Masson: Following Syria missile attack, news media are perpetuating dangerous U.S. policies

Ryan Masson, Op-Ed Contributor

Immediately following the Trump administration’s missile strike on the al-Shayrat airbase in Syria last Thursday, voices in the mainstream media started manufacturing consent for another war in the Middle East.

As news of the attack broke, cable news networks including CNN, MSNBC and Fox News rolled through a number of guest contributors to speak on the issue, but it seemed to me they failed to include a voice clearly dissenting from the government line that the strike was a good choice. Most of any critique stood on tactical grounds, as if there was already wide agreement on the merits. And then, a range of pundits started coming out with rhetoric that glorified the United States war machine.

On Thursday night during live coverage of the attack, MSNBC anchor Brian Williams gushed over American military power, describing images of the attack as “beautiful pictures at night from the decks of these two U.S. Navy vessels in the eastern Mediterranean.” He then quoted a Leonard Cohen song: “I am guided by the beauty of our weapons.” Though Williams did immediately receive backlash for this, it was nonetheless astounding to see the anchor of a network often labeled as progressive to easily slip into jingoistic rhetoric, and abandon an impartial voice about the event.

The next morning on CNN, when asked, “What changed last night?” columnist Fareed Zakaria said Trump “became president of the United States.” His statement was troubling for two reasons. First, it expected the audience to believe there is nothing to question about the merits of the strike. Second, it advanced a knee-jerk militaristic viewpoint, where launching missiles immediately makes a president more presidential.

Statements like these were not limited to television news. On the Wednesday before the missile strike, widely read New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman directly advocated for a full-scale regime change in Syria. He called for action too reminiscent of the Iraq War, saying “the least bad solution is a partition of Syria and the creation of a primarily Sunni protected area — protected by an international force, including, if necessary, some U.S. troops.”

And on Friday, The New York Times published an egregiously spun story on the attack, headlined “On Syria Attack, Trump’s Heart Came First.” Although The Times later changed the headline, perhaps due to Twitter backlash, its original instinct was to play up the government narrative that this missile attack is part of a humanitarian mission. We should know by now that “humanitarian” interventionism is a lie.

These huge TV networks and newspapers are how most Americans get their news. But if they are all you listen to right now, you’re not going to hear adequate time given to voices who unequivocally oppose this increase in U.S. military action.

There is a host of reasons to dissent. We have now bombed every side in the Syrian Civil War. We have been launching heavy strikes in Syria and Iraq for years; just last month we killed nearly 300 civilians in one airstrike in western Mosul. Fourteen years ago, we launched a catastrophic intervention in Iraq that destabilized the region, killed hundreds of thousands and set the stage for ISIS. And as we speak, we are supporting Saudi Arabia in a barbaric military campaign in Yemen that has killed thousands of civilians and left millions on the brink of famine. Looking at this landscape, how does further escalation of violence look like a good idea to anyone?

The United States government is not willing, as always, to determine if there is public consent for military action abroad. But why attempt to do so, when CNN, MSNBC and The New York Times will provide instant political cover? Because of the rhetoric that flooded media after Trump’s missile strike, I am worried our country could be pulled into another disastrous interventionist project.

Ryan Masson is a Weinberg senior. He can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.