Back in August 2016, at the height of the fighting in Aleppo, international media headlines were dominated by the story of the so-called ‘Aleppo boy’, who was supposedly pulled from the rubble following a Russian or Syrian air strike, and whose photograph was plastered across the Western media.
At the time The Duran registered its doubts about this story. My colleague Alex Christoforou revealed the Jihadi sympathies of the photographer who had taken the now famous photograph, whilst P.T. Carlo complained about the way the media were manipulating the story.
We were right to be skeptical. The boy in question – Omran Daqneesh – it turns out is alive and well and living in Aleppo with his family, who are furious at the way his story was manipulated.
Omran’s father, Mohammad Daqneesh, says his son was only lightly injured, that he knows nothing of any air strike, that his son was injured from falling rubble caused by an unidentified explosion, and that he resisted intense pressure from the Al-Qaeda led Jihadi who were at that time in control of eastern Aleppo and their White Helmets collaborators to corroborate their story. Independent evidence now casts doubt on the theory that the explosion was caused by an air strike.
The family’s complaints – first made to the Syrian media – have received only a fraction of the media attention the original ‘Aleppo boy’ story was given. Most of the Western media has ignored the family’s complaints.
There have even been a few desperate attempts to discredit the family by claiming either that they are Assad supporters or that they have been coerced by the Syrian authorities into making their complaints. The following comments in the Daily Telegraph are a typical example
It is possible the family felt forced to take part in the interview for their own safety.
Omran’s older brother Ali, aged ten, was killed in the same strike that injured Omran.
Kinana Allouche, a pro-regime journalist, posted photographs of herself interviewing Omran and his family. “The child Omran, those who tried to shed Syrian blood mislead the news that he was hit by the Syrian Arab Army,” she wrote. “Here he now lives in the Syrian state with its army, its leader and its people.”
(bold italics added)
Note how the Daily Telegraph persists in referring to “the same strike” that caused Omran’s injuries and Ali’s death even though their father Mohammad Daqneesh says he knows nothing of one.
These claims about the family have now been exploded by the redoubtable independent journalist Eva Bartlett, who has interviewed Omran’s father Mohammad Daqneesh and who has met with Omran himself. Her detailed account of her meeting with Mohammad and Omran Daqneesh can be found here
In any rational world this incident should finally explode the credibility of the White Helmets, the Oscar winning group which has now been exposed as manipulating and largely fabricating the whole story of the ‘Aleppo boy’, and whose Jihadi connections Rick Sterling has previously exposed.
In reality, the West’s heavy investment in the group mean that it will continue to be cited as a reliable source until the Syrian war has ended.
The major point however about this story is one I have made repeatedly.
The story of the ‘Aleppo boy’ came out of eastern Aleppo whilst Al-Qaeda was in control there. No news story coming out of any area of Syria controlled by Al-Qaeda should however be assumed to be true without independent corroboration, which because of the absence of independent observers or journalists on the ground in Al-Qaeda controlled areas of Syria is in practice hardly ever forthcoming.
It is better therefore to report stories coming out of Al-Qaeda areas of Syria with strong health warnings, making it clear that they cannot be assumed to be true.
Here is what I wrote about all this in relation to the claims that were circulating last year about the supposed bombings of hospitals in Aleppo
Though the Western powers and the Western media pretend otherwise, there is no doubt that the dominant forces in the Jihadi controlled areas of Syria are ISIS and Al-Qaeda. Both are militantly anti-Western and any Western journalist travelling in the areas that they control would be at serious risk. If only for that reason few of them do so, though in truth the days when Western media agencies employed large numbers of special correspondents and on-the-spot reporters are long passed.
What that means in practical terms is that reports that come out of the Jihadi controlled areas of Syria – including eastern Aleppo – and which appear in the Western media, are reports made at second hand. Western reporters do not tour the sites of the allegedly bombed hospitals. Rather the Western media is simply passing on reports from eye witnesses or alleged eye witnesses of the attacks, and reporting them as true. The same applies to Western governments, including the US government.
There was once a time when the Western media was careful to say that it was unable to confirm the stories it was reporting itself, and that it was relying on local sources in reporting the news it was publishing. This at least provided consumers of news with a health warning, if the news came from one side or another in an armed conflict.
For quite some time now, the Western media has also stopped doing this. The result is that it requires a very high degree of attention on the part of the Western media listener or reader to know that the source of a story is not the media itself. Inevitably the number of people who are able or willing to give that amount of attention is very small.
What this means in the Syrian case is that all the reports of the attacks on the hospitals are provided by persons who to a greater or lesser extent operate under Jihadi control. In northeast Syria that essentially means Al-Qaeda contol.
This does not in itself mean that bombing of hospitals never takes place. However, what it does mean is that the scope for Al-Qaeda to manipulate the stories is boundless. In any war situation, the risk of accepting unconfirmed accounts of events by one party to the conflict is great. When the party in question is Al-Qaeda – a violent internationally proscribed terrorist organisation – the risk of doing so is even greater.
In my opinion, the risks of doing so in the Syrian case are so great that at the very least, before the reports are published, the Western media ought to be under a duty to make origins of the reports clear. It is easy to imagine what the effect on the Western public of a report that the Syrian air force had bombed a hospital in eastern Aleppo would be, if the report was introduced with the words ‘Sources linked to Al-Qaeda say……’ and concluded with the words ‘…..we are unable to confirm this report’.
It is not after all as if the Western media has not time after time been shown the danger of uncritically accepting reports from one side in a conflict in the Middle East. In 1990 the Western media reported a completely untrue story of how Iraqi troops in Kuwait stole incubators, casting aside babies, in Kuwaiti hospitals.
In 2002 and 2003 the Western media uncritically repeated stories of Iraq possessing weapons of mass destruction, which also turned out to be untrue.
In 2011 the Western media published a flood of atrocity stories detailing massacres supposedly carried out in Libya by Gaddafi’s troops, which a British House of Commons Committee now admits were untrue.
What makes the news situation in Syria especially concerning is that some of the people who in 2011 were busy spreading untrue atrocity stories in Libya seem to be the same people who are now busy spreading what are most probably untrue atrocity stories in Syria. Western governments and the Western media are presumably aware of the fact. The Western public is, however, never told of it.
The reason for this very partial reporting is that the Western media is united in supporting the Western objective of regime change in Syria. It therefore publicises stories of alleged atrocities committed in Syria by the Syrian army and the Russians, whilst suppressing reports of actually much more credible atrocities committed by the Al-Qaeda led Jihadis – such as the report by the Russian Defence Ministry from a few days ago of the Jihadis violently dispersing a civilian protest against them in eastern Aleppo with a heavy machine gun.
Where uncorroborated claims of atrocities made by one side are given maximum publicity, and far more credible reports of atrocities by the other side are suppressed or ignored, there is no longer truthful news reporting. Rather it becomes a case of war propaganda. For that reason when I read reports of the intentional bombing of hospitals by the Syrian or Russian air force, I discount them.
Though the battle for Aleppo ended many months ago, this remains a very topical issue.
The most recent example of unwarranted credence being given to a story coming out of an Al-Qaeda controlled area of Syria concerns the alleged chemical attack on Khan Sheikhoun in April this year, which led to a US cruise missile attack on Syria’s Al-Shayrat air base.
Even the US government has given credence to this story, and done so moreover in an official report. Here is what I have written about that
Since the videos and witness statements were made in Syria, more often than not by people who are Syrians, President Assad is again the undisputed expert on their reliability and provenance. Moreover since he is the prime suspect and the videos and the witness statements make accusations against him, what he says about them deserves particular attention
As you know, Khan Sheikhoun is under the control of al-Nusra Front, which is a branch of Al Qaeda, so the only information the world have had till this moment is published by Al Qaeda branch. No-one has any other information. We don’t know if the whole pictures or videos that we’ve been seeing are true or fabricated. That’s why we asked for investigation to what happened in Khan Sheikhoun. This is first….
As I said, the only source is Al Qaeda, we cannot take it seriously. But our impression is that the West, mainly the United States, is hand in glove with the terrorists. They fabricated the whole story in order to have a pretext for the attack, It wasn’t an attack because of what happened in khan Sheikhoun. It’s one event, its stage one is the play that we saw on the social networking and on TVs, and the propaganda, and the stage two is the military attack. That’s what we believe is happening because it’s only few days – two days, 48 hours – between the play and the attacks, and no investigations, no concrete evidence about anything, the only thing were allegations and propaganda, and then strike…..
The allegation itself was by Al Qaeda, al-Nusra Front, so we don’t have to investigate who, they announced it, it’s under their control, no-one else. About the attack, as I said, it’s not clear whether it happened or not, because how can you verify a video? You have a lot of fake videos now, and you have the proof that those videos were fake, like the White Helmets for example, they are Al Qaeda, they are al-Nusra Front who shaved their beards, wore white hats, and appeared as humanitarian heroes, which is not the case. The same people were killing Syrian soldiers, and you have the proof on the internet anyway. So, the same thing for that chemical attack, we don’t know whether those dead children were killed in Khan Sheikhoun? Were they dead at all? Who committed the attack if there was an attack? What’s the material? You have no information at all, nothing at all, no-one investigated.
We can contrast this with what the US government’s white paper has to say about these videos and witness statements
We are certain that the opposition could not have fabricated all of the videos and other reporting of chemical attacks. Doing so would have required a highly organized campaign to deceive multiple media outlets and human rights organizations while evading detection. In addition, we have independently confirmed that some of the videos were shot at the approximate times and locations described in the footage.
This is far from being a comprehensive refutation of President Assad’s points. On the contrary the words “we are certain that the opposition could not have fabricated all of the videos” seem to at least concede the possibility that “the opposition” might have fabricated some of the videos.
The most worrying point however is that the white paper falsifies who was actually in control of Khan Sheikhoun at the time of the attack, and who was therefore in control of the territory where the videos and the witness statements were produced. As President Assad says, it was Al-Qaeda operating through one of the kaleidoscope of names it uses to conceal its identity, with the name it is now using in Syria being “Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham”.
Al-Qaeda’s current name “Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham” replaces its previous name “Jabhat Al-Nusra”. However it remains the same organisation, which continues to be classified by the US as a terrorist group. It is “Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham” – ie. Al-Qaeda – which launched the recent offensives in Damascus and in northern Hama, the latter being the cause as the US white paper admits of the Syrian air force attack on Khan Sheikhoun. It is this same group – Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham ie. Al-Qaeda – which controls Khan Sheikhoun.
The fact the white paper falsifies Al-Qaeda’s involvement by referring to the group in control of Khan Sheikhoun merely as “the opposition” must inevitably cast doubt on this part of the white paper.
Would Al-Qaeda be capable of organising “a highly organized campaign to deceive multiple media outlets and human rights organizations while evading detection”? I suspect that most people – if they knew Al-Qaeda was involved – would answer yes.
In this case there is also the further factor that “the multiple media outlets and human rights organizations” are strongly biased against the Syrian government, which might make them all too easy to deceive.
As it happens any number of people have studied the videos and have cast doubt on what they purport to show. A good example is the independent investigation carried out by the Lebanese journalist Abdel Karim previously published by The Duran.
In conclusion though the videos and the witness evidence make a circumstantial case, the way the white paper treats them shows that they are far from conclusive, and the fact that the white paper both falsifies their provenance and concedes at least the possibility of some fabrication is a sign that even the US has doubts about them.
Reading these words in light of what we now know about the story of the ‘Aleppo boy’ highlights the reasons for concern. We now have proof in the case of the ‘Aleppo boy’ that Al-Qaeda did stage “a highly organized campaign to deceive multiple media outlets and human rights organizations while evading detection”. Why then assume that they did not succeed in doing the same thing in connection with the alleged chemical attack on Khan Sheikhoun?
The unspoken story of the recent British election and of the US election last year is that the Western media’s credibility has collapsed as more and more people turn to what is wrongly called alternative media for their news.
The story of the Western media’s grotesque abuse of the story of the ‘Aleppo boy’, and of their attempt to suppress news of how it has been discredited, shows why this is so. Their response has not been to try to regain their credibility by restoring accuracy to their reporting. Instead it is to accuse others of ‘fake news’, even as they deal in it themselves.
That this is not the way to restore their credibility should be obvious.
One would like to believe that following the revelation of the falsity of the story of the ‘Aleppo boy’, news rooms and editorial offices across the West would be busy with soul searching and agonising about what went wrong, and would be looking for ways to prevent such a thing ever happening again.
Sadly I doubt there is a single person on earth who believes that is happening.