There's an underlying problem with reporting about Syria: The media continue to treat as human rights violations what is actually authority clamping down on people it considers, rightfully or not, revolutionaries or terrorists.
You might disagree with that government. You might find that government repressive, even odious, and want those involved in the uprising to succeed. But to call yourself reasonably objective you would have to admit that all governments respond with force when their survival is threatened. And, because they have the army and its might, they use it. It's nasty, and a lot of people die.
Any regime considers itself authorized to do whatever it takes to put down insurrection. And when foreign powers are helping the uprising, the regime believes it has even greater cause for muscular action.
That's the basic issue in Syria. Yet, because the West, which wants the Assad regime gone, does not have a policy of generally supporting uprisings against authoritarian, repressive regimes (see Saudi Arabia, or Bahrain) it cannot invoke that argument.
Instead, to justify intervention, it must make its case by presenting a growing litany of increasingly egregious human rights violations, being visited upon the people for no reason beyond an inherent monstrousness. That's basically the only valid basis for ousting Assad.
The Monster Grows
Thus, the playbook of "psychological operations" requires that monstrousness be on constant and increasingly vivid display.
One of several such stories concerned the massacres at Houla, which as we previously pointed out have turned out to be murky, without hard evidence that the Assad regime was responsible.
A few days ago, we heard of new atrocities by Assad's government. This time, in the village of Tremseh, near the city of Hama, the alleged numbers topped a previously "most grotesque" scenario, and therefore got top billing.
However, now there are doubts about the accuracy of that story--but how many people will remember the original, graphic and horrible account, and how many will fully absorb the more nuanced correction?
Here's the original story in the New York Times:
"Syrian opposition activists said more than 200 people were killed in a Sunni village on Thursday by government forces using tanks and helicopters, which, if confirmed, would be the worst in a series of massacres that have convulsed Syria's increasingly sectarian uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.
"The Syrian government also reported a mass killing in the village but said it was committed by armed terrorist groups, the official description for Mr. Assad's opponents. It said at least 50 people were killed."
And here's the Times' more recent one:
"New details emerging Saturday about what local Syrian activists called a massacre of civilians near the central city of Hama indicated that it was more likely an uneven clash between the heavily armed Syrian military and local fighters bearing light weapons.
"There were also new questions about the death toll, with initial figures from activists of more than 160 and other reports putting the toll at more than 200. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition group based in Britain that has a network of contacts in Syria, said that it had been able to confirm only 103 names, and 90 percent of them were young men. There were no women's names on the list of 103 victims obtained from activists in Homs.