Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN
President Donald Trump’s administration may launch another military strike in Syria if the Syrian government carries out another chemical attack. If Trump does attack Syria, media must be cautious in their coverage and not repeat the fawning approach much of them adopted after Trump launched an April strike in the country.
On June 26, the Trump administration issued a statement saying that Syrian President Bashar Assad was possibly preparing for another chemical attack and warning that Assad would “pay a heavy price” if he actually carried one out. The New York Times also noted that military officials were “caught off guard” by the statement.
If there’s another chemical attack and Trump carries out his threat and launches military action in response, it could be a repeat of what happened just a few months ago. On April 7, in response to the Assad government’s reported chemical attack on a rebel-held Syrian town, Trump ordered the military to fire missiles at the Syrian airbase that launched that attack. Many in media lauded Trump in an over-the-top fashion, calling the strike “beautiful” and “an emotional act by a man suddenly aware that the world’s problems were now his,” saying the strike was the moment “Donald Trump became President of the United States,” and claiming that he had “nailed” his “first test,” that he “made Americans proud,” and that he showed “a level of decisiveness that we have not seen in these past eight years.” Yet that same Syrian base was back in operation less than 48 hours after the attack, and now the administration is claiming it could be the source of another possible attack.
Thus far, cable news coverage, in particular, has generally been restrained, expressing caution in their interpretation of the administration’s action while also suggesting that it could be a “deterrent” and a “red line” threat against the Syrian regime. (Fox News, perhaps unsurprisingly, used it to criticize former President Barack Obama.) If Trump follows through on his threat, this continued level of cautious analysis will be crucial.
The commentary about military action does not exist in a vacuum. After Trump’s missile strikes in April, some pundits linked their praise of the strikes to the threat North Korea poses to the U.S. Trump, a huge consumer of cable news, could potentially have felt incentivized to increase tensions with that country as a result, given the positive coverage he has received for taking military action.
Further, the possible military action could yet again revive the Trump-is-finally-pivoting narrative, a claim that has repeatedly popped up since Trump announced his presidential campaign but that has consistently been incorrect. With Trump’s threats against Syria, media are being given another chance not to repeat the "pivot" mistake that many of them have made time and time again.