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MH-17 Case: "Old" Journalism vs. "New"

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Reprinted from Consortium News


President Barack Obama delivers a statement on the situation in Ukraine, on the South Lawn of the White House, July 29, 2014.
(image by (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson))
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The first thing any thinking person learns about the Internet is not to trust everything you see there. While you can find much well-researched and reliable material, you'll also encounter disinformation, spoofs, doctored photographs and crazy conspiracy theories. That would seem to be a basic rule of the Web -- caveat emptor, be careful what you do with the information -- unless you're following a preferred neocon narrative. Then, nothing to worry about.

A devil-may-care approach to Internet-sourced material has been particularly striking when it comes to the case of the shoot-down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014. It has now become de rigueur on the part of the West's mainstream news outlets to tout the dubious work of a British Internet outlet called Bellingcat, which bases its research on photographs and other stuff pulled off the Internet.

Bellingcat's founder Eliot Higgins also has made journalistic errors that would have ended the careers of many true professionals, yet he continues to be cited and hailed by the likes of The New York Times and The Washington Post, which have historically turned up their noses about Internet-based journalism.

The secret to Higgins's success seems to be that he reinforces what the U.S. government's propagandists want people to believe but lack the credibility to sell. It's a great business model, marketing yourself as a hip "citizen journalist" who just happens to advance Official Washington's "group thinks."

We saw similar opportunism among many wannabe media stars in 2002-03 when U.S. commentators across the political spectrum expressed certitude about Iraq's hidden stockpiles of WMD. Even the catastrophic consequences of that falsehood did little to dent the career advancements of the Iraq-WMD promoters. There was almost no accountability, proving that there truly is safety in numbers. [See Consortiumnews.com's "Through the US Media Lens Darkly."]

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New Recruits

But there's always room for new recruits. Blogger Higgins made his first splash by purporting to prove the accuracy of U.S. government claims about the Syrian government firing rockets carrying sarin gas that killed hundreds of civilians on Aug. 21, 2013, outside Damascus, an incident that came close to precipitating a major U.S. bombing campaign against the Syrian military.

Those of us who noted the startling lack of evidence in the Syria-sarin case -- much as we had questioned the Iraq-WMD claims in 2002-03 -- were brushed aside by Big Media which rushed to embrace Higgins who claimed to have proved the U.S. government's charges. Even The New York Times clambered onboard the Higgins bandwagon.

Higgins and others mocked legendary investigative journalist Seymour Hersh when he cited intelligence sources indicating that the attack appeared to be a provocation staged by Sunni extremists to draw the U.S. military into the war, not an attack by the Syrian military.

Despite Hersh's long record for breaking major stories -- including the My Lai massacre from the Vietnam War, the "Family Jewels" secrets of the CIA in the 1970s, and the Abu Ghraib torture during the Iraq War -- The New Yorker and The Washington Post refused to run his articles, forcing Hersh to publish in the London Review of Books.

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Hersh was then treated like the crazy uncle in the attic, while Higgins -- an unemployed British bureaucrat operating from his home in Leicester, England -- was the new golden boy. While Higgins was applauded, Hersh was shunned.

But Hersh's work was buttressed by the findings of top aeronautical scientists who studied the one rocket that carried sarin into the Damascus suburb of Ghouta and concluded that it could have traveled only about two kilometers, far less distance than was assumed by Official Washington's "group think," which had traced the firing position to about nine kilometers away at a Syrian military base near the presidential palace of Bashar al-Assad.

"It's clear and unambiguous this munition could not have come from Syrian government-controlled areas as the White House claimed," Theodore Postol, a professor in the Science, Technology, and Global Security Working Group at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, told MintPress News.

Postol published "Possible Implications of Faulty US Technical Intelligence in the Damascus Nerve Agent Attack of August 21st, 2013" in January 2014 along with Richard Lloyd, an analyst at the military contractor Tesla Laboratories who was a United Nations weapons inspector and has to his credit two books, 40 patents and more than 75 academic papers on weapons technology.

Postol added in the MintPress interview that Higgins "has done a very nice job collecting information on a website. As far as his analysis, it's so lacking any analytical foundation it's clear he has no idea what he's talking about."

In the wake of the Postol-Lloyd report, The New York Times ran what amounted to a grudging retraction of its earlier claims. Yet, to this day, the Obama administration has failed to withdraw its rush-to-judgment charges against the Syrian government or present any verifiable evidence to support them.

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http://www.consortiumnews.com

Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at
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