Israel’s airstrike in Syria shows how journalists can be manipulated by governments
By Dean Walsh
Contributing writer for End the Lie
On Wednesday, January 30th the mainstream media reported that Israeli jets had launched air strikes against a target on the border between Syria and Lebanon.
This story was reasonably prominent in the world news sections of the press. The Israeli government refused to comment, but ‘anonymous sources’ inside Israel told several major media organization that the attack had targeted a convoy of trucks traveling from Syria to Lebanon, which were carrying anti-aircraft missiles to Hezbollah.
This version of events – being the only version in the public domain at the time – was widely reported across the media.
Today the Syrian government disputed that version of events, saying that the strike had actually hit a military research facility just outside Damascus. This story has not received anywhere near the same attention from the mainstream media as the original reports including the information gained from anonymous Israeli sources.
I have no idea which version of events is true – it is impossible to tell. But this whole saga does serve to show how anonymous sources can be used by governments to manipulate the media narrative.
When the average reader sees that the government has refused to comment, but that an anonymous insider source has provided information, they think that the government refusal is because of concerns over giving information to the enemy, and that the anonymous source is probably thoroughly vetted by the journalist and therefore accurate.
In reality, when an anonymous source is a high ranking official this is generally seen by journalists as an indication that what they are saying is accurate – but it could just as well mean that they are giving the information which their government has told them to give.
In many circumstances the government may be using anonymous sources rather than official responses purely because this means that they cannot be held to account for disseminating false information.
As I said, I don’t know if that is what happened in this case, but the way that reporting on this issue has been so strongly defined by a source which was never made public serves to highlight the inherent danger with this kind of reporting relying solely on anonymous sources.
So in the future, whenever you see a story with information attributed to an anonymous source, please do remember to take it with a pinch of salt – because it could be deliberate disinformation.
Edited by Madison Ruppert
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