Bethania Palma writes for Snopes about Russian-promoted disinformation that up to 85 chemical attack victims in Douma, near Syria’s capital Damascus, really died from “dust” stirred up by shelling.
The denials by Russia and the Assad regime of any chemical assault have been aided by suspect journalism, including by Robert Fisk of the Independent, through interviews with people who did not witness the attacks and who are likely to have been pressured into their statements.
Analysts for the story include research Elizabeth Tsurkov, who has extensive contacts in Douma; journalist Patrick Hilsman; and EA’s Scott Lucas:
Almost no one picks up the [Russian State outlet] Sputnik pieces, but because Fisk is a Western journalist working for the Independent, people will run with it. Then the Russians will have an organized strategy to promote Fisk’s piece, and the network of [pro-Assad] activists will know this and will give it the amplification they need.
Journalists and area experts are calling into question widely-shared articles that cast doubt on reports of a chemical attack in the Syrian town of Douma.
Many of the stories have been published by the Russian state-controlled propaganda network RT and conspiratorial sites such as ZeroHedge, regurgitating a report by storied war correspondent Robert Fisk writing for the Independent. The stories focus on a claim that first appeared in another Kremlin-controlled outlet, Sputnik, which featured two Syrian medical responders telling the Russian military that scores of people who convulsed and died on 7 April 2018 outside Damascus did so as a result of dust or smoke inhalation, not from a chemical attack, as is widely suspected.
These reports glaringly exclude evidence based on witness statements, photographs, and videos from the scene which have been widely reported on by international news media.
At the center of criticism is an interview conducted by The Independent’s Fisk, who traveled as part of a convoy of foreign journalists escorted into Douma by agents of the Assad government. The contents of the story and the quote he published have been widely repeated by both Russian propaganda outlets and Assad regime supporters. In the newly-conquered, government-held city, Fisk spoke on the record with a doctor who experts say likely gave — in order to avoid arrest, torture, or death — a regime-friendly account of events. The doctor’s account rang eerily similar to comments made to Sputnik by the medical responders days earlier.