CNN and Syria: Media Analysis

The only time cable TV news is exposed to me is when I’m at the gym watching CNN, which plays on most of the screens in front of the elliptical machines and bikes. This evening, Wolf Blitzer and the gang were talking about the Syria situation. It quickly became apparent that there is a certain range of acceptable, “responsible” Mainstream Commentary when it comes to the bloodbath thousands of miles away in Damascus and its environs. The Most Trusted Name in News has an unspoken set of parameters that proscribe the bounds of serious discourse on the White House’s options.

At the latest, President Obama has asked Congress to authorize the use of force against Bashar al-Assad for reportedly launching chemical weapons against “his own people,” and a bipartisan consensus is emerging slowly. It is reflected by the choice of guests on the Blitzer show… for example, Rep. Peter King, who criticizes the administration for not wanting to go far enough and showing “weakness” by requesting legal authorization from the theoretical representatives of the American people. Another voice was from a former military figure, and now a prized analyst, who thought the idea of launching missiles from warships in the Mediterranean was foolish because it may introduce the risk of what’s called “mission creep,” where events can spiral out of control from what is intended by Washington.

The other end of the spectrum is where another commentator can say, as Richard Haass, the head of the Council on Foreign Relations, said, that the president is the commander in chief and has every legal right in the world to use the armed forces of the United States whenever and wherever. That is, of course, an exaggeration, but the unspoken assumption across the only allowable spectrum on CNN is that the US reserves the unilateral right to use force in its unquestioned role as global policeman. Further, as a sort of political corollary, anyone who does question that premise is branded as a “dangerous isolationist.”

Let’s assume the worst, that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons on a mass scale. (One report said his brother directly ordered the attack.) If the United Nations does not approve military action, all but a sure thing because of the crucial Russian veto, the recent parliament vote in the UK against London taking part starkly contrast to the expectation made in the channel’s opinion segment on what to do about all of this that Congress will eventually comply — and that the president looks weak and foolish for consulting them, still so at this late hour.

Monstrous acts happen all over the world. Why Syria? Why is it our responsibility to go abroad in search of monsters to destroy? And why is it assumed our actions cannot make things even more chaotic and violent? No one disputes that chemical attacks are abhorrent and out of bounds even in the midst of war, but do you recall any CNN segment on the use of chemical weapons in Fallujah and their horrendous effects? (If you can locate it, please let me know and I will stand corrected.)

Further, our word abroad rings hollow to many people, who can point to the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as all the reason they need when talk of “unconventional weapons” gets thrown at them.

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