Syrian War Propaganda at the Oscars

The Western-backed war in Syria, like the invasion of Iraq, was so smothered by propaganda that truth was not only the first casualty but has been steadily suffocated for five years, now reaching the Oscars, says Rick Sterling.

By Rick Sterling

The Netflix movie “The White Helmets” may win an Oscar in the “short documentary” category at the Academy Awards on Sunday. It would not be a surprise despite the fact that the group is a fraud and the movie is a contrived infomercial.

The “White Helmets” symbol, expropriating the name of “Syria Civil Defense.”

Awarding “The White Helmets” an Oscar would fit with the desire of Hollywood to appear supportive of “human rights,” even if that means supporting a propaganda operation to justify another bloody “regime change” war in the Middle East.

Much of what people think they know about the White Helmets is untrue. The group is not primarily Syrian; it was initiated by British military contractor James LeMesurier and has been heavily funded (about $100 million) by the U.S., U.K. and other governments. The White Helmets are not volunteers; they are paid, which is confirmed in a Al Jazeera video that shows some White Helmet “volunteers” talking about going on strike if they don’t get paid soon.

Still, most of the group’s heavy funding goes to marketing, which is run by “The Syria Campaign” based in New York. The manager is an Irish-American, Anna Nolan, who has never been to Syria. As an example of its deception, “The Syria Campaign” website features video showing children dancing and playing soccer implying they are part of the opposition demand for a “free and peaceful” Syria. But the video images are taken from a 2010 BBC documentary about education in Syria under the Baath government.

There is also something almost dated about the Academy selecting this infomercial as an Oscar finalist, let alone the possibility of giving it the award. It’s as if the Syrian propaganda narrative of “good” rebels vs. “bad” government was still viable. In the case of the White Helmets, they were literally made into “white hats” bravely resisting the government’s “black hats.”

Yet, we now know that the propaganda around the “noble” rebels holding out in east Aleppo – with the help of the White Helmets – was largely a lie. The rebels mostly fought under the command structure of Al Qaeda’s Nusra affiliate and its fellow jihadists in Ahrar al-Sham. A video shows White Helmet workers picking up the corpse of a civilian after execution by Nusra/Al Qaeda and celebrating the extremists’ battle wins.

Western “human rights” groups touted not only the White Helmets but the “moderate rebels” who we now know were largely a P.R. cover for the terrorists and jihadists, as well as an excuse for the U.S. and its allies to funnel in weapons that were then turned over to the extremists.

When eastern Aleppo was finally freed from the armed militants, it was discovered that the White Helmets headquarters were alongside the headquarters of Al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate. Civilians from east Aleppo reported that the White Helmets primarily rallied their “humanitarian” operations when the militants were attacked.

Soon after departing Aleppo in government-supplied buses, the White Helmets showed up in the mountains above Damascus where they allied with terrorist groups responsible for poisoning and then shutting off the water source for five million people in Damascus.

Neither Neutral Nor Independent

The White Helmets’s claim to be neutral and independent is another lie. They only work in areas controlled by the rebel groups, primarily Al Qaeda’s Nusra, and their leaders seek to bring in direct U.S. and NATO military intervention to assure a “regime change” in Syria although it likely would create a vacuum that the extremists would exploit to the further suffering of the Syrian people.

A heart-rending propaganda image designed to justify a major U.S. military operation inside Syria against the Syrian military.

The film is as fraudulent as the group it tries to turn into heroes. The filmmakers never set foot in Syria. Their video footage takes place in southern Turkey where they show White Helmet trainees in a hotel and talking on cell phones. The footage from inside Syria is not from independent journalists but from the White Helmets themselves – and much of it looks contrived.

Khaled Khatib, the White Helmets’s photographer who says he filmed the footage inside Syria, reportedly received a U.S. visa and will attend the Oscars. Khatib tweeted the first video he took showing the White Helmets, with a girl who was totally buried being removed without injuries or wounds or even much dirt.

The original video has the logo of Aleppo Media Center (AMC), which was created by the Syrian Expatriates Organization. Their address on K Street in Washington DC suggests this is yet another Western-funded operation similar to the Iraqi National Congress that lobbied and lied on behalf of the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

In the past few days, with perfect timing for the upcoming Oscars, there was yet another “miracle” rescue, another girl buried but then removed and whisked away in record-breaking time – perfect for social media.

The momentum in support of the White Helmets infomercial raises a question about how this Oscar is awarded. Is it for journalistic authenticity or is it to conform with the political passions of the moment, which themselves are partly contrived by a well-funded propaganda campaign mounted by Western/Israeli/Gulf governments.

Investigative Reports

The true source and real purpose of the White Helmets were exposed almost two years ago by investigative journalists. Max Blumenthal has written a two-part detailed examination of the “shadowy PR firm” behind the White Helmets. And Jan Oberg has written an overview survey of the “pro” and “con” examinations in his work “Just How Gray are the White Helmets”.

Map of Syria.

More recently, Vanessa Beeley has documented the fact that the White Helmets pretends to be the Syrian Civil Defense when there is a real Syrian Civil Defense, which was begun in the 1950s and is a member of the International Civil Defense Organizations. The White Helmets group was launched as “Syria Civil Defense” in Turkey in 2013 before being re-branded as the “White Helmets” in 2014.

According to on-the-ground interviews in Aleppo, militants began supplying this operation by killing real Syrian rescue workers and stealing their equipment. Since then the White Helmets have been supplied by the West through Turkey with brand new ambulances and related rescue equipment.

Despite exposés about the group, the West’s mainstream media and some “alternative” outlets continue to uncritically promote the White Helmets myth and rely on the group as a source of news about Syria. In 2014-2015, the White Helmets became a rallying point for columnist Nicholas Krisof, the activist group Avaaz and others to campaign for all-out Western assault on the Syrian government and its military.

Perhaps ironically – given the Israeli government’s desire for a “regime change” in Syria – the Israeli mainstream TV program I24 presented both sides of the issue and titled the segment “White Helmets: Heroes or Hoax?” By contrast, the progressive program “DemocracyNow” in the United States has only broadcast a puff piece promoting the “White Helmet” disinformation.

Whether or not the White Helmets snag the Academy Award, they surely deserve recognition for their skillful marketing and advertising. In 2016, the group received the Rights Livelihood Award and was seriously considered for a Nobel Peace Prize. The Oscar nomination for “The White Helmets” movie is just the latest success in the ongoing campaign of distortion and deception around Syria.

Rick Sterling is an investigative journalist who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. He can be reached at [email protected]

41 comments for “Syrian War Propaganda at the Oscars

  1. Snake Arbusto
    March 2, 2017 at 10:16

    The term “raghead” is offensive and should not be used, regardless of what you yourself mean by it.

  2. geoff
    February 28, 2017 at 19:34

    yes!! distortion and deception around syria, libya, afghanistan, iraq, iran and the elections in the u.s. hollywood helps us feel good about bad things. trump is a bad thing and obama is a good thing. hooray for hollywood and the movies and all the truth.

  3. Trax Jerre
    February 28, 2017 at 14:16

    Disappointed, but not surprised, to see such a myopic treatment of the White Helmets, who have found themselves trapped between a brutal dictatorial regime supported by imperialist Iranian ground troops and imperialist Russian air power on the one hand, and attempts at imperialist cooptation and manipulation by the U.S. and its allies on the other – and completely betrayed by people in “the west” who are simultaneously so obsessed by what their own governments are doing (much of it unquestionably appalling) and so utterly ignorant of the rest of the world, and the middle east in particular, that they could find someone like Vanessa Beeley credible for even a moment. Tragic, and outrageous, and appalling.

    • Snake Arbusto
      March 2, 2017 at 10:14

      Russia and Iran are defending themselves against threats to their security. Those threats come from the US/NATO. TO call both sides “imperialistic” hides that fact. Militaristic, doubtless. Imperialistic, no. Or at least not in the same league.

  4. Illoinen
    February 28, 2017 at 05:07

    Abraham Lincoln:
    “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time.”

  5. February 27, 2017 at 06:41

    Just saw that “The White Helmets” won! Well, it’s not surprising, considering that so many people live in “La La Land”.

  6. February 27, 2017 at 04:21


  7. Serge
    February 26, 2017 at 13:35

    Thank’s Consortiumn news for your articles i am French and have sometimes hard time to translate but i find them so interesting that it pushes me to improve my English
    We also in France are bombarded by non documented fake news and propaganda about Syria war.
    French governement also helps the so called “moderate” by sendind weapon to those who in fact are islamic terrorists.
    Again Thank’ Robert Parry and all the investigation journalists from Consortium News!

  8. GilG
    February 26, 2017 at 10:51

    ” Vanessa Beeley has documented the fact that the White Helmets pretends to be the Syrian Civil Defense”
    Is this the same Vanessa Beeley that went to Syria as a guest of Assad, and serves as a propaganda outlet for the Assad regime which used chemical weapons on it own people?

    • Patrick Lucius
      February 26, 2017 at 22:32

      I trust her reporting more than mainstream media. Did Assad gas his people? You take that as fact, I take it as improbable. Check out Assad interview with Charlie Rose, sharp likable guy demonized by US press. Check out Iraq war and wmd… I notice Russia has an important naval base in Syria, hmmmm. Reminds me of Ukraine… Hey, if they are destabilised into a non-functioning country like Libya, there will be no one to give the Golan heights back to… Yup, sure feels good supporting the wahabbi extremists, moderate jihadists, and isis, to rid the world of such a despot! We should join up with the honorable, noble, and democratic Saudis more often.

    • exiled off mainstreet
      February 27, 2017 at 12:29

      Those shilling for the total propaganda structure dare not cast the false stone of propaganda accusations, particularly when shilling for barbarous headchoppers.

  9. Daniel
    February 25, 2017 at 22:47

    The atrocity propaganda has got to stop! No more lying us into war! Babies on incubators was the first wake up call. How did we forget so soon?

  10. Daniel
    February 25, 2017 at 22:40

    None of the progressives I know, know anything about the CIA support for the Al Qaeda affiliates in Syria. They think Assad is some reinvention of Hitler, just killing his people for the fun of it. No understanding at all that his nation is at risk of falling to savages.

  11. bill phillips
    February 25, 2017 at 20:45

    Not surprising. The credibility of the MSM is gone with the wind.

  12. Brendan
    February 25, 2017 at 19:11

    White Helmets photographer Khaled Khatib has been banned from entering the USA, but he claimed earlier today that it was “intensity of work” that stopped him from going:
    “I get US visa but I haven’t traveled to U.S At all and I won’t travel to OSCAR due to intensity of work, our priority is helping our people.”

    Later on, he admitted that he was actually banned:
    “After 3days at airport, not allowed to travel to #oscars2017 (…)”

    Am I missing something here, or was the first tweet an obvious lie?

    This is the same guy who blamed Assad’s barrel bombs for nearly all Syrian deaths:
    Khaled Khatib: “But the weapon that kills the most Syrians — by 90 percent — is the barrel.”

  13. Patricia P Tursi, Ph.D.
    February 25, 2017 at 18:48

    I signed the petition for White Helmets not to receive a reward. The propaganda on everything is so heavy.

  14. February 25, 2017 at 17:55

    Sorry, it’s the photographer, Khaleed Khatib, who is denied visa entry to attend the Oscars. Clooney and other lip service so-called liberals will be incensed, time for more on-stage diatribes.

    • exiled off mainstreet
      February 27, 2017 at 12:31

      Clooney is nothing but a shill for el qaeda. His support of the breakup of Sudan led to the creation of failed states there. All of these people have degenerated into cheerleaders for barbarism.

  15. February 25, 2017 at 17:33

    One can only hope some people seeking to expose the truth show up at the Oscars, protesting to reveal the facts behind the propaganda. I can’t go, but surely there are some folks who can attend with signs and leaflets, and not the manufactured Soros type. I used to have a great time making my own signs for protests, back in the day when there were real protests.

    Now it’s reported that the producer has been barred from entering the US to attend, so how much do you want to bet the film might win based on his victimization by the Trump administration? Not that I think their immigration policies are good, but this could gin up support for the propaganda campaign.

  16. Danny
    February 25, 2017 at 16:30

    More and more, the Corporate-bin-Laden media is serving as mere mouthpieces in the “soft power” aspect of the declining but still virulent Imperialist aims of the Wall Street-Pentagon ruling cabal in Washington DC!

  17. Just Jim
    February 25, 2017 at 12:25

    Its not the first time Netflix has been involved in producing a completely false propaganda documentary and submitting it for an Oscar. 2015’s “Winter on Fire, Ukraine’s Fight For Freedom” is a TERRIBLE US propaganda piece.

    Oliver Stone produced a much better and much more accurate documentary called “Ukraine on Fire”, but whereas most Oliver Stone produced pieces are at least available on Netflix for viewing, this one isn’t.

    I was in Ukraine at the time and I personally saw that the US official version of a spontaneous uprising to overturn a universally hated Victor Yanukovych followed by a Russian invasion was a complete lie. I was in Lugansk when the Ukrainian military was sent to kill, (at the time) peaceful protesters justifiably upset that their democratically elected President was overthrown by a US sponsored coup d’état.

    Netflix should be ashamed of itself for being a purveyor of unmitigated propaganda in both cases.

  18. Bianca
    February 25, 2017 at 12:05

    They have plenty of OUR money to create their alternate universe. And MSM media wonders why people do not believe their lies. In fact, they have hard time keeping up
    with lies. In Aleppo they cried crocodile tears over the butchers of Al-Nusra andvtheir affiliated gangs losing grip over their hostages. But when liberated people danced on the streets rhere was no one from western MSM to record it. There was no one on hand to witness the first Christmas tree lighting in years in Aleppo. And thousands of Moslem well wishers on hand to listen to the band playing Christmas music, the band that had not practiced in years under the rule of MSM supported “rebels”. There was nobody on hand to recotd the distressing stories that captive people from East Aleppo told of their life in captivity. While Western media was absent — the rest of the world saw what we were denied to know by our media. But the moment US bombed the same Al-Nusra in Idlib, MSM dutifully called them Al-Qaeda! MSM media is a propaganda vehicle, and they are not bothered by lies. Those are noble lies in their eyes, to keep populace in the state of dumbed down complacency.

  19. eric
    February 25, 2017 at 10:58

    I have finally become costom to accepting the facts that the white helmets and even the blue helmets and a lot of ,if not all the NGO’s participating in these foreign wars are nothing but paid liars .promoting propaganda for The NWO side in almost all of the worlds conflicts . In Yugoslavia I learned they were the greatest propaganda machinery that has ever existed in the world to date . Far surpassing all of Hitler’s propaganda ability . When you couple this B.S. up with the fake news service the world has . It is not hard to understand why Brexit and Donald Trump.. The United States and England citizens are just beginning figure this out . We don’t trust the NWO establishment any more . So there is no more point in the mainstream media trying to talk to us any more . We think your are the enemy of the people .

  20. February 25, 2017 at 10:47

    After the great movie Avatar lost to the CIA documentary – the Hurt Locker – i quit reading about HollyIsis and their propaganda.

  21. george Archers
    February 25, 2017 at 10:10

    Any connection to Hollywood being Kosher? Lots!

  22. notlurking
    February 25, 2017 at 09:50

    Well at least the Syrian White Helmets cinematographer will not be allowed to participate in the AA festivities……

  23. richard vajs
    February 25, 2017 at 09:47

    The movie that best depicts the zeitgeist of our times is “Wag the Dog”. It had this theme wherein, Hollywood makes this hokey movie to help the Government advance an un-needed war. That and The White Helmets should be a “double bill”.

  24. backwardsevolution
    February 25, 2017 at 00:53

    The millions of morons who are fed a steady diet of MSM, late-night talk shows, The View, Hollywood are unaware they’re being molded and manipulated.

    George Clooney, who likes to think he’s informed, proudly proclaimed that he and his international lawyer wife had just seen “The White Helmets”. With all of his money and his own father a former journalist, is this the best he can do? And Meryl Streep, a great actress at playing parts, is unaware that she’s being played. Unfortunately, these people have great influence, and the masses continue to be dumbed down because of them.

    Rick Sterling, great report! I wish the whole world could read it. I hope everyone here at Consortium copies and pastes it everywhere. Thank you, Rick.

  25. rm
    February 24, 2017 at 21:31

    They totally serve and deserve, each other.

  26. ranney
    February 24, 2017 at 16:39

    I was so happy to see this article! It’s distressing that this propaganda con job is up for an academy award. If it wins, I hope there is a great hue and cry and hell to pay from those (few) in the media who know better. I hope Consortium news will be part of that.
    Incidentally the Jan Oberg article linked to in this article is absolutely wonderful in that it gives links to many other articles written by others in the know along with a detailed account of the history of the white helmets.
    Thank you Jan Oberg and thank you Robert Parry for publishing this article.
    Allowing the disinformation about the white helmets to stand without a fight would allow a major piece of lying propaganda to continue, solidifying the erroneous narrative our neo-con government wants to promote.

  27. Marko
    February 24, 2017 at 15:15

    The White Helmets were expressly created to ” catapult the propaganda ” , as Dubya would say. They’re fake civil defense. Yet the U.S. and U.K. governments , the human rights NGOs , Hollywood , and the MSM all insist to this day that they’re not only legit , but that they’re true heroes , in spite of the reams of accumulated evidence showing that they’re essentially a sham – a running PR stunt.

    I’m embarrassed to be associated by my citizenship to a government that would stoop so low to generate PR for any reason , but particularly in the matter of justifying a dirty war. This single example was enough to tell me that when disputes arose about various war atrocities that arose – like gas attacks , for example – and I had to decide whether to believe the U.S. vs. the Syrian and/or Russian version of the story , the safest bet was to assume that the U.S. was lying thru their teeth.

    My government is fundamentally and profoundly dishonorable. There’s no getting around it.

    • eric
      February 25, 2017 at 11:10

      It hurts doesn’t it ? I found out we used this same type of false P.R. propaganda to be on the wrong side in several wars . All because of fake news . Thank God for Brexit and Trump . Its the NWO that they have not told us about yet .

  28. Lois Gagnon
    February 24, 2017 at 14:39

    The shallow celebrity left and their admirers are a bigger threat to world peace and justice than the Trump supporters. I do not belong to either group, but most of the people I know belong to the first and a few to the second. Ignorance and confusion reign supreme much to the delight of the war planners.

  29. Mark Thomason
    February 24, 2017 at 14:05

    The White Helmet myth is something we want to believe. That is what propaganda sells best.

    • jaycee
      February 24, 2017 at 15:23

      Absolutely correct.

      So the glass is half-full, in the sense that polling and marketing surveys do consistently show that the majority of people strive for optimism and their best natures, believe in the revolutionary impulse, and believe in life. The glass is half-empty in that the powers that be will, cynically and relentlessly, promote death and counter-revolution adorned with chimeras of our better natures.

  30. Bill Bodden
    February 24, 2017 at 13:41

    Given Meryl Streep’s adulation of Hillary Clinton for getting credit for saving three women’s lives while being blind to the millions of women who suffered because of Clinton’s policies – initiated and supported – and George Clooney hosting a dinner at thousands of dollars a plate within a few blocks of homeless people in San Francisco and others in Tinseltown of lesser absurdity we shouldn’t be surprised at anything these people do.

  31. mike k
    February 24, 2017 at 12:07

    The essential basis of the modern authoritarian state is the ability to put out believable lies to pollute and control their subject’s minds. The obsessive concern with secrecy is to make sure these lies are not exposed. People like Assange and Snowden threaten the foundations of Empire, and are harassed accordingly.

  32. Bart in Virginia
    February 24, 2017 at 10:47

    “Jeff” interviewed the director and producer of the film on the News Hour last night.

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