Still following Assad for yet another day


Leaked emails of President Bashar al-Assad reveal the key players who governed Syria and how they tried to quash the protesters. (File photo)

Leaked emails of President Bashar al-Assad reveal the key players who governed Syria and how they tried to quash the protesters. (File photo) Al Arabiya, 3-19-12

The plot is thickening, Al Jazeera and the Guardian both ran stories on new documents from Syria.  The “secret” documents reveal, if indeed they are legitimate, that Assad personally approves every action by the military and police against the demonstrators and rebels.  The new documents may or may not have come from the same source of the emails, but if they did, the people releasing them were not satisfied with the response from the Guardian and Al Arabiya because they chose Al Jazeera instead.  The Guardian covered the documents and their release, but took the story from the published articles in Al Jazeera.  For western critics this is meatier stuff – catching Assad in the very act of ordering and approving of the violence.  The documents may be real and Assad may have ordered the killing of Syrian civilians, but that fact will not change anything on the ground.  Although, Russia did call for an end to violence in Syria today, so more evidence might lead to China and Russia taking a stronger stand.  That would leave Iran as the only country with the ability and willingness to help the Assad regime.

On the frivolous and trivial side, the Huffington Post has a Reuters story with the headline: Asma Assad: Syria Dictator’s Wife A ‘Rose In The Desert’ Crushed By Uprising Violence; AOL posted a very nice picture of Asma and retitled the story: Is this woman the real dictator of Syria? The Huffington Post article is a background piece on Assad’s wife and her previous liberal, even left wing political views and her imagine in the media.  The article concludes that she was corrupted by the violence and now is more interested in spending money than saving people.  The article included a quote from one of the emails that provided AOL with its attention grabbing, but very misleading headline.

…emails published by Britain’s Guardian newspaper this month from accounts believed to belong to the family offer a different portrait, showing her as a capricious dictator’s wife spending tens of thousands of pounds on jewels, fancy furniture, and a Venetian glass vase from Harrods.  “I am the real dictator, he has no choice,” she apparently said in one of the emails in a comment about her husband. Reuters, Huffington Post, 3-19-12

As expected, Al Arabiya continued its series with the names of some of the “inter circle” of Assad advisers.  The article gives a brief overview of each person’s role and influence using excerpts from the emails to illustrate.  Some of the advisers gave very pointed advise, suggesting which people ought to be fired and who should replace them; others gave more tactical advise about public statements and public positions on important issues.  Sometimes, Assad just forwarded the advice to someone in the government without comment – but first deleting the sender’s name.   Assad also appears to allow his advisers to act as if they had direct power and authority.   However, it looks more like he was simply manipulating many different people, playing them against each other and never letting anyone know what he was thinking, what he knew or exactly how he made his decisions.  The weak chinned man with a weak character, a man that is  easily manipulated and controlled by the military as he has been traditionally  portrayed in the media is fading quickly.  The picture that is emerging is very different one, it is of a man clearly in control of the country and the military; not a simple and easily manipulated man, but one who manipulates others and one who created a separate reporting structure and used a wide variety of advisers.

For me, this story is becoming as much about the media outlets as it is about Assad.  Although there has been more information available about Assad in the last seven days than there was in the last seven years.  Watching each media outlet select which material to use  and emphasize is very revealing.  It is not a surprise to anyone that AOL wants click-throughs and uses pictures and misleading headlines to get them.  But it is more surprising to find Reuters chasing Asma, her previous image and politics as the most significant story to cover; it is almost a Daily Mail story.  Tomorrow Assad will be back burner everywhere but Al Arabiya.  The details on the American solider from Afghanistan and the shooting in France are going to push Assad aside.

I have enjoyed all of this, especially Al Arabiya.  This is the way journalism was when I was growing up; there were not many news sources. We could listen to the radio news once or twice a day and read a morning and evening newspaper – that was it.  Each of those took care to report the major stories, but did not try to blurt out everything all at once nor to condense everything into simple sound bites; the news was reported in daily updates and expanded analysis. It was really possible in those days to get a complete picture of an event.  Today, there are too many news sources, too many seemingly equal stories, too many pictures, too many updates, but too little real news; and no one story is ever important enough to be continued over a long period of time – soon, in seconds some times, but always daily new story pushes the old one aside.  We never really learn to understand or to think in depth about a single issue.  For all of the differences and “improvements” in technology in the last 100 years, my grandfather understood the events of his day far better than I understand the events of today.

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