A coalition of Saudi Arabia, the United States, the United Kingdom and the United Arab Emirates, with minor support from several other Middle Eastern nations, has relentlessly bombed Yemen since March 2015. This August, the coalition ramped up the ferocity of its airstrikes, killing dozens of civilians.
On August 23, the US/Saudi coalition bombed a hotel near Yemen’s capital Sanaa, killing 41 people, 33 of whom—80 percent—were civilians, according to the United Nations.
Then on August 25, the coalition bombed homes in Sanaa, massacring a dozen civilians, including eight members of the same family.
Major Western media outlets have, however, obscured the responsibility Saudi Arabia, and its US and European supporters, bear for launching these airstrikes.
There are no other parties presently bombing Yemen, so media cannot feign ignorance as to who is responsible for the attacks. But reports on the bloody US/Saudi coalition airstrikes were nonetheless rife with ambiguous and downright misleading language.
The London-based Middle East Eye (8/23/17) was just as ambiguous, with “Yemen Air Attack Destroys Hotel, Killing at Least 35 People,” as was Qatar-owned Al Jazeera (8/23/17), with “Air Raid in Yemen Kills at Least 35 people” and the Turkish TRT World (8/24/17), which wrote, “At Least 60 people Killed in Airstrikes on Hotel in Yemen.”
Whose airstrike was it? What party was responsible? This remains unknown to those who only glanced at the headlines—that is to say, to most readers.
The 29-month war has killed thousands of Yemeni civilians, with tens of thousands more injured and millions facing famine. And the United Nations has repeatedly reported that the US/Saudi coalition is responsible for a majority of the civilian casualties.
Even when Saudi Arabia’s guilt is acknowledged by media, the crucial role of the US is typically ignored (FAIR.org, 8/31/15, 10/14/16, 2/27/17). Readers miss out on crucial context that is needed to understand the war, and their governments’ contributions to it: Saudi Arabia is flying US-made planes, full of fuel provided by the US Air Force, dropping US- and UK-made bombs, with intelligence and assistance from American and British military officials.
Non-Yemeni ‘Yemeni Airstrikes’
Two days later, reports were just as obfuscatory, and even used the term “Yemeni airstrike,” to refer to an airstrike that was carried out by non-Yemenis.
“Yemen Airstrike Kills 12, Including Six Children: Rescuers,” Reutersreported on August 25. This brief two-paragraph wire did not once mention the US/Saudi coalition was responsible.
“After Yemeni Airstrike, Little Girl Is Family’s Only Survivor,” the international news agency wrote the next day (8/26/17). This Reuters piece noted that the “Saudi-led coalition” was “blamed,” though even that language seems designed to deflect; blamers can be wrong, after all.
Major newspapers were similarly misleading. “Young Yemeni Girl Is Sole Survivor After Airstrike Topples Her Home,” the New York Times (8/26/17) reported. The lead provided no further information: “An airstrike toppled their apartment building.” In fact, it was not until the seventh paragraph, after three large photos, that the Times finally conceded, “A Saudi Arabia–led coalition took responsibility for the airstrike a day after the attack, citing a ‘technical mistake.’” The Times did not once mention American or British support for the coalition.
Even when Saudi Arabia admitted responsibility for killing Yemeni civilians, media watered down the language. “Saudi-Led Force Admits Strike in Yemen’s Capital Hit Civilians,” Reuters (8/26/17) headlined its news wire. Note the airstrike hit civilians, not killed them.
The attack was also reduced to a mere “mistake.” Larger context was not provided: namely that more than one-third of US/Saudi coalition airstrikes have hit civilian areas, and that there is a growing body of evidence that the coalition has intentionally targeted civilian infrastructure in Yemen.
Not all media were equally misleading; some were more forthright. AP‘s news wire (8/23/17), which was republished by the Chicago Tribune, New York Daily News, Houston Chronicle and San Francisco Chronicle, used a headline that told readers who was responsible for the deadly attack: “Saudi-Led Airstrikes Hit Yemen Hotel, Killing at Least 41.”
The Washington Post was similarly direct, with its reports “Saudi-Led Coalition Airstrike Kills Dozens in Yemen Ahead of Major Rally” (8/23/17) and “Saudi-Led Airstrikes Kill 14 Civilians in Yemen’s Capital” (8/25/17).
The Art of Obfuscation
To justify this ambiguity in reporting, media might claim it is sometimes not immediately clear who launched the airstrikes. But, again, there are no other parties flying warplanes in Yemen.
Yemeni Houthi-Saleh forces, who govern the north of the country and roughly 80 percent of the population, have not been bombing their country. Moreover, the US/Saudi coalition has imposed an air blockade on the impoverished country since March 2015 (another significant fact that is rarely reported by corporate media).
In Syria, where numerous rival countries have been launching airstrikes, it is understandable that media may sometimes have to exercise caution before apportioning blame. But this is not the case with Yemen.
In the 29-month war in Yemen, there is one party that has been responsible for thousands of air raids: the Saudi air force, as part of a coalition with the US, the UK and the UAE…