MSM Finally Concedes Defeat On Yemen, Ceases Blackout Of Coverage

Caitlin Johnstone
7 min readAug 20, 2018

Last month, an article by went viral in republications by popular alternative media outlets ranging from Salon to Zero Hedge to Alternet to Truthdig, among many others. The article was initially titled “ACTION ALERT: It’s Been Over a Year Since MSNBC Has Mentioned US War in Yemen”, but many subsequent republications went with variations on the more attention-grabbing headline, “MSNBC has done 455 Stormy Daniels segments in the last year — but none on U.S. war in Yemen”.

The centerpiece of the article was the following graphic, which I saw shared on its own many times in my social media feeds:

That’s about as in your face as it gets, isn’t it?

Ever since the Saudi-led assault on Yemen began in March of 2015, alternative media outlets everywhere have been repeatedly and aggressively decrying the mainstream media in the US and UK for their spectacular failure to adequately and accurately cover the violence and humanitarian disaster with appropriate reporting on who is responsible for it. After the 2016 US election, journalist Michael Tracey wrote an essay documenting how throughout the entire year and a half that Americans were pummeled with updates from the mass media about candidates and their campaigns, not one single question about Yemen was ever asked by any mainstream outlet of any candidate.

This is of course outrageous, but because of how media coverage works, mainstream attention was never drawn to the problem. It hasn’t been a total media blackout, but because it only turns up in mainstream media reports every once in a while with little if any emphasis being placed on who is behind the devastation, it occupies a very peripheral place in western consciousness. The average American would probably be able to tell you that some parts of their government appear to be concerned about Russia, Syria, Iran and North Korea, because those rival nations have been the subject of intense mass media coverage, but if you asked them about Yemen you’d likely be told something like “I think there’s some kind of humanitarian crisis there?”, if anything.

This has all changed in the last few days. Suddenly, the atrocities being inflicted upon the people of Yemen are being pushed into mainstream attention by the mass media outlets which have been ignoring them for more than three years. The Washington Post editorial board published an op-ed titled “End U.S. support for this misbegotten and unwinnable war”. CNN did some actual, real journalism for a change with a viral exclusive documenting which American war profiteers were behind some of the more devastating Saudi bombings. And yes, MSNBC finally did cover the violence in Yemen, breaking its year-long silence to report on a US-supplied bomb which killed 40 children with such urgent condemnation of those responsible you’d never know they’d been consistently ignoring such incidents which have been going on for years. Now politicians and celebrities everywhere are shoving the horror of their government facilitating the slaughter of innocents into mainstream attention.

What’s interesting here is that nothing at all has changed except for the coverage. US-supplied bombs have been dropping on marketplaces, hospitals and funerals and slaughtering civilians in far more deadly incidents for years, and the US has also been providing extensive assistance to Saudi airstrikes, as well as attacking Yemeni targets directly. The only thing that has changed is that now it’s being reported with an urgency and volume that is appropriate for such a horrific incident instead of an occasional low-profile mention with little or no mention of responsibility.

Nobody with their eyes open believes that the mainstream media have just suddenly developed a conscience and now deeply care about the mass murder of Middle Eastern civilians. So why the change? If you ask some of the Trump supporters I’ve seen responding to the shift, it’s because their president can now be unfairly blamed for a military campaign which began long before he took office. But that doesn’t really hold water, does it? I mean, the aforementioned year in which MSNBC didn’t cover Yemen took place entirely during this administration, and every American with cable TV knows that MSNBC markets itself as the anti-Trump network. If they’d wanted to use Yemen as another angle from which to criticize this administration they would have done so, instead of not doing so at all. The entirety of mainstream media have been grossly neglecting this issue up until the last week despite having every opportunity to condemn Trump for it.

For the record, while we’re on the subject, I personally don’t much care if Trump gets all the blame for the Yemen catastrophe at this point. I’ve spent 2017 and 2018 fighting the insane corporate liberal notion that all American depravity began in January of last year, but at this point I’m happy with literally anything that just ends the death and devastation. A year into the war, the 30-year CIA veteran Bruce Riedel said that “if the United States of America and the United Kingdom tonight told King Salman that this war has to end, it would end tomorrow, because the Royal Saudi Airforce cannot operate without American and British support.” If using this as an opportunity to attack Trump creates the necessary political pressure to end the bombings, blockades, starvation and disease that is killing untold thousands of Yemeni civilians, then fine, whatever, I’m all for it.

But again, from what I’m seeing right now I don’t believe that this is about Trump. Not directly anyway. From what I can see right now, I think what we are witnessing is a clear instance in which alternative media successfully caused the establishment to lose control of the narrative on an important issue.

In the US, criticism of Saudi Arabia is nearly as taboo as criticism of Israel. As we saw explained in a leaked State Department memo last year, it is standard US policy to use human rights abuses as a bludgeon with which to attack rival governments, while sweeping the atrocities committed by allies under the rug. Because of its lucrative petrodollar deal with the US, and because its opaque and unaccountable monarchy makes it capable of nefarious maneuvers to advance geopolitical agendas that an ostensible democracy would have a hard time getting away with, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is one of America’s most important allies. And the plutocrat-owned media, whose controllers have a vested interest in protecting the establishment upon which their kingdoms are built, consistently fall right in line with that same State Department policy.

This, and the fact that the control of a key strategic region is at stake, is why we’ve been seeing the Saudi war crimes in Yemen and the US facilitation thereof downplayed for years by the mass media. And they would surely remain downplayed indefinitely were it possible.

But it wasn’t possible. The story kept getting pushed toward mainstream consciousness year after year, and eventually the fact that an outlet which upholds itself as the flag bearer of Trump’s opposition has been completely ignoring this administration’s facilitation of war crimes was made viral. At a certain point a Dem-voting audience which is being told day in and day out that Trump presents a unique and unprecedented level of danger to the world will lose trust in the outlets which market themselves to that demographic if they refuse to make a big deal about the fact that this administration is helping tyrants murder busloads of children.

For this reason, western mainstream media have been forced to finally report on the cruelty being inflicted upon the people of Yemen by Saudi Arabia and its allies in order to avoid losing credibility. The story got out, and the story about their lack of coverage of that story got out, and now they’re all reporting on it like they’ve been doing so this entire time. Which, if it continues, will make it very difficult for the US/UK/Saudi war machine to retain the consent of the governed for its mass slaughter.

In my opinion, we can safely call this a win for alternative media. The voices who aren’t beholden to the empire and its geopolitical agendas refused to let this story die, and eventually succeeded in overtaking the dominant narrative. Not because media-controlling oligarchs like Brian L Roberts and Jeff Bezos gave them permission to, but because unauthorized truth was spoken and carried by many ordinary people into mainstream consciousness via Facebook shares, Twitter retweets and speaking out loud and proud wherever possible. A people’s information battle was fought and won by the people.

If things go as I am hoping they will go, we will see more and more such populist hijackings of dominant narratives in the future, and ultimately a failure of the oligarchs to continue manufacturing consent for their omnicidal, ecocidal, Orwellian agendas. We will have to be aggressive, we will have to be creative, and we will have to be interesting enough to catch the eye of the casual citizenry, but the fact that trust in the mass media is at an all-time low and our ability to network and share information is at an all-time high combines with the fact that we have truth on our side to create some very exciting possibilities. I find this all very encouraging.


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