I like RT. Crosstalk with Peter Lavelle is a standout for the intelligence, erudition and wit of many of its guests, and I’m not just talking about Dmitry Babich. A number of other programmes have something to offer – I know a lot more about environmental issues in Nebraska and US coal country now thanks to some excellent documentaries. On the down side, the wall-to-wall Bernie Sanders of Thom Hartman and Larry King quickly palled during the US primaries.
RT’s Watching the Hawks is a three person current affairs comment programme. It is a glossy affair, with good-looking hosts and swish production values. The mission statement of WTH is that ‘we deal with the issues that the mainstream media won’t touch’. There is a wonderful trailer, which shows the hosts going to a funeral, and a voice-over which speaks movingly of ‘your sudden passing’, and ‘I’d tell you I’m sorry if only I could’. We find ourselves at the graveside of the Mainstream Media, ‘which has finally met its match’, presumably in Watching the Hawks.
Watching the Hawks recently devoted a segment of the show to the ‘Boy in the Ambulance’.
Just when it looks like Syria might win the battle for Aleppo and so free West Aleppo from hellfire cannon and East Aleppo from terrorist occupation, out of East Aleppo comes the story of Omran Daqneesh, the little boy on the orange chair with the bleeding face, a victim, we are told, of ‘regime’ bombing.
The boy is described as having cuts and bruises, which may explain why he was dumped unceremoniously on the chair, with no care for any broken bones. Given a war, and a world, where children lose limbs and eyesight in bomb attacks, or are raped, killed, beheaded, media reaction to the picture could be considered disproportionate to say the least. Consider, for example, Mahmoud, an 8 y old boy, who was born without arms, and then lost his 2 legs by a rocket sent by the ‘rebels’ down on Aleppo.
So far Mahmoud has not been given the attention bestowed on Omran.
The story (Omran’s, not Mahmoud’s) actually brought tears to the eyes of Western news presenters.
Not everyone was impressed:
The video referred to is here.
The purpose of this unexpected rediscovery of humanity is soon revealed as organs of the press ranging from the Guardianto the Telegraph smoothly move from expressing horror to demand a Libya style ‘no-fly zone’, to be accompanied, presumably, by some less than humanitarian carnage. The call is reiterated on twitter by the Telegraph’s Josie Ensor
A careful look at the video and the AP news report and some digging on social media and the story unravels fast. The scene looks fake from the start, the careful posing, the boy running his hand quite heavily over his supposedly wounded face, the suspicious look of the ‘blood’, which from a side view looks rather like it has been applied with a four-inch brush.
The behaviour of all involved is inconsistent with a wartime emergency. The boy is dumped unceremoniously on a chair, despite having, as we are later told, a suspected brain injury. Those crowding round the door to watch, video and photograph (three at least are videoing or taking pictures) seem less like humanitarian workers than a film crew. It is well known the ‘humanitarian’ units in East Aleppo are funded by the Foreign Office and essentially operate as propaganda units for terrorist organisations such as al Nusra, so it comes as no surprise to learn that Omran’s photographer took a selfie with the gang that cut the head off 12 year old Abdullah Issa in Aleppo, Nuredin al-Zenki. The photographer, Mahmoud Raslan, is well known on social media for his close relationship with terrorist groups and his celebration of their successes.
Both the RUAF and the SAAF have denied carrying out operations in that area, on the night in question. Certainly there is nothing in the behaviour of those involved in the photo shoot to indicate a dire emergency. The question of fraud is significant and should not be overlooked. Firstly, given all the stories of Russians bombing civilians, why the need to fabricate tragedy? There are only two possible reasons: either there are no genuine bombing victims in East Aleppo right now when they are needed for propaganda purposes, or the ‘humanitarian’ (ie media) team is based well away from the line of fire (it’s tempting to think Pinewood Studios).
On Watching the Hawks Tyrel Ventura asks the pertinent question, ‘why the selective war outrage over children lost and hurt in this conflict, when the tragedies of the war in Yemen, for example, are ignored?’ Tabetha Wallace picks up on this point, giving figures on deaths in conflicts around the world: why should this particular image, beautifully framed, with perfect lighting and a sweet looking child tug at people’s heartstrings (Wallace is careful not to suggest the scene is staged). Perhaps the most perceptive comment of the whole segment comes from Sean Stone, who grasps the political nettle by pointing out that when Assad kills a civilian, it is highlighted in the media, but not when it’s the ‘rebels’ who are responsible. Furthermore, Stone refers to the great interest in chemical weapons when it was thought that the Syrian government was responsible for sarin attack on Gouta, and the complete lack of interest when it has become apparent that the only people using chemical weapons are the ‘rebels’
No one seriously tries to answer Tyrel’s question, about why there has been so much media hype over this particular tragedy. Not for a moment does it occur to any of the three that the reason for focusing on a hurt child at this particular time in this particular town was to give ammunition to the call for a no-fly zone over Aleppo. They do not notice that the media response has been totally disproportionate to the boy’s injuries. The claim that the incident was due to a ‘regime airstrike’ is accepted without question, despite the denials of both RuAF and SAAF. Strangest of all, no-one thinks it worth mentioning that the sole source for this story is al Nusra’s Aleppo Media Centre. It certainly doesn’t cross anyone mind that the story might be a fake.
It only took the eight minutes devoted to the Omran story to reveal the limitations of the knowledge and understanding of the hosts with regard to Syria, despite attempts to conceal their ignorance by relying on what they hope to be safe, undeniable positions.
Tyrel Ventura confidently declares that no side in Syria can claim the moral high ground. Let’s unpack this:
On one side you have the Syrian government and its allies, supported by the majority of the Syrian people, and fighting hard to preserve Syria, its social structure and its independence .
On the other side you have an assortment of groups funded by external powers whose goal, as with Libya, is to negate Syria as an independent power to be reckoned with, even if that means destroying it in terms of society, infrastructure and economy. The groups all have an extremist sectarian ideology, even if the religious commitment of the individual fighter is debatable. Many of them, hundreds of thousands even, are of foreign origin. It is hard not to sympathise with the position of Bashar al Jafaari, speaking to the UN: ‘Wherever you have garbage they collected them and sent them to Syria to kill Syrians and be killed by Syrians’.
ISIS and al Nusra both have reputations for making a practice of raping women – RT is presently showing a documentary on Yazidi women in Iraq taken and raped by ISIS. Does Ventura have evidence that rape is commonly practised by the Syrian Arab Army or Hezbollah? Beheading captives is now closely associated with Western sponsored ‘rebels’, and not just Islamic State. Al Nusra and associates have gone a step futher than ISIS and are now into beheading children. On the other hand, one of the leaders of the ‘Free Syrian Army’ videoed himself eating the heart of a Syrian soldier. Is there any evidence of a culture of beheadings, or of cannibalism, in the SAA?
There is substantial evidence of chemical weapons being used by different terrorist groups, including in the East Gouta sarin attack, despite efforts to pin it on Syria. There is no evidence, however, that the Syrian Arab Army has ever used chemical weapons. Ventura may know better but I doubt it.
The position that Syria cannot claim the moral high ground over Western-sponsored terrorists (after all no-one is perfect), may have seemed unassailable to Tyrel Ventura, but given the nature of the combat, and the nature of the combatants, it is quite simply ridiculous.
Needless to say Watching the Hawks is able and willing to provide an easy solution to the Syrian conflict. The root of the problem, according to Tabetha Wallace, is ego: ‘everybody has to go out and shoot a bunch of bombs, and everybody has to go out and show that they’re the big guy’ so, ‘until the leaders in the US, Russia and Syria put their egos aside …’. If Bashar al Assad does put his ‘ego’ aside, what does Wallace expect the outcome to be? Should al Assad, Syria’s preferred president, stand aside and let the West appoint a proxy of their choosing, and even partition the country? Most Syrians would prefer al Assad to keep his ‘ego’ intact and keep fighting until all the Western-sponsored terrorist scum are dead, imprisoned or driven from the land, back to Chechnya, Turkistan, the UK or wherever else they came from.
There is a marked incongruity between the condescending tone of the item and the superficiality of its analysis and approach. Tabetha Wallace refers in disparagement three times to the ‘mainstream media’ but WTH’s terminology is nothing if not mainstream: Syria’s government is always described as the ‘Assad regime’ while the West’s raping headchoppers are sanitised as ‘rebels’. There is a heavy reliance on platitudes – yes we all agree that it’s awful to kill civilians, but after the word is used so many times in such a short space of time one begins to craves some acknowledgement of the Syrian men and women who are fighting and dying in the field.
Watching the Hawks is quite an audacious project for RT. The thinking seems to have been, ‘let’s have a completely different sort of current affairs programme: it will be presented by nice-looking people, not too intellectual and with no relevant interests or background, and trumpet itself as an alternative to the mainstream’. It would be interesting to see the viewing figures.
Barbara McKenzie, The Demonisation of Bashar al Assad