saturated solution has a fluoride concentration of about 7.5 ppm. Just imagine the size of the container required to hold the quantities of CaF2 solution required for addition to a reservoir!
The high concentration of fluoride in liquid fluorosilicic acid (and the fact that it rapidly decomposes to produce the hydrated fluoride anion on dilution with water) provides a big advantage to it as a fluoridating agent.
Fluoride toxicity reduced by calcium
Yes, high concentrations of fluoride are toxic – although the concentration in community fluoridated water (CWF) (0.7 ppm) is quite safe. The toxicity of ingested fluoride at high concentrations can be reduced by the presence of calcium – because of the low solubility of CaF2.
But let’s be realistic, in the absence of other factors the addition of the appropriate amount of calcium would reduce the fluoride concentration to about 8 ppm. Far higher than the regulated maximum for CWF.
As for some other speculated protective action the calcium in CaF2 could provide – the calcium concentration in a saturated CaF2 solution is only about 7.5 ppm – and at the fluoride concentration used for fluoridated water CaF2 would support a calcium concentration of about 0.8 ppm. Any calcium from added calcium fluoride would be irrelevant compared with the natural calcium concentrations in drinking water. The graph compares these figures for several treatment stations in New Zealand – see Calcium fluoride and the “soft” water anti-fluoridation myth for further information.
“Man-made waste product”
I have discussed the “man-made” fallacy above. Anti-fluoride campaigners love to describe fluorosilicic acid as a “waste product.” But Wikipedia defines a waste product as:
“unwanted or unusable materials. Waste is any substance which is discarded after primary use, or it is worthless, defective and of no use”
By definition, then, the fluorosilicic acid used in CWF is not a waste product. It would be if it were disposed of without use – then so is food.
Anti-fluoride campaigners also seem to think that a by-product is somehow evil. This is because most fluorosilicic acid is produced as a by-product of phosphate ore processing. But, come on. Surely production and use of by-products is a desirable feature in judging the conservation aspects of a manufacturing process. And would phosphate chemicals be somehow evil if they were produced as a by-product of fluoride chemical manufacturer from phosphate ores?
Toxicity of “co-contaminants”
I discussed the problem of contaminants in “natural” CaF2 above and added that contaminants in the fluorosilicic acid used for CWF are very low.
But don’t take my word for it. Water treatment chemicals are regulated and the fluorosilicic acid used for CWF must pass rigid tests for the presence of contaminants. The regulations provide for maximum concentrations of contaminants and where a certificate of analysis shows these are exceeded the material is rejected by water treatment plants.
Of course – some opponents like to claim that any amount of contaminants is too much, despite the regulations. Well, if they want to pursue that argument then they must look at all sources of contamination. In many cases, they will find that there is a larger amount of contamination coming from the original water source, natural contamination, than from the water treatment chemicals
I showed this in the article Fluoridation: putting chemical contamination in context where I compared the amount of arsenic from different sources in the Hamilton City water supply. The figure below from that article shows that natural levels of arsenic in the water source (the Waikato River) are much higher than the recommended levels for drinking water. Even after treatment (which reduces the arsenic levels to below the recommended maximum) the contribution of arsenic from this natural source is still much greater than the calculated contribution from the fluoridating agent used.
This bit of anti-fluoride propaganda is just another example of scaremongering relying on chemophobia and lack of information, even ignorance.
Have a read if you have not already seen it. There is nothing new or challenging in it. If you can read anti-fluoridation articles by Paul Connett or Declan Waugh you can read this. It may just as well have been copypasta from Connett’s book or one of Waugh’s reports.
Peer-review a “gold standard?”
This paper illustrates a concern I have that many people see publication in a peer-reviewed scientific journal as some sort of “proof” of truth. Interestingly though, this is not the attitude of active researchers. Sure, that is where they look for previous credible findings and possible methodologies but, after all, scientists are in the job of at least improving on existing knowledge, if not outright changing it. They do not accept published findings or opinions published in peer-reviewed journals as infallible.I can understand why intelligent people in social debates will treat peer-reviewed scientific papers as some sort of “gold standard.” After all, the usual alternatives they are bombarded with are misinformed and distorted populist articles in ideologically motivated “natural” health magazines and on similar web sites.
But peer review is hardly fool-proof, authors of scientific papers hardly always objective themselves and some scientific journals hardly efficient or necessarily ethical in their peer-review processes. I think everyone who uses citations like these in their debates should be aware of this and approach their use of scientific literature critically and intelligently. They should evaluate authors, the quality of their papers and the reliability of journals’ publishing processes.
Ideologically motivated authors
Of course ideological motivation should not, by itself, mean that arguments used in a paper are invalid. Not at all. But it does require that papers are carefully peer-reviewed. Even an honest author attempting to be fair finds it difficult toa void their bias. An intelligent reader should be aware of an author’s possible motivations and the extent of peer review normally offered by the author’s institution and the journal.
Author Stephen Peckham – former chairperson of activist group “Hampshire against fluoridation”
These days it is common for authors to declare any interest – as they did in this statement of conflicts of interest of this paper: – “The authors declare that there is no conflict of interests regarding the publication of this paper.”
Frankly I do not think this is good enough. In this case Stephen Peckman (the senior author) is a former chairperson of the activist group Hampshire Against Fluoridation. He is an active political campaigner on the issue of fluoridation – see, for example, this TV debate on the BBC a few years ago. Perhaps this should have been declared in the “Conflicts of interest” section? At least awareness of this activism is a warning to the intelligent reader to be vigilant in their reading of the paper.
The intelligent reader should also be conscious of the journal used for publication. Some journals really should ring alarm bells. Not just journals like Fluoride which have a clear political position on fluoride and fluoridation. But journals who have a poor reputation for their peer review and other publishing processes. For example, some journals which charge authors for publication may be financially motivated to publish any old rubbish. Willing to use poor peer reviewers, etc. They may also allow authors to use unethical citation procedures for promotion of themselves or their groups – or raising the journal impact factor.
Some “peer-reviewed” journals really are “bottom-feeders.”
In general researchers get to know the names of these poor quality journals and avoid them for their own reputations sake. However, such journals (which one commenter has described as “bottom feeders” – see Science Denialists Make Fake Journal, Get Shut Down) do provide a publication avenue for the less scrupulous author who finds difficulty publishing elsewhere. The Scientific World Journal, where Peckham chose to publish this paper, is one of these.
Here are some on-line comments about The Scientific World Journal.
“One result is that the open-access movement is producing an almost boomtown-like increase in the number of scholarly open-access publishers, fostered by a very low barrier to entrance into the learned publishing industry. To become a scholarly publisher, all you need now is a computer, a website, and the ability to create unique journal titles.
Bolstering this trend is the so-called “gold open-access” model, in which publishing is supported not by subscription fees but by author fees. An example of a gold open-access journal is The Scientific World Journal, currently published by Cairo-based Hindawi Publishing Corporation. This megajournal covers virtually all scientific fields and imposes an article processing charge of $1,000 for each accepted article. “
This “gold open-access” model provides an easy way for unscrupulous authors to buy space for their articles.
“Every year, Thomson Reuters, the firm that publishes the impact-factor rankings, takes action against the most extreme offenders by banning them from the latest lists. It lets them in again, suitably chastened, a couple of years later.
Almost all of those banned [in 2011] are excluded because of excessive self-citation, although three journals — Cell Transplantation, Medical Science Monitor and The Scientific World Journal — apparently worked together to cite each other and thus raise impact factors. That “cartel” was originally reported by Phil Davis on The Scholarly Kitchen, and he has today posted a follow-up article on that ban. “
“In 2011, The Scientific World Journal was excluded from the annual Thomson Reuters Journal Citation Reports for being an accomplice in a ‘citation cartel.’ Phil Davis over at the Scholarly Kitchen first uncovered evidence against the Scientific World Journal for excessive self-citation practices along with two other journals that shared common board members: Cell Transplantation and Medical Science Monitor. This past occurrence has more recently lead to The Scientific World Journaltaking unprecedented action by retracting two of their own papers after finding a number of self-citations in them with the clear goal of improving impact factor rankings. “
Readers can probably relate similar stories of ideologically motivated authors using “bottom feeder” journals to get their material published in an apparent peer-reviewed journal. It has happened a bit in the climate change field. And their are several other examples of the technique being used in the anti-fluoridation movement.
Quackwatch lists the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons as an untrustworthy, non-recommended periodical. Investigative journalist Brian Deer described the journal as the:
“house magazine of a right-wing American fringe group, the Arizona-based Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, which campaigns against US vaccination policies. The association is also vocal in opposing moves to combat fraud by private doctors, and medical professional efforts to reduce deaths from domestic firearms. In 2005, Time Magazine reported that the association had only 4,000 members. Although cited by Private Eye in stories attacking MMR, the association’s journal – recently renamed from the Medical Sentinel, presumably for the purpose of attempting to give its ideologically slanted material the aura of science – is barely credible as an independent forum for such material. No objective medical scientist with important information of any standard would submit it to such a publication, unless they couldn’t get it published anywhere else.”
This is the thing about these “bottom-feeding” journals. No reputable researcher uses them for fear of losing their reputation. But they do provide an avenue for papers that couldn’t get published in a reputable journal for reasons of poor quality or because they amount to propaganda for political activists.
Don’t be fooled by such tactics. Always approach articles, even those in “peer-reviewed” journals, critically and intelligently.
And don’t accept at face value the claims by activist propagandists that the material they promote has a scientific stamp of approval.
First – have a look at this satirical programme from Germany. It has English captions but is worth watching a few times for the subtleties.
I have commented before about the information war going on around the Ukrainian conflict. It might seem like a distant issue here (and it usually doesn’t get much coverage). But I believe the biassed propaganda we are exposed to is dangerous because of its jingoism.
And this week the NZ Listener brought the conflict right into our living rooms with an editorial which uses the same innuendo and unconfirmed claims that feeds this jingoism (see Alarmed World).
Out of the blue in a piece seeming to be about Islamic State and the conflict in the Middle East we get this:
The West faces a similar test of its resolve in Ukraine, where attempts to deter Russian-backed aggression have been largely ineffectual. The world knows that Russia supports the separatist rebellion in eastern Ukraine, that it has troops on Ukrainian soil and that it probably supplied the missiles that brought down a Malaysian airliner. Yet the European Union’s sanctions against Russia have succeeded only in provoking economic counter-measures that have hurt European food producers, for whom Russia was a $19 billion export market, and threats to ban “unfriendly” airlines from Russian airspace.
The assertion the “world knows” has become a substitute for evidence! The world certainly knew when the USSR invaded Hungary and Czechoslovakia, or the US invaded Iraq. We could see the evidence. Tanks surging across borders, planes bombing, troops on the ground. But nothing of that here (except the occasional soldier who claims to have lost his way – or fuzzy satellite photos of combine harvesters*).
[Yes, I know the presence in Ukraine of Russian and other voluntary (or even mercenary) fighters is well established – fighting on both sides. But that is not the same as invasion of a foreign army the media often claims.]
The “world knows” that Russia “probably” supplied missiles used to shoot down Malaysian airline MH17 – when the world knows nothing of the sort! At this stage this issue is wide open (see MH17 – Preliminary report leaves most conspiracy theories intact) – but it seems our media thinks we don’t deserve anything better than unwarranted claims on such a serious matter.
That shows no respect for the victims of this tragedy.
As for the danger of this sort of biased reporting and media manipulation, and the jingoism it promotes, we can read the last paragraph in the Listener editorial.
“What has become painfully apparent, in both the Middle East and Ukraine, is that the democratic West is susceptible to paralysis and self-doubt when confronted with the forces of totalitarianism and autocracy. Perhaps it’s time to consider what the world’s fate might have been without the moral resolve exhibited by Churchill and Roosevelt in World War II.”
Isn’t this the sort of talk used to prepare a population for war?
* Of course I have taken poetic license here about these fuzzy photos. After all, whether these were photos of artillary or combine harvesters is not evidence for or against an invasion. We know that both sides in Ukraine have plenty of artillery weapons and are using them. But for the pedantic, and those confused by my aside, here are some links to the combine harvester/artillery story:
“In the ongoing propaganda campaign mounted by the Obama administration to claim that Russia has “invaded” Ukraine from the east, it offered up some grainy black-and-white satellite images purporting to show heavy Russian military equipment inside Ukraine.
I earlier noted how unlikely it was that heavy mobile artillery pieces would be set up in a perfect line in what appeared to be a field of crops, with, as the government claimed, cannons aimed towards Ukrainian positions in toward the west. As I pointed out, there was no sign of piles of ammunition alongside these “units” as we routinely see in closeups of heavy mobile artillery — for example in photos of IDF pieces positioned outside of Gaza. I also noted the unlikelihood that such equipment would have been set up in an open field, unprotected by trees or other cover, and lined up to make for easy targeting by enemy artillery or air attack.
Now an alert reader from the agricultural state of Texas (Laredo, TX to be precise), has sent a note suggesting out that what the supposedly incriminating images most likely show are combines in a field of grain or some other crop planted in rows. He sent along photos showing harvesters, which of course feature a long, straight “cannon-like” tube which is used to shoot the harvested grain up and into an accompanying truck to be hauled off to market or to a storage silo.”
Here is a higher resolution of the satellite photo which, I understand, came from the US State Department:
I wouldn’t pretend to draw any definite conclusions from these photos but I think Dave Lindorff has a point:
“Now maybe the released satellite images do show Russian artillery, but given Washington’s extensive history of abject lying in the interest of promoting its war agenda (think Gulf of Tonkin, Iraq WMDs and mobile poison gas factories, Assad gas attacks in Damascus, etc.), it’s worth taking the claim with a “grain” of…well, in this case actual grain.”