The BBC’s coverage of the West’s dirty war on Syria has reached a level of manipulative dishonesty that deserves to be called obscene.
The following is my transcript of a Syria-related segment of the BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ programme broadcast on 9th February 2018. (A recording of that programme is temporarily available via the BBC website, at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b09qb0n7; the item transcribed begins at 2h 43m 36s. All suggested improvements to my attempt at accurate transcription will be gratefully received.)
I have placed square brackets at points where something is said — or omitted! — that not only deserves to be discussed, but *would have been*, were the BBC something other than a worthless propaganda sluice serving Western state-corporate-miltarist interests. As and when I have the time free in the next few days, I will add such discussion in the form of numbered footnotes at the bottom of this posting. Meantime, readers who wish to contribute their own (numbered!) thoughts via the ‘Comments’ are very welcome to do so: ‘crowdsourcing’ of media analysis is always to be encouraged!
As you read, note the way that the interviewer (the increasingly ridiculous but seemingly immovable John Humphrys) and his
warmongering militarist deeply humane and caring interviewee happily conspire — by means of an impressive web of shared lies and agreed omissions! — to reinforce a narrative about Syria which, privileging as it does the Western neoimperial project, places the discussion *radically at odds with reality*. (Anyone who cannot see what I mean has obviously made the mistake of getting their news from ‘the news’…)
This garbage, ladies and gentlemen, is *what you are paying for*…
John Humphrys: Syria is still the world’s greatest humanitarian disaster.  Huge numbers of people, many of them children, are still dying.  And, yet again, the United Nations has said ‘Something must be done. There must be a ceasefire.  The international community’ — whatever that may be!  — ‘must get involved.’ After more than seven savage years , it all has a bit of a hollow ring to it.
Well, Karin von Hippel  is the Director General of the Royal United Services Institute . Is there <weary tone> any sort of viable peace process …?
Karin von Hippel: It appears … Good morning … Uh, it appears to be, uh, the case that … I don’t see any hope right now. I feel that, uh, the situation has gone from bad to worse to even worse.  We’re in a situation now where, previously, the US, UK and other countries were leading on the peace process in Syria  — albeit not successfully  — to a situation now where you have Russia and Iran really in the lead . And what Russia and Iran want in Syria is not going to be good for the average Syrian. 
JH: In other words, they want to keep Assad in power , because…
KvH: They want to keep Assad in power. They don’t care about the civilians that have been killed, and they don’t care about more civilians, uh, getting killed.  There are still many pockets of the country under control of opposition groups, jihadists, even some ISIL pockets as well. Obviously everyone wants to push ISIL out ; but, in terms of a peace process that brings all the parties to the table — minus these Jihadi groups and ISIL  — that really doesn’t exist right now.
JH: And what’s America doing?  Because Donald Trump did send in a few missiles , and we all thought “Oh! Perhaps something’s going to happen…” 
KvH: Yes. I’m not sure he fully understands how to implement a strategy… He was obviously … uh, he was … disturbed by the images of the kids being killed by the chemical attack , and he sent 59 Tomahawk missiles in, and then he thought ‘job done’. And of course the use of force only matters if it’s followed by meaningful diplomatic efforts to bring parties back to the table. Otherwise it’s just a one-off. And by the way, the Syrian regime  and the Russians were tipped off before that had happened, so it really didn’t cause that much damage .
JH: <wearily> And the prospect of meaningful diplomatic … <with a cynical chuckle> manoeuvers … uh, what…? Nil?
KvH: Well, at the moment, no. But if the US, UK and others really pushed their way back into a leadership position, yes, I think things could turn. That would be a great thing to happen. I don’t see any evidence, right now, of that happening.
JH: So who needs to take the initiative? 
KvH: I mean, I think this country certainly could push, quietly, behind the scenes…
KvH: Yes, with … push the Americans, as well, to say “Look, let’s reassert ourselves. We used to control this process.” The earlier agreements that had been reached in 2012-2014 in Geneva, uh, they could … they need to be reinvigorated.  I don’t think the UN on its own can do it without the Americans in pole position. And so we’re in a situation now where the UN is trying, but it really can’t reinvigorate its own peace process.
JH: The lazy analysis is that, erm, America backed off when Russia moved in… 
KvH: Yeah, I mean, that started to happen at the end of the Obama administration; but I don’t think secretary Kerry, when he was the Secretary of State, backed off. But then the transition happened, and president Trump just took so long to, er, figure out what he’s doing. He still really hasn’t explained what his Syria policy is.  Do you remember, he said “We’ll have an ISIL policy in 30 days”? We still haven’t seen any evidence of that. There was a National Security Strategy that was published in December — and the same day it was published, he contradicted several of the things in the Strategy itself, with respect to Russia, for example.  So it’s not clear to me that there is a US foreign policy writ large, nor on specific issues such as Syria, ISIL, Russia, etc.
JH: And if I asked you — just in a few seconds, if you would — where Syria is likely to be in, let’s say, five years from now…? 
KvH: I’m not optimistic, unfortunately. It’s such a tragedy. Half the population has been displaced, half a million have been killed, and I’m not optimistic it’s going to get any better…
JH: More rubble…? 
KvH: … without … Yes, more rubble  … without a significant push by the US, UK and other countries.
JH: Karin von Hippel, thank you very much indeed.
And now the bracketed points — with MD’s commentary added:
John Humphrys: Syria is still the world’s greatest humanitarian disaster. [*]
[MD Commentary:] As recently as a few weeks ago, the World Health Program, the World Food Program and UNICEF issued a joint report saying that “the worst humanitarian crisis in the world” was unfolding in Yemen. Humphrys and his scriptwriter here shift the focus to Syria — for three reasons: (i) They want to crank up the ‘We have to do something!‘ machine — which means Syria has to be put at the top of the list; (ii) The appalling situation in Yemen is largely the creation of Saudi Arabia — and among the Rules of BBC Pseudo-Journalism is “Don’t ever annoy the Saudis“; (iii) The amount of obvious UK and US involvement in Yemen’s Saudi-led slow genocide makes it a tricky thing to talk about. Best just to highlight Syria, eh?
[JH:] Huge numbers of people, many of them children, are still dying. [*]
[MD Commentary:] ‘Huge numbers’ — but no actual number; ‘many of them children’ — but no figure for how many. It’s a reminder of (i) how shamelessly manipulative the BBC’s coverage of Syria tends to be; (ii) how little actual information the BBC provides. As it happens, there are no BBC journalist-impersonators reporting from Syria, and what we hear broadcast comes from staff who are sitting in places like Beirut (155 miles from Idlib) and repeating what they are told by the terrorist groups they refer to as ‘the opposition’. There are, in fact, several independent journalists who visit Syria (I can name some), and other westerners who actually live there (I am in touch with one); but the BBC does not talk to them, nor does it care much about anything the Syrian government says. As for actual numbers, the BBC has played a long-standing shell-game with Syrian casualty figures. When required to discuss the Syrian Arab Army, the BBC does so in a way that minimises its losses and presents it as a vile, murdering horde whose defeat should be desired by all right-thinking persons (and thus Aleppo ‘fell to’ the SAA, rather then being ‘liberated by’ it). But when a report on ‘the appalling Syrian death-toll‘ requires the hugest possible figure to be produced, the hundreds of thousands of SAA casualties are quietly added in without a word of explanation.
[JH:] ‘… The international community’ — whatever that may be! [*]
[MD Commentary:] The concept of ‘the international community’ is a fascinating one. First, there is no such thing. The world is a collection of states mostly fronted by puppets and run by gangsters for the benefit of elites: nothing less like a ‘community’ could be imagined. The term, in fact, simply refers to a fictional construct whose purpose is to give propaganda leverage to whatever the US wants. Uncle Sam wants something to happen? The international community is united! Uncle Sam wants something to stop? The international community is outraged! On this present occasion, Humphrys is delivering the tantrum that is the third option. Uncle Sam wanted something and didn’t get it? The international community is stupid and pitiful and bogus and can’t be relied on for anything! But don’t worry, folks: next week, the international community will be back to normal, and Humphrys et al will be waving it around like the geopolitical rubber stamp it is…
[JH:] After more than seven savage years [*]
[MD Commentary:] Since all wars are savage by definition, use of the word in state-corporate media indicates something other than savagery. What it indicates is the desire on the part of our elites that ‘You, the public, should disapprove of what is happening.‘ Note that elite-sanctioned acts of appalling and self-evident savagery — such as the 2003 US-led war on Iraq — are not reported as ‘savage’: they require public approval, not public disapproval, so the ‘savagery’ signal is not sent. Back in 2010-11 I was a regular listener to ‘Today’: at no point did I hear Humphrys or anyone else on the show refer to the violent US occupation of a shattered Iraq as having continued for ‘more than seven savage years‘. Indeed, such langage will not be tolerated in connection with the ‘good violence’ of the West and its admitted proxies: when, in late 2003, George Galloway said that the US and UK had attacked Iraq “like wolves”, he was rapidly slung out of the Labour Party (Blair’s ‘New Labour’, remember). [[Incidentally, an apology to wolves is called for. They kill to eat. They don’t kill for corporations. George…?]]
[JH:] Karin von Hippel [*] is the Director General of the Royal United Services Institute [*].
[MD Commentary:] Indeed she is. But she has not always been: not so long ago, Karin von Hippel actually worked for the US State Department — and did so for nearly six years. The reason why the BBC suppressed this highly relevant fact is obvious: they want us to think of Karin von Hippel as an ‘independent’ figure running an ‘independent’ think-tank — not as someone who spent more than a half a decade in the service of a state that since 2010 has been actively working to destroy Syria. As a ‘thought experiment’, imagine that she had spent five years — or even five minutes — working for the Syrian government in some capacity or other: far from politely overlooking that fact, Humphrys would have battered her with it from start to finish.
As for the RUSI, note again that no kind of explanatory introduction is provided: it is as if any organisation with the words ‘Royal’, ‘Services’ and ‘Institute’ in its title is self-evidently going to be honest and objective and simply want what’s best for everyone. In reality, the RUSI wants what’s best for the military-industrial complex: what this ‘defence [sic] and security [sic] think-tank’ actually does — with its large staff (c. 57), massive budget (c. £5.7m) and lovely building in Whitehall (yes, I’ve been there) — is see that MIC lobbying for weapons procurement and war is ‘mainlined’ straight into the compliant media. (Top team includes David Petraeus and John Scarlett: remember what they did?) Thus when the British Army’s Chief of General Staff was shrieking about Russia the other week — naturally, the point was to argue for increased military spending — it was the RUSI that gave him a platform, and the RUSI’s supposed credibility that helped guarantee fawning BBC coverage of what should, by rights, have been denounced as a rather pitiable exhibition. For the rest, nothing on the BBC’s lengthening ‘charge sheet’ is more scandalous than the way certain favoured ‘think tanks’ are given direct access to the ‘public service’ airwaves without the slightest adult discussion of who funds them and what they are about. It’s as if the BBC doesn’t want anyone to know that a ‘think tank’ is a lobby’s way of buying a space in the ‘news agenda’: a ‘think tank’ releases a report; the BBC reports the report… Easy!
[KvH:] And what Russia and Iran want in Syria is not going to be good for the average Syrian. 
[MD Commentary:] Few things in life are funnier than the implication that ‘what Russia and Iran want in Syria’ could ever be as bad for ‘the average Syrian’ as what the US gangster state and its jihadist proxies would happily do to the place. Remember that US ‘concern’ for the people of Libya led to so much ‘humanitarian bombing’ that the nation with the highest Human Development Index in Africa has been reduced to a state of chaos and collapse — regressing to the extent that black African slaves are now sold in open-air markets.
[KvH:] They don’t care about the civilians that have been killed, and they don’t care about more civilians, uh, getting killed. 
[MD Commentary:] Disgusting though that two-part statement is, I am glad that she made it: this, ladies and gentlemen, shows the BBC in its role as a happy purveyor of (elite-serving) hate speech. Note that not only did the guest say it, but Humphrys had absolutely no objection to it being said. This latter point is in stark contrast to what would happen if you or I went on the programme and tried to say that some action by the Americans — or the Israelis, or the Saudis, or any other official ‘ally’ currently throwing bombs at someone else’s country — showed that ‘they don’t care about civilians being killed‘: you know as well as I do that we’d be off the air in an instant. The guest’s highly manipulative as well as evidence-free accusation — exploiting as it does the only kind of racism that the right-on, oh-so-liberal BBC will allow on its ‘flagship’ news programmes — is really the blood libel of the modern West’s media-political discourse. Only, instead of tales of innocents being casually slaughtered by non-Christians within our society as part of their inhuman rituals, we hear that innocents are now casually slaughtered by evil foreign states determined to defend their inhuman regimes against our beloved democracy. And when I say ‘racism’, I am absoloutely serious: nothing but expediently rekindled race-hate (Russians are beasts! Iranians are beasts! Syrians are beasts!) explains the seemingly ubiquitous media assumption that an Israeli pilot overflying Gaza shows an ultra-civilised determination not to harm innocent Palestinians — while a Syrian pilot overflying a terrorist-controlled Syrian city full of Syrians sees a hospital in a residential area and decides to go for double top. In our state-corporate media, you see, it’s only our side that cares about ‘innocent human life’, only our side that is allowed ‘precision bombing’ and ‘surgical strikes’: it’s as if no-one else even knows the words. Meanwhile, the never-to-be-criticised US operates a continent-wide drone-murder progamme more than 90% of whose victims are innocent bystanders killed in attacks controlled from far away with a screen and a joystick, just like a video game…
[JH:] And what’s America doing? 
[MD Commentary:] You have to laugh out loud at that. One of the most outrageous lies that is fed to us by our state-corporate media is the one that treats the West in general — and the US in particular — as ‘not being involved in Syria’, ‘refusing to get embroiled’, ‘standing idly by while people are killed!’, etc. ‘And what’s America doing?‘, asks the ever-obedient Humphrys, with an air of ‘Surely there must be something happening — if we look hard enough…?’ Well, America has not only been covertly arming, training and financing all manner of jihadi head-choppers for at least the last seven years, but it has also illegally invaded Syria and, currently, is illegally occupying a sizeable part of it — the part that has 50% of the oil, lots of the water and a good deal of the best land. It is also directly attacking — yes, from within Syria’s borders — the country’s soldiers and those of its allies. The US, in other words, IS NOW OPENLY WAGING AGGRESSIVE WAR AGAINST SYRIA. Yet, somehow, media trustys like Humphrys consistently overlook this and similar facts in precisely the way they wouldn’t if the Syrians had illegally invaded and occupied, say, some part of Texas. The reality is actually very easy to describe: imperial lackeys like Humphrys view the entire world as a US possession: the US can bomb, invade, occupy and plunder any country it likes, any time it likes — and only if the US wants him to talk about it will he consider talking about it… And this, in fact, is one of the topics I had in mind when, earlier, I spoke about ‘shared lies‘. Do you think Karin von Hippel — ex- of the State Department! — knows less than I do about the ongoing, illegal US invasion and occupation of Syria? Exactly.
[JH:] Because Donald Trump did send in a few missiles 
[MD Commentary:] Note the dismissively casual way in which our media lackey refers to the knee-jerk firing of 59 cruise missiles at an air force base in Syria — killing not only a number of the people working at that base, but also various entirely innocent civilians at other locations. Now think of how different would have been the tone and content if some aggressive foreign power had, for some equally bullshit reason, fired 59 — sorry, ‘a few’ — missiles at a US base somewhere (perhaps even one of the 10 they are known to have in the UK). Wouldn’t sound so dismissively casual then, would he?
[JH:] and we all thought “Oh! Perhaps something’s going to happen…” 
[MD Commentary:] See above.
[KvH:] the Syrian regime 
[MD Commentary:] Ah, now that’s one of my favourites! In fact, I don’t think there’s any word in the entire state-corporate media vocabulary that is more loaded with meaning than the word ‘regime’. First, think of how you say it — or, more to the point, think of how an establishment lickspittle like Evan Davis or Justin Webb will say it on Radio 4: “Reyy-ZHEEEEEEM…”. Ooh, that just sounds so sneery, doesn’t it! Come on: let’s all do it together: “The Syrian reyy-ZHEEEEEEM…” The point is, of course, that our media is a propaganda system — and in a propaganda system, words are not used to ‘describe reality’, but to control thought. ‘Regime’, then, is the word that gets used when someone is talking about a government that must not be thought of as legitimate. And, as you will no doubt have guessed, it’s the US that decides what is and isn’t allowed to seem legitimate. If Uncle Sam likes you — because you’re giving him what he wants! — you can be ‘a government’, and will likely be allowed to remain ‘a government’ for as long as you want, however many are the people you rob and torture and slaughter for the enrichment of all those hungry US corporations. But if Uncle Sam doesn’t get what he wants — perhaps because you have made the bizarre mistake of deciding that your principal loyalty is to your own country and its population — then you’re nothing more than a regime. In other words, when the BBC or someone on it starts calling your government ‘a regime’ it means that the US wants you removed. It really is as simple — and as pitiful — as that.
[JH:] More rubble…? 
[MD Commentary:] I have drawn attention elsewhere to Humphrys’s sickening tendency to act not only as a ‘nodding dog’ when elite-friendly yarns are being spun on-mic, but also as a ‘wicket-keeper’ for the elite side when its speaker fails to drive a point home. Here he is in the latter role. KvH has failed to paint a sufficiently vivid picture of the CATASTROPHE that will be Syria in five years’ time — so Humphrys helpfully conjures up precisely what’s needed: ‘More rubble! Think of it! Rubble everywhere! Mountains of rubble! Nothing but rubble! Did I mention … rubble…?’
[KvH:] … Yes, more rubble … without a significant push by the US, UK and other countries. 
[MD Commentary:] — And there we are: the vivid image is gratefully accepted, embraced, and used to reinforce the point. Yes, people: the way to prevent all that extra rubble is to increase the involvement of the most militarily aggressive and destructive nations on the planet. It’s brilliant!
[[TO BE CONTINUED… MEANWHILE, SCROLL DOWN FOR EXCELLENT READER COMMENTS!]]
If you’ve enjoyed reading this or another posting, please consider making an anonymised micro-donation in return! Micro-donation — 50p, 50c, whatever — is the way to sponsor the creation of quality content outside the control of corporate-owned and power-serving media structures. To micro-donate to me, with guaranteed anonymity, simply click on the button… Thanks!