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Peri Hankey @PeriHankey
, 25 tweets, 11 min read Read on Twitter
I am grateful to @Brian_Whit. In his sneering attack on @VanessaBeeley as a "goddess" of the Syrian war, and his side-swipe at Robert Stuart (@cerumol)’s dissection of @BBCPanorama’s “Saving Syria’s Children”, he picks on a key to understanding what the UK has done in Syrian war.
Brian Whitaker claims that in the Syrian war of words, honest reporting and the search for truth have come under attack. He starts, as is typical of establishment writers, by assuming that his reporting is unquestionably honest and true.
By his account of it, “some sources, primarily mainstream media in the west, are dismissed as untrue, not because evidence shows they are wrong but because they don’t fit the desired narrative.” That is precisely what is said on the opposite side.
He goes on “At the same time, reports that do fit the narrative win praise on social media, regardless of supporting evidence, and people who venture to question them are liable to be assailed with abuse.” That is precisely what is said on the opposite side.
So @Brian_Whit sets up himself and the mainstream as Moses rebuking the Israelites for their worship of the golden calf: "These be thy gods, O Israel..." -- “to her admirers on social media Beeley is almost a goddess and criticising her work is little short of blasphemy.”
What smears can he use? Anything ‘Assad’ is bad, ‘celebrity’ is ambivalent, she’s been seen on the Russian state channel RT. To cap it all, Vanessa Beeley is associate editor of 21st Century Wire (she doesn’t write for the Guardian). How can we believe what she says?
But when you set aside his ‘ad feminam’ nonsense, you set aside a great deal. Let’s examine how @Brian_Whit deals with a real allegation: first, he sets the mood music: “The truth, though, is that her reports from Syria are basically crap.” He seizes on something about napalm.
Brian Whitaker can get all pedantic about the classification and history of napalm, how there are reports that the Syrians or Russians have used it (does the ‘coalition’ use Depleted Uranium?) But let’s pretend that the Syrians or Russians did use napalm on some occasion.
Does that mean the BBC was free to do what @cerumol complained that they did in 2013? Did they do that? Does @Brian_Whit examine the evidence? This question goes beyond scorn and character assassination. It is a question of facts as told and as broadcast to be taken for truth.
“In August 2013 a BBC crew were filming at a hospital in northern Syria (outside the regime’s control)...ambulances started arriving with youngsters suffering from burns – a school was said to have been hit by an incendiary bomb...the resulting footage… horrific.” (@Brian_Whit)
It is a fact that at 10 pm on 29 Aug 2013 @BBCNews in its 10 o’clock news & later @BBCPanorama showed this horrific footage. The news story went out just as Parliament was voting on the question, whether or not to join the USA and others in a massive attack on the Syrian State.
According to @cerumol's complaint the BBC faked evidence of an incendiary attack. @VanessaBeeley agrees. @Brian_Whit .says, “The burns are obvious from the film but for Beeley it’s all part of a media conspiracy...in the face of such suffering it’s a vile claim to make”
So @Brian_Whit accuses @VanessaBeeley of “regurgitating a popular conspiracy theory that the BBC timed the broadcasting of its footage in order to influence the parliamentary debate taking place on the same day.” But @Brian_Whit is wrong:
Both @VanessaBeeley and @cerumol correctly say the attack was reported by BBC News during the vote after the debate. They suggest “Saving Syria’s Children” was made to generate support for a decision to attack the Syrian state that the BBC thought would be voted by Parliament.
This attack on what @cerumol and @VanessaBeeley did not say masks Brian Whitaker’s evasion of the real question. He asserts that “the burns are obvious” and “it’s a vile claim to make”. But he doesn't examine the evidence & so he cannot rebut it. He hopes that no one will notice.
Robert Stuart has done an immense amount of extremely close analysis of that footage and taken it up in detail in a whole series of complaints to the BBC and to anyone who will listen. You could say he appears almost obsessive. But he shows that there is a prima facie case.
The story is that he timing looks dodgy, the BBC team seem to have worked with a questionable collection of ‘rebels’, experts have questioned some of the footage, there seem to be connections with gruesome videos for emergency training, there may be impersonation, and more.
The BBC have rejected and blocked Robert Stuart’s official complaints. He has found that the FOIA exempts the BBC from releasing the information he seeks. @offguardian has a useful account with links of some of the anomalies that buzz round this case off-guardian.org/2015/09/22/in-…
The key point is this: there is nothing in @Brian_Whit’s long experience and expertise that can free him from the simple obligation to explain, if he can, how @cerumol’s analysis is wrong. To say that we must not look at the evidence is to say he has nothing to say.
Why does it matter? Suppose that @cerumol is right. Before then, the UK had pretended not to have much of a dog in the Syrian fight. The line was that we were being forced against our peace-loving will to take up arms directly against Assad because he was doing bad things.
If it is shown that the BBC prepared and broadcast an elaborate hoax using footage created to be so distressing that it will seem ’vile’ and almost sadistic to examine it in detail even to show that it’s fake, that would cast doubt on all of our policies and actions in Syria.
This is a key test case. Other controversial cases have depended on reports and videos from inaccessible and biased ‘rebel’ sources who can perhaps be expected to try to influence our actions. If a BBC team did what @Cerumol has complained that they did, our case looks very bad.
It's hard to cross-examine 'rebels' in Syria. But with "Saving Syria's Children, the documents, producers, reporters and film crew are here. We know what the relentless reporters of a truly independent media can do when backed to reveal what others prefer to keep hidden.
To conclude: the BBC Panorama “Saving Syria’s Children” episode was either the searing evidence that ‘something had to be done’, or it is damning evidence that only the vote in Parliament saved us from being led by deceit into full engagement in what would become another Iraq.
If @Brian_Whit is the voice of truth and honesty in journalism, he must grit his teeth and try to rebut what @cerumol has shown. To do that he must examine the evidence and explain exactly how and why we should believe him and not Robert Stuart. ‘Trust me’ will not do.
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