Idrees Ahmad writes: On Sunday, when one of Hollywood’s most politically active and humane figures weighed in to condemn the media for “misleading the public on Syria”, one could only welcome the intervention.
Except, Mark Ruffalo, the Oscar-nominated star of Spotlight, was not indicting the media for failing the people of Syria; he was condemning it for being insufficiently sympathetic to the regime and Russia. He was recommending to his 2.23 million Twitter followers an article by Boston Globe columnist Stephen Kinzer in which he alleges that the “American press is reporting the opposite of what is actually happening”; that it unfairly describes everything Russia and Iran do as “negative and destabilizing”; and it fails to report that in the Assad regime and Russia’s assault on Aleppo, its inhabitants are “finally see[ing] glimmers of hope”. Kinzer’s basis for these claims? A comment “on social media” and the opinion of a “Beirut-based analyst” (in reality a pro-Hizbullah activist who is a contributor to the Russian news outlet RT and the Iranian supreme leader’s personal news site).
To compensate for its fact deficit, Kinzer liberally sprinkles his article with straw men. He claims that journalists are misleading the public by describing Jabhat al-Nusra, as “moderates,” not as “the local al-Qaeda franchise”. As a matter of fact, no one refers to Nusra as “moderates”, and a Nexis search of major newspapers reveals virtually no article that doesn’t refer to it without mentioning its al-Qaeda affiliation.
This article was a sequel to another, published three days after Russia started a series of attacks on MSF-run hospitals, which was boldly titled: “On Syria: Thank you, Russia!” In it Kinzer prescribed that “Russia’s policy should be ours: prevent the fall of Bashar al-Assad’s government, craft a new regime that would include Assad or his supporters, and then work for a cease-fire.” However, to accede to the opposition’s demand for a cease-fire, he insisted, would be to “guarantee continued war”. In a subsequent TV interview, Kinzer lauded the foreign policy wisdom of Donald Trump. (Similar sentiments have also been expressed by his Irish counterpart, Patrick Cockburn of The Independent).
Ruffalo wasn’t the only one promoting this nonsense. Beyond the agoraphobic netherworld of internet conspiracists, it was also warmly received by bestselling authors, Daily Show producers, liberal academics, Pulitzer Prize-winners, and think-tankers.
Why do bien pensant liberals like Ruffalo fall for such dross? Ideological blinkers? Or has dissent become all about aesthetics? It seems at any given moment maintaining an adversarial posture is more important than substantive engagement with an issue. Why bother with details when one can derive them from general principles? And if the reality of an issue contradicts one’s preconceived notions, then reality itself must be brought into question. Shooting the messenger is always a reliable option. But dressed up as criticism of “the mainstream media”, “the establishment”, or “Washington”, even a full-throated defence of fascism acquires the sheen of fearless truth-telling.
There are few things more commonplace than an Oedipal disdain for one’s own government. In this solipsistic worldview, one has no need to understand the dynamics of a foreign crisis; they can be deduced remotely. If you hate your own government then, by virtue of being in its bad books, a Putin or an Assad becomes an ally. [Continue reading…]