Once Again, Corporate Media Unites To Support U.S. Escalation in the Middle East

Trump’s latest aggression against the Assad regime has won him fans in editorial boards nationwide.

Adam Johnson

President Trump receives a briefing on Syria on April 7. (The White House / Wikimedia Commons)

This arti­cle was first post­ed at Fair­ness and Accu­ra­cy in Reporting.

The New York Times insisted, “It was hard not to feel some sense of emotional satisfaction” at the attack.

Of the top 100 US news­pa­pers, 47 ran edi­to­ri­als on Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s Syr­ia airstrikes last week: 39 in favor, sev­en ambigu­ous and only one opposed to the mil­i­tary attack.

In oth­er words, 83 per­cent of edi­to­ri­als on the Syr­ia attack sup­port­ed Trump’s bomb­ing, 15 per­cent took an ambiva­lent posi­tion and 2 per­cent said the attack shouldn’t have hap­pened. Polls showed the US pub­lic being much more split: Gallup (4/7 – 817) and ABC/​Washington Post (4/7 – 917) each had 51 per­cent sup­port­ing the airstrikes and 40 per­cent opposed, while CBS (4/7 – 917) found 57 per­cent in favor and 36 per­cent opposed. 

A list of the edi­to­ri­als with quotes show­ing sup­port or oppo­si­tion can be seen here. The list of the top 100 edi­to­r­i­al boards in the coun­try was tak­en from a 2016 Hill piece (10/5/16) on pres­i­den­tial elec­tion endorsements. 

Eight out of the top ten news­pa­pers by cir­cu­la­tion backed the airstrikes; the Wall Street Jour­nal (4/7/17), New York Times (4/7/17), USA Today (4/7/17), New York Dai­ly News (4/8/17), Wash­ing­ton Post (4/7/17), New York Post (4/10/17), Chica­go Sun-Times (4/7/17) and Den­ver Post (4/7/17) all sup­port­ed the strikes with vary­ing degrees of qual­i­fi­ca­tion and concern.

The San Jose Mer­cury News (4/7/17) and LA Times (4/8/17) were ambigu­ous, high­light­ing Trump’s past oppo­si­tion to bomb­ing Syr­ia and insist­ing, in the Mer­cury News’ words, that he get seri­ous about set­ting poli­cies and pur­su­ing diplomacy.” 

The one edi­to­r­i­al that express­ly opposed the attack, in the 15th-ranked Hous­ton Chron­i­cle (4/7/17), did so main­ly on con­sti­tu­tion­al — not moral or geopo­lit­i­cal — grounds, writ­ing, As we said a year-and-a-half ago, the pres­i­dent can­not and should not use mil­i­tary force against Syr­ia with­out a leg­isla­tive framework.” 

The Chron­i­cle—like all of the edi­to­ri­als on the list — accept­ed the gov­ern­ment of Bashar al-Assad’s guilt in the April 4 chem­i­cal attack on Khan Shaykhun, omit­ting qual­i­fiers such as alleged” or accused.”

A con­sis­tent theme in the bulk of the edi­to­ri­als was that the airstrikes were nec­es­sary, but Trump need­ed a broad­er strat­e­gy as well as a con­sti­tu­tion­al or con­gres­sion­al frame­work.” As FAIR (4/7/17) not­ed last week, the edi­to­r­i­al and op-ed pages of top five news­pa­pers in the coun­try were uni­form­ly in sup­port of the airstrikes in the day after the attack, offer­ing up 18 pos­i­tive columns and zero critical. 

Some spoke in emo­tion­al or vis­cer­al terms, most notably the New York Times (4/7/17), which insist­ed it was hard not to feel some sense of emo­tion­al sat­is­fac­tion” at the attack. The US deci­sion to launch cruise mis­siles at Syr­i­an Pres­i­dent Bashar Assad’s air­field felt good,“ the Den­ver Post (4/7/17) wrote.

The Pitts­burgh Post-Gazette (4/9/17) seemed gid­dy to the point of inco­her­ence with Trump’s new tough-guy pos­ture, pub­lish­ing this string of Nat­Sec bromides: 

The mes­sage for the Russ­ian and Chi­nese lead­ers must be to stop using their mur­der­ous lit­tle prox­ies, Syr­ia and North Korea, to poke and prod us. We don’t want any more wars, but we also showed with the attack on the Syr­i­an air base that we will not put up with being tri­fled with by their lit­tle friends doing awful things like killing chil­dren with chem­i­cal weapons and wav­ing mis­siles around. Rus­sia and Chi­na need to get busy and put the reins on the Syr­i­ans and the North Kore­ans, now. The game is lethal and dan­ger­ous, and there is no good rea­son for it to continue. 

The over­whelm­ing sup­port for Trump’s Syr­ia strikes — which open a whole new the­ater of poten­tial war in the Mid­dle East — is con­sis­tent with FAIR’s stud­ies of media reac­tion to US mil­i­tary action. A 2003 FAIR sur­vey (3/18/03) of tele­vi­sion cov­er­age in the run-up to the inva­sion of Iraq, for exam­ple, found just 6 per­cent of US sources were skep­tics about the need for war. Just 3 of 393 sources were iden­ti­fied with anti-war activism.” As the US debat­ed inter­ven­ing in the civ­il war in Libya, pro-inter­ven­tion op-eds out­num­bered those opposed to or ques­tion­ing inter­ven­tion by 4‑to‑1 in the New York Times and Wash­ing­ton Post (Extra!, 511).

Adam H. John­son is a media ana­lyst for Fair­ness and Accu­ra­cy in Report­ing and co-host of the Cita­tions Need­ed podcast.
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