Danielle Ryan is an Irish freelance writer based in Dublin.
Not once have we seen those Colin Powell vial moments as Washington’s warmongers use unbacked claims or events as a rallying cry to drum up support for whatever regime-change operation is next on their list. This has been the case in Iraq, Syria and Libya, among others but, amazingly, few lessons have been learned.
In Venezuela, the border bridge that was ‘closed’ by President Nicolas Maduro to prevent the entry of US ‘humanitarian aid’ and the Maduro “thugs” who torched aid trucks have each been used for these propaganda purposes in recent weeks. Of course, thanks to journalists who actually do their jobs, we know the bridge in question had never been open to traffic and that it was opposition protesters who set the aid trucks alight while throwing Molotov cocktails at the police.
In both cases however, the media dutifully amplified the false claims made by US officials without conducting basic fact-checks. One would imagine, having been repeatedly lied-to and made look utterly incompetent by war-hungry politicians, that journalists for mainstream outlets like CNN and MSNBC might have learned to show a modicum of skepticism or self-respect. Remarkably, however, they seem as keen and eager as ever to regurgitate pro-war propaganda – even when it’s coming from the Donald Trump administration, which, in all other circumstances, they claim to abhor.
Not only has the mainstream media happily worked in tandem with war hawks like John Bolton, Elliot Abrams and Mike Pompeo to promote regime change in Venezuela, it has also relentlessly bashed journalists who have displayed any hesitation to do the same.
When RT reported that it appeared to be opposition protesters who’d set the aid truck alight, that was just ‘Kremlin propaganda’. When independent journalists reported the same, ‘respectable’ mainstream journalists ridiculed them as Maduro “apologists” in exactly the same way they branded Iraq war skeptics as “apologists” for Saddam Hussein, or those who spoke out against US regime-change efforts in Syria as “apologists” for Bashar Assad.
But when the New York Times came out three weeks later and echoed what independent journalists had reported about the incident weeks before, then the truth was finally deemed acceptable to acknowledge.
After the NYT’s piece was published, CNN journalist Marshall Cohen described the event and confusion surrounding it, without a shred of self-awareness, as “a classic example of how misinformation spreads.” He was subsequently blasted by journalist Glenn Greenwald, who reminded him that his own network was instrumental in aggressively pushing misinformation on Venezuela and ignoring journalists who had debunked it.
NYT: US officials used unverified claims about a burning aid truck to spin their side of the Venezuela crisis. This is a classic example of how misinformation spreads… from an unconfirmed rumor, to the Twitter feeds of top influencers, to the mass media. https://www.nytimes.com/video/world/americas/100000006385986/the-us-blamed-maduro-for-burning-aid-to-venezuela-new-video-casts-doubt.html?action=click>ype=vhs&version=vhs-heading&module=vhs®ion=title-area&cview=true&t=305 …
But this war-promoting alliance between the US government and its media lackeys goes back much further than that. In 1964, after a phantom second “unprovoked” attack on the USS Maddox in the Gulf of Tonkin by North Vietnamese torpedo boats, journalists echoed false government claims which eventually led to what became the most disastrous of US wars.
In 1990, the testimony to congress of a 15 year-old girl named as Nayirah galvanized support for the first Gulf War. Nayirah told the Congressional Human Rights Caucus that she had witnessed Iraqi soldiers taking babies out of incubators and leaving them on the floor to die. It later turned out that she was the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to the US and had been coached by a PR firm. How many similar tactics and lies need to be exposed before journalists show due skepticism?
Perhaps the worst part about all of this is that the war hawks don’t even need to be particularly clever or astute in the way they go about manufacturing consent for regime changes. Whether they outright fabricate an incident or skew perceptions of a real event to bolster a particular narrative does not matter. The media has shown time and time again that it has no interest in sorting fact from fiction when it comes to war or scheduled war.
Elliot Abrams’ involvement with Trump’s Venezuela policy is a perfect example of this, in and of itself. Abrams was convicted of lying to congress in the 1980s over his role in smuggling weapons to the Contras in Nicaragua using “humanitarian aid” shipments as the cover. He is now Trump’s point man on Venezuela, but CNN and the rest treat this curious fact as perfectly normal and not at all suspicious or problematic. Maduro’s reluctance to admit US aid is simply put down to his “evil” nature, rather than the fact that Washington has a history of using “aid” to arm opposition forces in Latin America. If Abrams’ involvement has not rung alarm bells for the media and invited serious distrust of the Trump administration’s motives and claims, then nothing will.
While the US has not yet intervened militarily in Venezuela, the White House has repeatedly said that “all options” remain on the table – and if Trump does eventually employ the military option to disastrous result, the media will again bear a significant portion of the responsibility.