U.S. Media Buries the Lead in Special Forces Assault Inside Syria

Posted May 27, 2015

MP3 Interview with Adam Johnson, New York-based journalist; Alternet and FAIR contributing writer, conducted by Scott Harris


A White House briefing on May 16 announced that two dozen American Delta Force commandos had earlier that day launched a raid into eastern Syria, killing a leader of ISIS and an estimated 12 other militant fighters. The raid, which killed the man identified as Abu Sayyaf, purportedly an ISIS military planner and director of the group's "illicit oil, gas and financial operations," also captured his wife and an 18-year-old female Yazidi "slave."

Corporate media reports on the raid that were sourced to the Pentagon stated that the operation succeeded without any U.S. or civilian casualties. Media outlets reporting the story explained that their information had come from Defense Department officials and could not be immediately verified through independent sources. Although the U.S. had mounted an unsuccessful hostage rescue operation inside Syria last summer, this raid was the first known American combat mission undertaken in sovereign Syrian territory.

Between The Lines' Scott Harris spoke with Adam Johnson, a New York-based freelance journalist and contributing writer to Alternet and Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting. Here, he discusses his recent article titled, "White House Reveals 'Boots on the Ground' in Syria, but Media Too Giddy Over Special Ops Porn to Notice," and his view that corporate media is failing to provide critical reporting on U.S. foreign military operations and indications that America is deepening its intervention in Syria’s bloody civil war.

For more information, visit Adam Johnson's website at citationsneeded.com.

ADAM JOHNSON: This entire war with ISIS has been marked by a very slippery slope. If you recall on Aug. 7, 2014, we were going to engage in "limited" humanitarian missile strikes. So now we're about 10 months in, and we now have troops in Syria, troops in Iraq, we are bombing two different countries and the war keeps expanding in scope. We saw this also in Libya in 2011. It is marked by mission creep and the problem is the old parable of the frog in the boiling water. If you throw a frog in boiling water, it will jump out. If you put a frog in water and turn up the heat, he will burn to death.

That's you're seeing with this war and something with other warsl; we saw it with Vietnam, obviously. And the problem is when these meaningful sort of leaps of scope happen, which I think sending troops to Syria is a big leap. They're so bogged down by the kind of Special Forces minutaie which is all of course handed down by the prose writers at the Defense Department and the White House. We don't really stop to actually to put it in context. I think that the problem with wars is that we don't do that very often. Every time there is an incremental or a meaningful leap in the scope, it's usually completely glossed over by the media, and before we know it, we're engaged in a much broader campaign than what was originally sold to us.

BETWEEN THE LINES: How could the major newspapers and electronic news media in this country have covered this story differently to really impart the critical nature of this new kind of intervention in Syria's civil war?

ADAM JOHNSON: Well, there's a couple things at work here. First off, there's the, I think, the runaway arrogance that America can send what is effectively a death squad...we'll call it Special Forces, to any country, at any time, to kill people without any international sanction, to say nothing of congressional sanction – whenever they want. And that's the underlying ethos of the American media, that there's no sort of kind of even legal apparatus as to why they could do that. So that's kind of the first thing I think that we haven't really stopped to think about. And that's obviously been going on much before this.

And the second thing is, the degree to which we mean when we say "boots on the ground?" And I use that term very deliberately, and it's a term used by other commentators because we have boots on the ground in Syria. Now you can say "it's not a standing army, it's not boots on the ground." Well, okay, then our problem is that boots on the ground, it's boots on the ground for x amount of time."

And the people of Syria or the Syrian government, which we kind of refer to pejoratively as the Assad regime doesn't make much of distinction in terms of that is their sovereign territory; we sent our military in there and I think that we really don't think we have stopped to kind of put that part in context.

BETWEEN THE LINES: You say that people could be on all sides of this issue about U.S. troops interfering in Syria's civil war. But your gripe and many other people's gripe is that the U.S. media really doesn't inform the American public about these critically important decisions made in Washington, mostly behind closed doors.

ADAM JOHNSON: Yeah, and so when we have these leaps in scope what you're given is what is effectively a (Department of Defense) action movie prose. What I compare it to is that when the bin Laden raid happened on May 1, 2011, we were given a series of things that later turned out not to be true. We had a narrative about human shields, that they were throwing women in front of themselves, there was a firefight, a lot of things. Even setting aside Seymour Hirsch's revelations, even if one doesn't even believe that, a lot of material things later turned out to be false and of course, the reason is that I.F. Stone says, "All governments lie."

And so, we have another raid here, and there's this very sort of sexy narrative about Special Forces in there, there's a helicopter missile. There's a slave they rescued to give it a kind of moral gravitas. They killed 40 people who were all using women and children as human shields, but don't worry, we didn't kill any women and children. They killed the bad guy, and of course he had the huge cache of information that will later help them catch other ISIS members.

There is absolutely no doubt that some percent of that is complete B.S., because we know that historically, these type of raids are overhyped, and the media kind of repeats it. Now as I mention in my article, to the New York Times' credit, they have what has to be the most passive-aggressive disclaimer in the history of journalism, where they say, "None of these things can be independently verified." And of course, they can't. So there's a credibility issue with the Defense Department and I think when you're reporting on these things that are in these far-off regions where there's no way to corroborate anything, is that the media has no choice but to repeat, literally just re-write what the Pentagon tells them. I don't there was nearly enough skepticism with this last raid, and I do think they buried lead in terms of there being troops in Syria and how that actually has a big leap in terms of the scope of what the war was.

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