As the Democratic presidential race next moves to the heavily black electorate in South Carolina, two misleading smears of candidate Bernie Sanders by prominent African-American supporters of Hillary Clinton taint the critics' fairness and that of their institutions.
Washington Post editorial board member Jonathan Capehart and Georgia Congressman John Lewis, a civil rights hero shown in an official photo at right, separately suggested that Sanders had puffed up his 1960s civil rights activism.
The controversies arose as Sanders and Clinton scramble for African-American support in the South Carolina primary Feb. 27 following Clinton's victory in the Nevada caucuses Feb. 20. Looming ahead on March 1 are Super Tuesday contests in 11 states. Most are in the South where, as in South Carolina, much of the Democratic electorate is African-American.
Lewis dissed Sanders Feb. 11 at a news conference called by Congressional Black Caucus Political Action Committee at the Capitol Hill headquarters of the Democratic National Committee,
"I never met him," Lewis said of Sanders, referencing the early 1960s when Lewis led the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in courageous civil rights struggles that included the 1965 "Bloody Sunday" march in Selma, Alabama. "But I met Hillary Clinton. I met President Clinton."
Two days later, Lewis had to walk back his remarks by noting that Sanders had been active in the early 1960s, whereas the Clintons had attended high school then and Lewis did not meet them until the 1970s.
Also on Feb. 11, Capehart published a Washington Post column Stop sending around this photo of ‘Bernie Sanders,' citing Randy Ross, the widow of former Chicago student Bruce Rappaport, as saying her late husband was the man shown standing in a photo (below) that the Sanders' campaign had been using to illustrate the presidential candidate's commitment to civil rights.
Both Sanders and Clinton have refrained from comment, thereby standing above the battle.
But the controversy shows the deceptive tactics of candidate surrogates and media organizations in seeking a competitive edge for Clinton, the establishment candidate.
More dramatically, a much-honored photographer and civil rights figure, Danny Lyon, stepped forward to set the record straight.
1960s Civil Rights Student Activist
As a student at the University of Chicago, Sanders led a chapter of the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE) in sit ins that protested the university's tacit support of segregated student housing in its Hyde Park locale surrounded by black neighborhoods. Sanders also participated in the famed 1963 March on Washington led by famed civil rights leaders, including the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
The University of Chicago has long identified Sanders as the man standing in the 1962 photo. Lyon, a photographer for the Maroon student newspaper, shot the photo and went on to become the official photographer for SNCC in pioneering civil rights activism.
Capehart is a contributor on MSNBC, whose host Chris Matthews presented the controversy as if it were a major campaign scandal that implied devious tactics by the Sanders camp just as the Vermont senator was trying to win African-American support following his strong showings in the white-dominated states of New Hampshire and Iowa.
If Sanders had falsely puffed up his civil rights record it would have been one of the worst possible introductions to the heavily black Democratic primary audiences in the South.
But the photographer Lyon stepped forward to confirm that Sanders was the man standing in the photo. Lyon denounced Capehart for shoddy reporting.
The photo, along with a similar one shown on the next page of this column, is courtesy of the Danny Lyon/Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library).
The Lyon statement, confirmed by his release last week of his "contact sheets" of images when he was developing his images for the university's student newspaper, casts a poor light on Capehart, as well as his newspaper and cable colleagues at the Washington Post and MSNBC.
As one dimension, the website Men's Trait reported in Pro-Clinton Columnist In Bed With Clinton Staffer — Literally that the pundit has been been living for years with a Clinton staffer.
True, such conflicts of interest between journalists and political advocates are common in Washington and other media centers, and are rarely revealed.
But it's Capehart's bad luck that his factually inaccurate smear during a presidential race elevates his questionable behavior into news, as here.
Noted Civil Rights Photographer Lyon Steps Forward
Danny Lyon, a student contemporary at the University of Chicago of Sanders, largely resolved the controversy by stepping forward last week. As indicated immediately below, Lyon had moved on from the University to become a leading figure chronicling the civil rights movement in the early 1960s and thus brought authoritative knowledge of the Sanders role.
Lyon was the keynote speaker at the 2014 National Geographic Photography Seminar — an annual celebration of photography held at the society’s headquarters in Washington, portrayed above in a video of his discussion here. Interviewing Lyon was the late Julian Bond — a politician, professor, writer, and civil rights leader shown above at right. The two first met in the 1960s when Lyon became the photographer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in Chicago. Bond was one of the founding members.
As the National Geographic reported:
Lyon captured some of the civil rights movement’s most compelling moments, from the March on Washington, to the aftermath of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama. For other projects, he immersed himself deeply with his subjects—including the Chicago Outlaws Motorcycle Club, and death-row prisoners in Texas.
Danny Lyon has won two Guggenheim Fellowships, a Rockefeller Fellowship, and ten National Endowment for the Arts awards. He is affiliated with Magnum Photos, and his work has appeared at MoMA, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Center for Creative Photography.
Washington Post's Capehart Falsely Disparages Sanders
Jonathan Capehart, a columnist and editorial board member of the Washington Post, launched an attack on Sanders with the Feb. 11 column headlined Stop sending around this photo of ‘Bernie Sanders.' He began the column by reporting:
In trying to establish the civil rights bona fides of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), many of his supporters have taken to posting a black-and-white photo of the presidential candidate from 1962. Students can be seen sitting on the floor and standing in the back as the then-dark-haired activist addresses them.
The compelling picture can be found in the senator’s biographical video on his campaign website. “At the University of Chicago,” Sanders says as the photo fades in and out, “I got involved in the civil rights movement. We ended up engaging in a sit-in demonstration.” It’s on the campaign’s Tumblr feed. “As the Civil Rights Movement grew, Bernie led a sit-in to desegregate off-campus housing at the University of Chicago,” reads the timeline under 1962. And Sanders used it in a stirring 2013 video to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. “I remember the day very well and I remember the moment, the period well,” he says as the photo passes by, “because up at the University of Chicago, where I was then going to school, we were working with young people in the South.”
"But that’s not Bernie Sanders in the photo," Capehart flatly concluded. "It is Bruce Rappaport."
Capehart, who has positioned his commentary for the most part as an advocate for a Clinton victory over Sanders in the Democratic presidential contest, then raised doubt over whether the young man standing up in the photo (portrayed at the top of this column) was really Sanders. Capehart based his allegations against the Sanders campaign for the most part on the assertions of Randy Ross and her daughter Tara Ganguly. Ross married Rappaport, a fellow University of Chicago student activist, for five years before their divorce, his remarriage and death in 2005.
“I have no skin in this game (and wasn’t even a blink in my mother’s eye when this all happened), but as a Sanders supporter and a lawyer who thinks facts are important, I don’t understand why so many Bernie folks are getting so bent out of shape over this,” Ross’s daughter Ganguly told Capehartvia email. “He was clearly part of the movement — he just was wasn’t in ONE photo the campaign is wrongfully using. It’s clear why they’re using it — it’s a powerful photo — but if they dig in their heels on this relatively small matter it doesn’t bode well for his candidacy. You can have your own opinion but you can’t have your own facts.”
Classmates of the two men started raising concerns about the discrepancy last year. According to Time [Magazine], four University of Chicago alumni told the magazine in November that they believed the man to be Rappaport, also a student activist, who died in 2006. At the time of the story, the photo was still captioned as Bernie Sanders in the University of Chicago’s photo archive. But the picture’s caption has since been changed.
“Alumni who knew them well said that was Bruce Rappaport [pictured],” a University of Chicago official told me Wednesday. The caption was changed in January. “This was just a case of honest misattribution,” the official told me.
Capehart then ramped up his attack with a segment on MSNBC in which he and host Chris Matthews confronted Sanders campaign strategist Tad Devine about the photo as if they had caught the campaign in a major scandal.
From the first, however, Capehart recognized that Sanders had been at the CORE civil rights demonstration and that he was the young man in glasses and sweater portrayed in the photo at left with the university's president, George Beadle, who was addressing a Congress of Racial Equality meeting about housing sit-ins. Sanders, standing at right, was a member of CORE's steering committee. The photo is courtesy of the Danny Lyon / Special Collections Research Center at the University of Chicago Library, as was the similar photo above.
After the Feb. 11 Capehart column and MSNBC show Lyon spoke up, stating that he had located his contact sheets (produced from negatives of the event) that clearly indicated the young man was Sanders, not Rappaport.
Lyon also stated that Capehart's reporting was thus disgraceful. Capehart responded with a follow up column Feb. 13, Bernie Sanders and the clash of memory, essentially blaming the controversy on faulty memories of participants and thereby avoiding responsibility.
Men's Trait columnist Jeremiah Lechler rejected the Capehart response, and raised the ante by alleging that Capehart's actions constituted a "Swift Boat" type attack. Lechler also focused upon Capehart's longtime living arrangement with a longtime Clinton aide, Nicholas Schmit IV.
"Last I checked," Capehart responded via Twitter, "you neither know me or know what I do exactly. So stand down."
Weighing in also with an attack on Capehart was Alternet associate editor Adam Johnson with a column, How a Washington Post Writer's Attack on Bernie Sanders' Civil Rights Record Completely Backfired.
Separately, U.S. Rep. John Lewis denounced Sanders in response to a reporter's question during a press conference called Feb. 11 by the Congressional Black Caucus Political Action Committee to announce their support for Clinton's candidacy. The scene of the announcement, the Democratic National Committee's club in Washington, DC, carried the image of the committee itself aligning with its black members to tilt an increasingly competitive race toward Clinton, even though those optics were exaggerated because the announcement came via a rental of the space and the CBC itself had not made an endorsement, only its political action committee.
Lewis, a congressman from Georgia first elected in 1986 following an earlier career as a preacher and SNCC civil rights activist, delivered his attack on Sanders in his preacher's voice with a tone recalled Martin Luther King's own tones and cadences.
The clear implication of the congressman's original, high-profile remarks with scorn for Sanders and enthusiasm for the Clintons was that they had stood with African-Americans in the dangerous times of civil rights struggles that included, for example, the 1965 "Bloody Sunday" march in Selma, Alabama when police savagely beat Lewis and other demonstrators, leading to national outrage and congressional passage of civil rights reform.
But Lewis had to concede later that he had treated Sanders unfairly in ignoring his demonstrated civil rights activism by getting arrested in 1962 during protest of his university's segregated housing practices and in journeying to Washington for the 1963 civil rights march, and that Lewis never met the Clintons until the 1970s. Hillary Clinton had in fact been a "Goldwater Girl" in high school supporting the 1964 presidential candidacy of Sen. Barry Goldwater of Arizona, who opposed 1960s civil rights legislation.
Sanders has made no significant comment on these matters, and his campaign staff has similarly sought to remain above the fray.
Tactics Taint Leaders, Institutions
The two attacks on Sanders have the effect of tainting the attackers as well as the institutions they represent. Civil Rights Hero John Lewis Slams Bernie Sanders reported Pema Levy and Tim Murphy of the left-leaning magazine and website Mother Jones, which set the stage for a Steve Weissman's column in Reader Supported News, How Low Will the Clinton Camp Go?
"Congressman John Lewis has shamed himself," reported Weissman, a veteran of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement and the New Left monthly Ramparts in the 1960s. "Long a hero to now-aging activists, he sullied his long-expected endorsement of Hillary Clinton by disparaging her opponent Bernie Sanders' well-documented participation in the civil rights struggle as a student at the University of Chicago."
For those paying attention? More reason to suspect "The Establishment."
WhoWhatWhy, How Clinton Media Machine Blocked Sanders Civil Rights Play, Russ Baker, March 3, 2016. Bernie Sanders’s candidacy has been set back by strong black support for Hillary Clinton. One reason is that the black community has never really heard the full story of Sanders’s civil rights commitment — or been given a chance to fully compare his record against Clinton’s. That’s by design.
Chicago Tribune, Arrest photo of young activist Bernie Sanders emerges from Tribune archives, Katherine Skiba, Feb. 20, 2016. A Chicago Tribune archival photo of a young man being arrested in 1963 at a South Side protest is Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders, his campaign has confirmed, bolstering the candidate's narrative about his civil rights activism.
The black-and-white photo shows a 21-year-old Sanders, then a University of Chicago student, being taken by Chicago police toward a police wagon. An acetate negative of the photo was found in the Tribune's archives, said Marianne Mather, a Chicago Tribune photo editor.
Related News Coverage
Washington Post, Stop sending around this photo of ‘Bernie Sanders,’ Jonathan Capehart, Feb. 11, 2016. Update: I’ve heard conflicting testimonies from Danny Lyon, the photographer, and Randy Ross, Bruce Rappaport’s ex-wife.
Washington Post, Bernie Sanders and the clash of memory, Jonathan Capehart, Feb. 13, 2016. This is a story where memory and historical certitude clash. Where the doubt of a campaign strategist slams up against a university archive. Where the word of a proud photographer conflicts with the pride of an ex-wife and friends. Where the civil rights activism of Bernie Sanders and Bruce Rappaport collide.
All hell broke loose when I wrote Thursday that folks should “stop sending around this photo of ‘Bernie Sanders.’”
That’s the now-famous one of a dark-haired, bespectacled student leader addressing a sit-in at the University of Chicago.
“I thought your piece was outrageous,” Danny Lyon told me when we spoke on Friday. I can’t fault the famed civil rights-era photographer’s reaction. Unbeknownst to me until after my post was published, Lyon told book publisher Phaidon earlier this month that Sanders is indeed the person he photographed. Then, in response to my blog post, Lyon took to his blog with what he said were “newly discovered pictures” from contact sheets from the same roll of film he used 54 years ago.
Mother Jones, Civil Rights Hero John Lewis Slams Bernie Sanders, Pema Levy and Tim Murphy, Feb. 11, 2016. When a reporter asked Lewis to comment on Sanders' involvement in the movement — Sanders as a college student at the University of Chicago was active in civil rights work — the congressman brusquely interrupted him. "Well, to be very frank, I'm going to cut you off, but I never saw him, I never met him," Lewis said. "I'm a chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee for three years, from 1963 to 1966. I was involved in the sit-ins, the freedom rides, the March on Washington, the march from Selma to Montgomery, and directed their voter education project for six years. But I met Hillary Clinton. I met President Clinton."
Editor's note: Lewis (shown in a file photo) has been quoted separately as saying he did not meet the Clintons until the 1970s. The Mother Jones story resumes below:
The preeminent civil rights hero's pooh-poohing of Sanders came at a press conference where the Congressional Black Caucus PAC announced its endorsement of Hillary Clinton for president. The CBC PAC endorsement of Clinton was hosted at the Capitol Hill headquarters of the Democratic National Committee, which raises questions about the DNC's supposed impartiality in the Clinton-Sanders race.
As Mother Jones reported previously, Sanders was involved in the campus chapter of the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE), another civil rights group: "During his junior year, Sanders, by then president of the university's CORE chapter, led a picket of a Howard Johnson's restaurant in Chicago, part of a coordinated nationwide protest against the motel and restaurant chain's racially discriminatory policies. Sanders eventually resigned his post at CORE, citing a heavy workload, and took some time off from school."
Under Sanders' leadership, the CORE group at University of Chicago joined forces with SNCC's campus chapter, held sit-ins to protest segregation in university-owned apartment buildings, and raised money for voter registration efforts focused on African Americans. Political observers have pointed to South Carolina as the state where Clinton has a shot at arresting Sanders' post-New Hampshire momentum due to her standing with black voters. With the fight on for black voters, endorsements from the African American community are important for each campaign — and Lewis' comments won't help Sanders.
Men's Trait, Pro-Clinton Columnist In Bed With Clinton Staffer — Literally, Jeremiah Lechler, Feb. 13, 2016. Over the past 24 hours, a flurry of scandal has unfolded involving MSNBC contributor, Washington Post opinion columnist and prolific Clinton supporter Jonathan Capehart. Writing an opinion piece for the Washington Post, Capehart sought to sling mud at Bernie Sanders — Swiftboat-style — in questioning Bernie Sanders’ past achievements in fighting for civil rights on behalf of African-American communities in the 1960s. (This, itself, isn’t even an original idea, as Capehart was simply jumping on the Establishment’s anti-Sander claims, which continue time after time to be disproved or found to be outright lies.
But that is not the central thesis of this story. Instead, let’s look a little more closely at Jonathan Capehart himself, and the flurry of lies and misdirections for which he is quickly becoming known. Capehart, who currently offers his opinions to readers of the Washington Post and viewers on MSNBC, has spent the past five years in a long-term relationship with Nicholas Schmit IV, a long-term Clinton aide. Schmit has served in various capacities for the Clinton family and the US State Department under Clinton since 2004. You can see his full resume on LinkedIn, but we’ve summarized the key timeline of his career here.
Instead of admitting his mistake and moving on, Capehart has doubled-down and attacked anyone who questions his “journalistic integrity” as an opinion writer, refusing to acknowledge that his story was factually inaccurate and has already been widely disproven.
AlterNet, How a Washington Post Writer's Attack on Bernie Sanders' Civil Rights Record Completely Backfired, Adam Johnson, Feb. 13, 2016. One of the lamer hit jobs on Sanders by the establishment so far. On Saturday afternoon the Washington Post’s Jonathan Capehart walked back a widely circulated “debunking” of a photo of Bernie Sanders from his days at the University of Chicago during the civil rights sit-ins of 1962. The original story, published Thursday, asserted with total certainty that the photo was not of Bernie Sanders but rather Bruce Rappaport.
But something inconvenient happened to the famed centrist pundit after the story published; the man who actually took the photo over 50 years ago came out and said he was certain it was Bernie Sanders....In light of this confirmation, Capehart reeled back his original report with a lame "he said, he said" explanation:
MSNBC, John Lewis clarifies comments on Bernie Sanders, Alex Seitz-Wald, Feb. 13, 2016. Civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis on Saturday clarified comments he made earlier this week questioning Sen. Bernie Sanders’ involvement in the civil rights movement. Lewis, who is supporting Hillary Clinton over Sanders in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, had said he never met Sanders.
“In the interest of unity, I want to clarify the statement I made at Thursday’s news conference,” Lewis said in a statement from the Congressional Black Caucus PAC, which endorsed Clinton on Thursday.
“I was responding to a reporter’s question who asked me to assess Sen. Sanders’ civil rights record. I said that when I was leading and was at the center of pivotal actions within the Civil Rights Movement, I did not meet Sen. Bernie Sanders at any time. The fact that I did not meet him in the movement does not mean I doubted that Sen. Sanders participated in the Civil Rights Movement, neither was I attempting to disparage his activism. Thousands sacrificed in the 1960s whose names we will never know, and I have always given honor to their contribution.”
Lewis had also suggested that he had known Bill and Hillary Clinton during the civil rights era, a comment he also clarified. ”If you take a look at a transcript of my statement, you will find I did not say that I met Hillary and Bill Clinton when I was chairman of SNCC in the 1960s. My point was that when I was doing the work of civil rights, led the Voter Education Project and organized voter registration in the South in the 1970s, I did cross paths with Hillary and Bill Clinton in the field. They were working in politics, and Bill Clinton became attorney general of Arkansas in the 1970s as well. That began a relationship with them that has lasted until today,” Lewis said in the statement.
The clarification comes as both Clinton and Sanders make aggressive efforts to court African-American voters ahead of primaries in South Carolina and other Southern states. Lewis is a prominent civil rights activist who still has scars from injuries he received on the Edmund Pettus Bridge during the march from Selma to Montgomery for voting rights. Sanders was a student organizer at the University of Chicago during the era.
Reader Supported News via OpEdNews, How Low Will the Clinton Camp Go? Steve Weissman, Feb. 15, 2016. Congressman John Lewis has shamed himself.
After announcing that the Congressional Black Caucus PAC was backing Clinton, Lewis answered a reporter's question about Sanders: "I never saw him. I never met him. I chaired the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee for three years from 1963 to 1966. I was involved in the sit-ins, the Freedom Rides, the March on Washington, the march from Selma (Alabama) to Montgomery and directed the voter education project for six years. I met Hillary Clinton, I met President Clinton."
Others of us know young Bernie's work and still speak highly of his student activism for peace and civil rights. We can also point to detailed confirmation in the Chicago Tribune, Rick Pearlstein's profile of Sanders in The University of Chicago Magazine, and Mother Jones, which thoughtfully reproduced pages from old editions of the student newspaper, The Chicago Maroon.
Bernie's biggest success came as a leader of the campus chapter of the Congress for Racial Equality (CORE), when he spearheaded a lengthy campaign against landlords of university-owned buildings in Hyde Park for refusing to rent off-campus housing to black students. "We feel it is an intolerable situation when Negro and white students of the University cannot live together in university owned apartments," Sanders told The Maroon in January 1962. As picketers left one of the residences, people yelled, "Go back to your jungles."
Bernie's agitation led to a 15-day sit-in in the reception room of the office of university president George Beadle, followed by continued protests and negotiations that finally forced the university to desegregate its housing. Sanders also led pickets against a local Howard Johnson's after the arrest of 12 CORE demonstrators for trying to eat at a HoJo's in North Carolina. He was arrested and fined for resisting arrest in a protest against school segregation on Chicago's south side, and he went with several comrades to the giant March on Washington, where Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous "I Have a Dream" speech.
"Bernie was clearly a leader," recalled Mike Edelstein, who served on campus CORE's executive committee at the time. "He was taken seriously. You couldn't take him for anything else because, like now, his humor is not his foremost trait."
He was "very smart and very policy oriented," said classmate Mike Parker, who is now in his 70s and -- with Bernie's support -- is leading a fight to close down a polluting Chevron refinery in Richmond, California. "Knowing someone like him was part of the inspiration for what we're doing here."
Less well known, Parker and some of Bernie's other comrades went to graduate school at Berkeley and helped shape the Free Speech Movement, which was largely about the right to advocate and organize on campus for civil rights demonstrations in neighboring Oakland and San Francisco.
This is how progressive movements for social change take on a life of their own, and to belittle Bernie's role insults a whole generation of activists, black and white, who worked where we were to do what we could, all at a time that Hillary Clinton was still a Goldwater Girl. Hillary changed, and Bernie and Elizabeth Warren are now pushing her to change even more. But that gives her campaign no license to let John Lewis bear false witness against Bernie to shore up black support in South Carolina and beyond.
What makes all this even sadder is that Lewis knows firsthand the sting of dirty politics at the highest level. Back in August 1963, when I was still a grad student at the University of Michigan, John came to speak at a meeting of our local Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). He was scheduled to be the youngest speaker the following week at the March on Washington, and he was testing the bombshell he intended to drop.
In the end, John's attack on Bernie may not have much impact, and could well backfire the way that Gloria Steinem and Madeline Albright's remarks ended up hurting Hillary with young feminists. Several black leaders and activists are already endorsing Bernie as the candidate who best embodies the moral imperative of our time, and John Lewis has only demeaned himself to score a few cheap political points. But common decency and a proper regard for our shared history demand that Hillary disavow his comments and that they go beyond sterile apologies and both set the record straight.
Washington Post, Clinton beats Sanders in Nev., John Wagner, David Weigel and Mike DeBonis, Feb. 20, 2016. Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton held off a powerful late challenge from rival Sen. Bernie Sanders in Nevada’s Democratic caucus vote Saturday, securing a narrow victory that could help her renew a claim to the mantle of presumptive Democratic nominee.
Catching Our Attention on other Justice, Media & Integrity Issues
Washington Post, DNC rolls back Obama ban on contributions from federal lobbyists, Tom Hamburger and Paul Kane, Feb. 12, 2016. The Democratic National Committee has rolled back restrictions introduced by presidential candidate Barack Obama in 2008 that banned donations from federal lobbyists and political action committees. The decision was viewed with disappointment Friday morning by good government activists who saw it as a step backward in the effort to limit special interest influence in Washington. Some suggested it could provide an advantage to Hillary Clinton’s fundraising efforts.
“It is a major step in the wrong direction,” said longtime reform advocate Fred Wertheimer. “And it is completely out of touch with the clear public rejection of the role of political money in Washington,” expressed during the 2016 campaign.
Boston Globe, The media are misleading the public on Syria, Stephen Kinzer, Feb. 18, 2016. Coverage of the Syrian war will be remembered as one of the most shameful episodes in the history of the American press. Reporting about carnage in the ancient city of Aleppo is the latest reason why.
For three years, violent militants have run Aleppo. Their rule began with a wave of repression. They posted notices warning residents: “Don’t send your children to school. If you do, we will get the backpack and you will get the coffin.” Then they destroyed factories, hoping that unemployed workers would have no recourse other than to become fighters. They trucked looted machinery to Turkey and sold it.
This month, people in Aleppo have finally seen glimmers of hope. The Syrian army and its allies have been pushing militants out of the city. Last week they reclaimed the main power plant. Regular electricity may soon be restored. The militants’ hold on the city could be ending. This does not fit with Washington’s narrative. As a result, much of the American press is reporting the opposite of what is actually happening. Many news reports suggest that Aleppo has been a “liberated zone” for three years but is now being pulled back into misery.
Inevitably, this kind of disinformation has bled into the American presidential campaign. At the recent debate in Milwaukee, Hillary Clinton claimed that United Nations peace efforts in Syria were based on “an agreement I negotiated in June of 2012 in Geneva.” The precise opposite is true. In 2012 Secretary of State Clinton joined Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Israel in a successful effort to kill Kofi Annan’s UN peace plan because it would have accommodated Iran and kept Assad in power, at least temporarily. No one on the Milwaukee stage knew enough to challenge her.