Question less: The Guardian whitewashes all criticism of Syria’s foreign-funded White Helmets

The Guardian has cast aside self-awareness, seized the moral high ground (its self-proclaimed permanent base), and jumped to the defense of Syria’s ‘White Helmets,’ painting the group as victims of an “online propaganda machine.”

Journalist Olivia Solon, in an article headlined ‘White Helmets became victims of an online propaganda machine,’ is keen to make sure that any questions about the motives of the group are dismissed as a ‘counter-narrative.’ That’s what others might call the ‘other side of the story.’ In full effect is the journalistic trope of our times… RUSSIAN INTERFERENCE!

The reporter describes the group thus…

The White Helmets, officially known as the Syria Civil Defense, is a humanitarian organization made up of 3,400 volunteers – former teachers, engineers, tailors and firefighters – who rush to pull people from the rubble when bombs rain down on Syrian civilians. They’ve been credited with saving thousands of civilians during the country’s continuing civil war.”

Even someone who eats lentils for every meal would have to admit that the passage above lacks a certain journalistic cynicism. Whether you like it or not, there are very definite questions hanging over the White Helmets – some of them are raised by Solon, but only in a mumbly, out-of-the-corner-of-the-mouth, staring-at-the-floor kind of way, before being roundly dismissed.

How can they be bad? the White Helmets starred in a movie that won an Oscar for heaven’s sake. (Of course it’s not relevant, but so did Kevin Spacey).

These guys wear white helmets and surely only good guys wear white! They’ve reportedly fallen victim to the worst villain there is, Darth Vad… erm… Russian Social Media!!

The way the Russian propaganda machine has targeted the White Helmets is a neat case study in the prevailing information wars,” Solon writes.

Indeed! Just as this article is itself a case study in lacking self-awareness, strategically balancing non-sequiturs and omissions and displaying a complete unwillingness to engage with the complexity of life, geopolitics and Syria.

There is the now-customary dig at RT, where “claiming” replaces the word “reporting.”

Russian state media such as RT… started falsely claiming that ISIS [Islamic State] was the only target and throwing doubt on the bombings of infrastructure and civilian sites.”

RT reports what people and governments say like any other organization. Often it presents a point of view you won’t see elsewhere, but outlets like the Guardian have declared that not useful. Too challenging maybe.

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FILE PHOTO © Abdalrhman Ismail

Dismissed out of hand is more or less anyone who has written or said anything to question the notion that there might be more here than meets the eye with a group quietly funded from abroad.

But then the reader is greeted with this: “There is no evidence to suggest that these activists and bloggers are knowingly spreading disinformation, although the stories are often thinly sourced.” 

Wait, what? Should this article be throwing around accusations of being ‘thinly sourced’?

Solon says the alleged campaign against the White Helmets uses “the same handful of people… quoted as “experts” in articles that are repackaged and interlinked to create a body of content whose conspiracy claims gain a semblance of legitimacy.

This is said without irony in an article where Eliot Higgins is wheeled on for a one-line quote. 

Solon does helpfully provide us with an overview of some of the accusations leveled at the White Helmets, in as brief a way as possible.

There have, however, been isolated rogue actors within the White Helmets who are used to discredit the entire group. One former White Helmet was fired after he was filmed assisting armed militants in disposing of the mutilated corpses of pro-Assad fighters, and others have been photographed with guns despite marketing themselves as unarmed. There is also footage of White Helmets taking a body away from an execution carried out by rebel militants, which critics claim shows they are ‘assisting’ executions.

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© Ammar Abdullah

This paragraph is absolutely smothered in cynicism, making sure that the reader is under no illusion that these accusations of misbehavior are absolutely not to be taken seriously. How do we know that? Because the leader of the White Helmets Raed al-Saleh tells us: “These are isolated incidents at the volunteer level – there has never been any kind of incident involving anyone in the leadership.

Well there you have it. Nothing to worry about, and no point in pushing that any further, because the guy who runs the accused organization says there is nothing to see here, move along, move along, pay no attention to that man behind the curtain, nor the assisting of militants, nor the carrying of guns.

There are a number of other undisputed facts which were omitted from the article, the absence of which might make a cynic suspicious about whether the Guardian might have a little agenda of its own.

Such as how the White Helmets were essentially trained and founded by a man called James Le Mesurier, who can best be described as a British mercenary with extensive links to NATO.

Significant funding comes from the US and British governments, among others. The British government won’t actually say how much, but in March Home Secretary Amber Rudd did say this about groups receiving cash from a secretive government fund: “They do a great job in reaching out, addressing UK interests in unstable areas,” she said. “They include groups such as the White Helmets in Syria, who do a great job.

So, British money. British mercenaries. British interests. We’ve seen this story before.

This may be significant, or it may not, but at the very least it is a reason to pose some hard questions.

Do some within the White Helmets have actual links to Al-Qaeda? Probably. Do the White Helmets save people from bombed out buildings? Certainly they do.

Life is not simply black and White Helmets. There is grey in the world and questions should be asked from all sides, not just one side attempting to claim the truth as its own.

By Simon Rite, RT

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