It is often said that the first casualty of war is the truth. And looking at the press coverage in Europe and the U.S. in the last few days, we are reminded that Washington's state department is not the only one that likes to simplify the Middle East by dividing states into two neat groups. The media also indulges itself in blinded dogma that leads to painfully bigoted reporting on the region. And of course, now Western media is broke and in a crisis of its own, it has its own solution to "table journalism" when it can't even be bothered to send a journalist out to a given country to actually report facts on the ground. Armchair experts, often academics, Op-Ed writers who have an axe to grind against a country refuse to cover objectively.
Take the example of the British and American press in the last few days. If you were to glance at today's tabloids in the U.K., anyone would jump to the conclusion that "World War III is breaking out." But none of these media so-called "legends" are sending reporters to sit on the Turkish border all day long with military boffins in Ankara before they launch their "foreign reporting" careers with headlines apparently repeating inflammatory language from Russian President Vladimir Putin.
But it's not only tabloids. Just this week, the British Independent, the only broadsheet in the U.K. which is resorting to "click bate" tactics in the spicy stories it offers its readers, in a desperate bid to compete in the market place for traffic, served us up a casserole of boiling bigotry which beggars believe and proves a point that when big media repeats unsubstantiated reports, at some point, because of social media spreading the same information and sloppy journalists aggregating the untruth, the lie becomes the convenient "truth."
After the June 7 elections many Western journalists have been coming to Daily Sabah to interview us in Istanbul. They asked many questions -most of the sequential clichés about President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's "regime," freedom of speech, press freedom and so on. During their stay in Turkey they were allowed to work freely without government minders or any interference with secret service - unlike other Middle Eastern countries - and returned to Washington or London to "reveal" to their readers that Turkey was not only a haven for extremists but that Ankara was actually "supporting DAESH." This second argument was "backed up" by the more diligent foreign hacks who came down to the border and witnessed diesel oil smuggling and therefore all the investigative reporting was complete. What else did the story need?
But none of these reports actually delivered concrete evidence that Erdoğan was supporting DAESH, although you can't help seeing from the media's point of view in the West, it is convenient that this terror group is fighting his own adversaries - the Kurds - in Syria. The diesel oil smuggling and the fact that DAESH has its own impoverished neighborhood complete with the usual trappings of poverty, make the assertion complete.Remarkably, although Turkey still has problems with freedom of speech in terms of how it treats its own press, it doesn't interfere with those foreign journalists who jet in and go about their business as though they had landed in Germany or Spain. The liberty of Turkey is often held against it, when those same press room wasters get down to writing their copy, failing to remember that the U.K. has entire communities of DAESH supporters; terrorists always take advantage of liberal Western countries to hide and go about their "work."
The hypocrisy is stunning. The U.S., with all its wealth and power, cannot control its own border with Mexico - not even with a huge annual military budget - yet American journalists are quick to conclude that just because diesel oil smuggling is happening at the border with Syria, Erdoğan is supporting DAESH.
This week we see an Independent article explaining to us all what really is happening in Turkey. Apparently "jihadi" groups have been allowed to flourish in Syria and it's all down to Turkey. And there is more, not only can Turkey be blamed for their presence, but can now be blamed for Bashar Assad staying in power as well!
"...the international community is no longer focused on defeating the regime - instead, it is concerned with defeating jihadist groups like ISIS" chirps the feisty academic, "The shift in focus is a significant drawback for Erdogan. Years of support for, and investment in, Islamic fundamentalist groups like Jabhat al-Nusra (Al-Qaeda's affiliate in Syria) and Ahrar al-Sham are about to go to waste. Ankara has played a significant role in allowing Isis and other jihadists to flourish in Syria and the region."
Can we assume therefore, that during Obama's twilight period in office, where he mulls how the history books will write up this period of his impotency in the Middle East that his own PR people have been writing out checks to the usual suspects?
How else does one explain how years of Washington's support for these groups just gets whitewashed out of the final copy? Or could it be less sinister and just plain old fashioned sloppy editing by The Independent which continues with this line that Turkey is a supporter of terror cells in Syria simply because the reality is so much more complicated to grasp. There are no clear winners and losers for Ankara in the Syria war, unlike the West which is obsessed with removing Assad. Ankara would also like his removal but not at the expense of him being replaced with extremists to create an entire country made up of terrorists. No country in the world wants to have that on its border. Also, Kurds gaining ground in Syria only poses more problems domestically. So Turkey's role in the Syrian war is booby trapped. Whichever way it turns, it will pay a hefty price.
At a critical moment, Washington pulled out of Syria and allowed the Russians behave like the incumbent super power. And it seems those same wordsmiths are at hand today with the recent coverage which has painted a picture far from the truth. In reality "World War III," which is being bandied about by second rate journalists who can't grasp the geopolitical whore-mongering going on, is a patchwork of lies and convenient inference. The more interesting story which no one is writing is how Turkey has been abandoned by Washington and is feeling vulnerable with a cold war foe buzzing its border with fighter jets. No sovereign state of any substance would put up with that. And so neither should Turkey. But there are huge lessons here for President Erdoğan as he needs a rethink how to work with foreign journalists, because he can't afford to keep allowing them to follow the old mantra of one editor at the Daily Express in the U.K., who once lamented in the news room "make it sing, make it dance and above all make it up!"