Launched in 1995, Antiwar.com describes itself as a site “devoted to the cause of non-interventionism” whose “initial project was to fight against intervention in the Balkans under the Clinton presidency.” Explaining their “key role” in the battle for public opinion during that seminal “humanitarian intervention,” the editors write:
Our goal was not only to inform but also to mobilize informed citizens in concerted action to stop the war. The war at home was an information war: an attempt by the government to both limit and shape the information that Americans had. It was, above all, a propaganda war, one in which the American government and its allies in the media were bombing and strafing their own people with hi-tech lies.
Back in the early days of the internet, Antiwar.com did indeed do a very good job of countering the interventionist narrative. Writers such as John Laughland, Chad Nagle, Justin Raimondo, Christine Stone, and George Szamuely showed readers what was really going on in the Balkans and elsewhere, helping many to understand the imperative of non-interventionism. Today, only Raimondo still writes for Antiwar.com.
By 2011, the information war had shifted from the former Yugoslavia to the Middle East and North Africa, as country after country was being destabilized by a wave of supposedly “spontaneous” uprisings against the region’s dictators — not unlike the one that toppled Serbia’s Slobodan Milosevic in 2000 — dubbed an “Arab Spring” by some dubious cheerleaders (the term was originally used by Israel partisans such as Charles Krauthammer to refer to an “initial flourishing of democracy” in 2005) and an “Arab Awakening” by others. But while the people were still being bombed and strafed by the interventionists’ lies, Antiwar.com appeared to be either missing in action or even to have gone over to the other side.
As the media focus quickly shifted from a “liberated” but devastated Libya to a besieged Syria, there was disturbingly little to distinguish between mainstream reports and those in Antiwar.com. Apparently having forgotten the interventionists’ need to “limit and shape the information” getting to the public, Antiwar.com managed to limit and shape it even further by providing a largely uncritical daily synopsis of mainstream reporting of suspect opposition claims, without even the mainstream’s caveat that “the opposition claims could not be independently verified.”
Its reliance on the interventionists’ “allies in the media” for its “news” on Syria can be gauged from examining its research editor’s choice of sources. In a survey of 10 news reports on Syria between December 14 and December 27, Jason Ditz linked to a total of 24 outside sources, 16 of which were from mainstream media such as the BBC, New York Times and Haaretz; two were from Voice of America, the official external broadcast institution of the US government and a key instrument of its regime change agenda; two from Monsters and Critics, a web-only entertainment/celebrity news and review publication with political commentary and news; and one was from Human Rights Watch, to which billionaire hedge fund manager and prominent “pro-democracy” advocate George Soros (astutely described in an excellent February 2001 Antiwar column as a “False Prophet-At-Large”) pledged $100 million last year, enabling it “to deepen its research presence on countries of concern.” The remaining three were taken from SANA, the Syrian Arab News Agency, whose claims were briefly mentioned only to be dismissed with a cynicism clearly absent in the credulous treatment of opposition sources.
The almost exclusive reliance on mainstream sources was clearly reflected in the content of the news reports. By far the most popular phrase appears to have been “At least … killed,” which appeared in at least 36 separate headlines on Syria in 2011, such as “Good Friday Massacre: At Least 88 Protesters Killed in Syria Crackdown” (April 22), “At Least 60 Killed as Protests Grow in Syria” (June 3), “Hama Massacre: At Least 140 Killed in Syrian Tank Offensive” (July 31), “Syrian Navy Attacks Latakia, At Least 31 Killed” (August 14), “At Least 16 Killed as Syrian Troops Launch New Crackdowns” (August 25), “At Least 17 Killed in Syria Protest Crackdown” (September 2), “At Least 40 Killed as Syria Protesters Call for ‘No-Fly Zone’” (October 28), “At Least 65 Killed in Two Days Since Syria Announced Arab League Deal” (November 3), “At Least 57 Killed in Two Days as Syrian Opposition Express Fear of New Massacre” (December 10) and “At Least 30 Killed as Syrian Forces Shell Homs” (December 26). A September 4 report typically entitled “At Least 24 Killed as Syria Crackdown Continues” encapsulates Jason Ditz’s tendentious analysis of the situation:
The violence marks continued public protests against the Assad regime and months of security forces attacking the demonstrators under the assumption that the attacks will eventually end the nationwide rallies.
Massive Negative Reader Feedback
Throughout the crisis in Syria, dismayed readers have pointed out Antiwar’s complicity in the propaganda war, despite the clear parallels with previous interventions, particularly the most recent one in Libya. In response to that September 4 report entitled “At Least 24 Killed As Syria Crackdown Continues,” someone called “keltrava” commented:
Let me get this wrapped around my head.
The article says as a matter of fact 24 “more” people killed. Yet when it comes to Syrian troops killed it is qualified as “reported by state media”. Why is it written in stone that 24 people [were] killed[?] What are the sources? This is typical of the reporting from Syria and Libya.
Even one of Antiwar’s top columnists was prompted to point out the obvious flaws in Jason Ditz’s reporting. Commenting on the July 31 “Hama Massacre” report, Phil Giraldi wrote:
Any story that is unsourced or is sourced to the rebels or to any of their supporters, as this story is, should be considered suspect. I don’t know what is happening in Syria but nor does any antiwar editor or any source that has a stake in what is going on and is probably writing his account from a hotel in Beirut. The US has clearly sided with the rebels and is doing everything in its power to advance their cause, including easing the passage of their propaganda into international media.
In stark contrast to the readers’ concerns about another Libya-style intervention, Ditz displayed what might most charitably be described as wishful thinking. In an October 25 report predictably entitled “At Least 24 Killed as Syrian Protestors Mass Nationwide,” he averred:
Enthusiasm has tended to grow in protest cities when other regimes fall, and while the situation in Syria isn’t the same as the one in Libya, the causes are largely the same. The protesters are hoping the end result will be too, though ideally without the multi-month civil war and the post-dictator mess Libya is facing.
Despite what another reader accurately described as “massive negative reader feedback,” Jason Ditz appears neither to have responded directly to the criticism nor to have let it in any way moderate his subsequent reports. Antiwar’s response to its readers’ (including at least two of its own writers’) concerns appears to have been mainly in the form of a moderator’s snide remarks attached to some of the more persistent critics’ comments. On December 29, an exasperated Gordon Arnaut exclaimed:
Even as readers have been pointing out the gaping holes in your so-called coverage…you have done NOTHING to address these problems…
You are a WASTE OF TIME…for anyone who is truly interested in truth about current events…
His criticism elicited this response from Thomas L. Knapp:
[Moderator’s Note: Mr. Arnaut, if you consider Antiwar.com a waste of time, why do you waste so much time here? Pull down your hem, dear, your agenda is showing – TLK]
Yes I have an agenda…it’s called THE TRUTH…
Yes I waste time here because I can’t stand FAKE NEWS…
On other occasions, Knapp did attempt to make a slightly more reasonable defence of Antiwar’s coverage. For example, in response to this writer’s question as to how its uncritical reporting of claims coming from Western-based and -backed opposition sources has differed from the pro-war propaganda in the mainstream media, Knapp replied:
If I could snap my fingers and cause Antiwar.com to be able to afford to send its own correspondent to Syria and environs to get the real scoop, I’d snap them immediately. Since I can’t, I try to be understanding of the fact that Mr. Ditz et. al have to rely on outside sources and try to squeeze the truth from the information they can get, a process that’s obviously vulnerable to error.
And instead of leading the fight with facts and hard research against the lies that stimulate the R2P instinct, this website has once again fallen for all of the lies that led NATO into Libya and the various overt and covert interventions (like the lie of the “Green Movement”).
This is important and all readers should take note: Antiwar.com has repeatedly pushed the lies that lead NATO to attack. Draw your own conclusions. The “moderators” here will say that they just don’t have enough information and any mistakes are not theirs. Do you believe that, readers? Are you that gullible, or did you first come here as I did to see behind the bull**** of the mainstream propaganda machine?