Minneapolis, Minnesota (TFC) – The Minnesota-based StarTribune ran commentary that implied a list of alternative sites were on the payroll of the regime of President Assad of Syria. The implication is buried in a rant that bemoans the named outlets’ habit of criticizing US efforts for regime change. It uses language stating that the outlets “provide no information on how they are funded or the names of a board.” It goes on to state that one outlet is “accountable only to its anonymous funders.” The Fifth Column was not listed for reasons that will become clear later.
Through extremely difficult analysis and hours of gut wrenching investigation, The Fifth Column was able to determine that the outlets in question are funded the same way just about everything on the internet is: by those annoying little ads all over the sites. It wasn’t really difficult to figure out considering this outlet and the StarTribune are funded the same way. Some of the sites listed do have donation buttons that allow a reader to send in a couple of dollars to a site they particularly enjoy. It should be noted that the StarTribune does not have a link to a financial report on its site.
“Who are these sites? Mint Press, Info Wars, the Anti-Media, Shadowproof, Media Roots, Counter Current News, SouthFront and Zero Hedge are among the alternative ‘news’ organizations that provide no information on how they are funded or the names of a board. They variously describe themselves with words and phrases such as ‘independent,’ ‘watchdog,’ ‘citizen journalism,’ ‘news from outside party lines,’ and so on.”
My work can be found on about half of these sites. Most of my work deals with the international arena, and without going back to check I can say with a high degree of confidence that I’ve written about Syria for at least 3 or 4 of the above named outlets. Because of that, maybe I see this as a bit of a personal attack. In the interests of full disclosure, I will say that I have never received any funds from any special interest group, Syrian related or otherwise.
The author singles out Mint Press for a special attack.
“Minneapolis-based Mint Press is best known for its story based on one unknown reporter’s claim that the Syrian rebels were behind the August 2013 chemical attack that killed 1,300. The story went viral. Russian President Vladimir Putin cited it to defend Assad. The Christian Science Monitor found the story ‘mind-boggling’ and asked if it was a ‘disinformation operation.’ Mint Press stands behind it, despite the findings of a U.N. Commission that the chemicals ‘appear to come from the stockpiles of the Syrian military.'”
Attempting to call into question the legitimacy of an outlet while simultaneously citing The Christian Science Monitor is interesting to say the least. What is more interesting is that the Editor in Chief of Mint Press, Mnar Muhawesh, recently spoke about the process of manufacturing consent for war to a crowd in the vicinity of the StarTribune. Mnar is easily one of the loudest voices for the Arab world in the US media. From what I’ve seen of her character, I wouldn’t expect her to be going anywhere anytime soon. It would be best if the author just became accustomed to her being around.
The quote the author pulled from the UN Commission is, much like the rest of her article, misleading. Yes, the UN did say that the weapons “appear to come from the stockpiles of the Syrian military.” I would be willing to go further than the UN and say that the weapons almost certainly originated from the Syrian military’s stockpiles, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the Syrian military used them. The war in Syria has been a constant string of defections. When forces defect, they tend to take their equipment with them. Weapons are also captured by opposition forces and then used later. Earlier this year, the Kurds were struck by chemical weapon attacks initiated by the Islamic State in both Iraq and Syria. Remarkably, the UN group that is monitoring the decommissioning of the Syrian government’s chemical weapons was not sent to investigate. There are scores of photos available that show forces from every side driving US-made Humvees while carrying US-made M4 rifles. While US foreign policy is certainly duplicitous, are we to believe that the US is arming every faction in the war? If the author doesn’t understand the basic fact that weapons frequently change hands during war, perhaps she shouldn’t be writing about a war. Maybe there’s a state spelling bee or something that would be more suited to her level of expertise.
I doubt there are any journalists at the sites listed above that support Assad’s government (most of them wouldn’t support any government), they simply oppose US intervention. The US government has sought to overthrow Assad’s government since before the war began. The narrative being pushed by this article is that the only options are to allow the US to overthrow yet another government, or to support Assad. Those aren’t even remotely close to the only options. The author is identified as “Terry Burke, of St. Louis Park, is a volunteer for the Committee in Solidarity with the People of Syria.” If the author was truly in solidarity with the Syrian people, wouldn’t she want to see the war end? Wouldn’t it be better for the US to stop arming rebel groups that almost invariably end up defecting to the Islamic State?
The best part about the whole piece is that while the author is accusing the above sites of some agenda, she doesn’t even realize that she’s playing a part in someone else’s agenda. While I may just be a cut-rate journalist that writes for sites the author doesn’t want to call real news sites, I humbly ask your indulgence while I lay out how a real conflict of interest and agenda setting works.
Terry Burke is the author of the article. She is a volunteer with a very small organization. It’s unlikely that the StarTribune ran the piece to appeal to the built in audience of a group with a whopping 350 social media followers. It’s unlikely that the content, as dissected above, appealed to the editorial staff as ground-breaking. However, it does support regime change. The StarTribune seems to support this idea. Why? Who owns the StarTribune? Glen Taylor. Who is Glen Taylor? He’s the billionaire that owns Taylor Corp. What is Taylor Corp? The part that is relevant is that it’s the company that gives hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Republican Party. Glen Taylor was at one time a Republican State Senator. Destabilizing Assad is a Republican dream. It began under President Bush in 2006. Why are the Republicans so supportive of this idea? Money. The defense industry that will make billions off of the war has bought the Republican party with campaign contributions. The industry has spent more than $1,323,900,000 lobbying federal officials since 2006. All of the top ten recipients of the money in 2016, with the notable exception of Hillary Clinton, are Republicans.
When trying to establish a conflict of interest, you have to actually show where it might exist. You can’t just jump and down like petulant child screaming “they take donations” or “I can’t find where their funding comes from!”
While I believe that Burke truly believes she is acting in the best interests of the Syrian people, I would point out that regime change in Iraq cost about half a million lives. She doesn’t have all of the facts, and because of this she is condemning hundreds of thousands of people to death.
Then again, what do I know? I simply work for “news” sites.
So why wasn’t The Fifth Column listed when the content is basically the same? Simple. We don’t have a donation button, which means the author would have to acknowledge that ads primarily fund all sites. There’s also the fact that we tend to cover Assad’s crimes more often than other sites. Why? Every site has a limited amount of resources, decisions are made by journalists as to which stories to cover. Because of our coverage of Kurdistan, the Syrian government’s misdeeds are more relevant to our readers. It’s that simple. That doesn’t mean the listed outlets are pro-Assad. It means their journalists aren’t covering the Kurdish side of the war as in-depth as TFC. Saying that because an outlet isn’t covering something it must support the other side is ridiculous. We didn’t cover the Republican debate. Does that mean we support the Democratic party? Of course not. We didn’t cover them either. That’s the funny thing about newspapers: you can fill libraries with the stuff they don’t publish.