September 11, 2013

AP ‘Fact Check’ Tells Readers ‘Obama’s Syria Case Still Lacks Proof,’ But AP Stories on Ongoing Developments Don’t

For well over two weeks, the Obama administration has been urging military action against the Assad regime in Syria for its use of chemical weapons.

At the Associated Press, in a “Fact Check” item at its “Big Story” site, Calvin Woodward told readers that “President Barack Obama voiced his conviction Tuesday night that Syrian President Bashar Assad was to blame for deadly chemical attacks against civilians, but again he offered no proof.” Again? The AP reporter also questioned the number of civilian deaths involved. Excerpts follow the jump:


Obama091013WideSpeech.pngThe administration has cited satellite imagery and communications intercepts, backed by social media and intelligence reports from sources in Syria, as the basis for blaming the Assad government. But the only evidence the administration has made public is a collection of videos it has verified of the victims. The videos do not demonstrate who launched the attacks.

Administration officials have not shared the satellite imagery they say shows rockets and artillery fire leaving government-held areas and landing in 12 rebel-held neighborhoods outside Damascus where chemical attacks were reported. Nor have they shared transcripts of the Syrian officials allegedly warning units to ready gas masks or discussing how to handle U.N. investigators after it happened.

The White House has declined to explain where it came up with the figure of at least 1,429 dead, including 400 children — a figure far higher than estimates by nongovernmental agencies such as the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which has counted only victims identified by name, with a current total of 502. In his remarks, Obama more generally accused Assad’s forces of gassing to death “over 1,000 people, including hundreds of children.”

To its credit, some AP previous analyses have noted the lack of proof.

On August 29 (“AP SOURCES: INTELLIGENCE ON WEAPONS NO ‘SLAM DUNK’”), Kimberly Dozier and Matt Apuzzo wrote:

… (there are) questions remaining about who actually controls some of Syria’s chemical weapons stores and doubts about whether Assad himself ordered the strike, U.S. intelligence officials say.

Unfortunately, they also ventured in the false Iraq history, claiming that “U.S. intelligence showing Iraq had weapons of mass destruction was a “slam dunk” … turned out to be wrong.” It wasn’t wrong (go here, here, and here for previous related posts).

On September 8 (“DOUBTS LINGER OVER SYRIA GAS ATTACK RESPONSIBILITY”), Dozier and Zeina Karam noted that “The U.S. government insists it has the intelligence to prove it, but the public has yet to see a single piece of concrete evidence produced by U.S. intelligence – no satellite imagery, no transcripts of Syrian military communications – connecting the government of President Bashar Assad to the alleged chemical weapons attack last month that killed hundreds of people.”

Analyses and “fact checks” are fine, but they’re not enough. The fact that there is “no (public) proof” — and it’s clear that AP considers it a fact — has typically been absent whenever administration officials assert their claims about Assad’s use of chemical weapons in stories about ongoing developments. This matters because these are the stories that get read on broadcasts and are more likely to be placed prominently in AP-subscribing publications.

On September 9 (“KERRY REASSERTS SYRIA CHARGE DESPITE ASSAD DENIAL”), Deb Riechmann wrote that “(U.S. Secretary of State John) Kerry said there is very compelling evidence that the Syrian regime used chemical weapons against his own people.” She had nothing to say about the lack of publicly presented proof.

On September 8 (“KERRY: SYRIAN VIDEOS MAKE CASE FOR MILITARY ACTION”), Riechmann and Sara DiLorenzo wrote that “The Obama administration is distributing videos showing a chemical weapons attack in Syria to help convince Americans and Congress that a military intervention against the Syrian government is necessary.” These are the apparently the same videos to which Woodward referred in his “Big Story” fact check above, i.e., the ones which “do not demonstrate who launched the attacks.” The AP pair did not make that observation.

On September 5 (“US: CHEMICAL ATTACKS MAKE SYRIA TOP SECURITY RISK”), the AP’s Lara Jakes wrote:

Kerry on Wednesday said the scope of the August attacks – and strong intelligence indicating that Assad’s government was to blame – convinced Obama that his red line had been crossed.

Yes, “his red line” is the one Obama later said that he didn’t set, but I digress. Jakes also failed to note the absence of public proof of Assad’s responsibility.

If it’s understood as a fact at AP that there is “no (public) proof,” why is it being kept out of the stories readers and viewers are more likely to see and hear?

Cross-posted at


1 Comment

  1. The claim is made dubious given that the German Intelligence Service intercepts of Assad’s telephone conversations with his military commanders indicated in no uncertain terms that Assad rejected repeated requests to use chemical weapons. These intercepts would have been shared with the CIA and therefore with Obama. So either Obama is misinformed or he knew at some point Assad did not order the attacks. Let’s explore this for a moment.

    It could be that Obama found out about the German intercepts AFTER he made his threat and therefore not wishing to look completely foolish to say “my bad, you didn’t after all”. OR Obama knew before he made his threat against Syria and chose to proceed because the tragedy fit his calculus and no one would believe Assad since he both is a bad guy and has chemical weapons. OR however unlikely the CIA withheld the information to make Obama look foolish. So we either have a case of extreme ego not willing to admit to a mistake thus doubling down or we have a cold calculated false accusation to support a hidden agenda (wag the dog).

    To be charitable the most likely explanation of these 3 is Obama being the typical lib he is can’t admit to his failings and even more so since he IS the MESSAGE. He can’t be mistaken because that would mean the message is mistaken. An ideological box he dare not open. Hence when Kerry off handedly remarks about giving up chemical weapons and the Russians jump on the chance to embarrass Obama, Obama goes for it in a mental summersault of vindication.

    Now there is a possibility that the Syrian Army did indeed fire the chemical round via a rogue commander who tired of Assad’s meekness or skittishness of using the chemical weapons. One could make the weak argument that Assad was still responsible by the very fact that such chemical munitions were available to be fired and not locked down to prevent their use.

    However, of all the possibilities, I think it more likely al Nursa fired the round to gain a PR advantage in blaming the Syrian Army using the same line of reasoning advanced by Obama at least that’s what the purported Russian analysis of the shell fragments indicate.

    Comment by dscott — September 11, 2013 @ 12:16 pm

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