Streetwise Professor

October 8, 2015

Why Don’t Journalists Scrutinize the Oracle of Syria?

Filed under: Military,Politics — The Professor @ 5:04 pm

One of the most irritating things about coverage of the war in Syria is that virtually every story relies on a single source, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, for the bulk of its (alleged) in-country information. This story from Reuters is an example.

The problem is that the Observatory isn’t in country at all. It’s a one man operation run by Rami Abdulrahman from his flat in London,where he’s lived for 15 years.

Despite the distance, and the fog of war, Rami provides exceptionally detailed reports on military operations by all sides in real time. Not a sparrow falls in Syria without Rami’s knowledge. Particularly suspicious are his precise casualty counts. It’s never “around 20 were reported killed.” It’s always “22 were killed” or “27 were killed.” There is seldom that precision in mass casualty reports even in the US, sometimes for days after the event occurs.

Rami’s distance, the extremely fragmented nature of the contestants (the opposition groups number in the dozens), the inherent uncertainties of first person accounts, the incentive of those on the ground to lie, his inability to verify information, and on and on and on should raise serious doubts about his accuracy, even if you don’t wonder about his potential interest. His background strongly suggests a Muslim Brotherhood connection. (The MB was the heart of the anti-Assad opposition for years before the war broke out. That’s who Assad père was trying to wipe out in Hama in 1982.)

Yet I have yet to see one serious journalist inquire about him or his operation, or question his/its reliability. Instead, he is universally treated like some sort of oracle, all knowing and all seeing. Is it just because it’s too hard to report from Syria, and just too easy to pretend that the guy in London knows everything there is to know?

Since the vast bulk of stories rely on this single, doubtful source, it all must be questioned. And he must be questioned, not least by those who rely on him as their primary source. And you must question any article that relies heavily on him. Which means, you must question pretty much every article about Syria.

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8 Comments »

  1. Modern journalists don’t like to do the foot-trudging required to find out stuff for themselves any more: they much prefer to have “access” to a supposedly knowledgeable source who can do their job for them and tell them what’s going on. Provided what they say seems vaguely credible to the eyes and ears of a clueless, gullible journalist (bonus points if it chimes with what they want to hear, i.e. USA bad, everyone else good) then they’ll happily run with it.

    It’s actually quite a lucrative business, being a rent-a-quote guy who “specialises” in a certain area. About 10 years ago there was a chap called Mike Averko, who used to get himself quoted in various news outlets on Russian affairs. I’m sure he’s still doing the rounds, and he used to pop up here as “Misha” some time ago, but he claimed to be an expert on Russian affairs, to have been “published in the NYT” (he got a letter published once), and somebody senior in the Tiraspol Times which was basically an astro-turfing website posing as newspaper pushing pro-Kremlin propaganda. All of this was enough for those who didn’t know any better, but whenever he turned up on the Russia-focussed blogs (particularly Sean’s Russki Blog about 7-8 years ago) it quickly became apparent he knew absolutely nothing about Russia, had never lived there, was evasive when asked if he’d ever been there, and appeared not even to speak Russian. Other than the name, he appeared to be an American guy living on his own somewhere in New York.

    In the UK, we have a chap called Richard Murphy who seems to have carved out a niche for himself banging on about tax issues while failing to understand even the very basics. But by banging on about tax often enough, and talking himself up, he started being contacted by the BBC for commentary. Even when his myriad errors were pointed out, the calls for quotes and reactions kept coming.

    It’s a simple fact that journalists are lazy and have little to no knowledge of anything. I have sometimes thought that, should I find myself in a period of unemployment, to relentlessly bang out 5-10 posts a day about the oil industry and become the go-to guy when some news organisation needs an analysis or quote. I really don’t think it would be that difficult.

    Comment by Tim Newman — October 9, 2015 @ 6:23 am

  2. @Tim-you are right about laziness and lack of knowledge. Far easier to ring up Rami, or read his bulletins that actually go in the line of fire.

    I am very familiar with Averko. He used to appear here under various pseudonyms until people would call him out.

    He’s still around. He sends out unsolicited emails sharing his deep thoughts on Russia. Good for amusement only.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — October 9, 2015 @ 3:59 pm

  3. You all sure know how to lie.

    On the contrary, the two of you combined don’t know as much on the subjects covered by the person you attack with falsehoods.

    Try dealing with direct rebuttals instead of flippantly broad inaccuracies.

    Comment by BS Buster — October 27, 2015 @ 4:30 pm

  4. @Buster. Have a nice day.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — October 27, 2015 @ 5:55 pm

  5. Probably better than Newman and yourself.

    That boy has a severe hard on. Newman comes across as a frustrated douche, who thinks he should be given more attention on account of his saying that he lives in Russia and is married to a Russian.

    The nitwit is either a blatant liar or is so convoluted that he transfers what he wishes as truth.

    Comment by BS Buster — October 27, 2015 @ 9:39 pm

  6. @Buster-You are a classless loser. And let’s just say your impression of Newman is yours, and yours alone.

    Also: talking trash under a pseudonym is a pussy move. Man up.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — October 27, 2015 @ 10:17 pm

  7. If anyone here is the “pussy”, it’s yourself.

    This blog fits the classless loser category. Excuse my slumming.

    Intelligent folks substantively counter views they oppose – not issue lies about others. Talk about “trash”.

    FYI Newman is considered a dope by more than a few.

    Comment by BS Buster — October 27, 2015 @ 11:29 pm

  8. @Buster. You are still an anonymous pussy. And now blocked.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — October 28, 2015 @ 6:27 pm

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