Examining the Importance of News Literacy through the Syrian Conflict

September 11, 2013

obamaSyria23 (1)Should the United States use force to deter the use of chemical weapons in Syria? Deciding whether or not to undertake military action is one of the most important issues that a democracy faces – and it also brings into sharp focus the key question of “What is News Literacy and why does it matter?”

As our representatives debate whether or not to authorize a military strike, citizens are facing a blizzard of contradictory assertions regarding what actually has happened in that war-torn country — and we find it difficult to know whom to believe and how make up our minds.

President Obama and his advisors say they have proof that the Syrian government gassed its own people; Russian President Putin says it was actually the Syrian rebels who used chemical weapons and that the Obama team is lying.

Meanwhile the British Parliament recently refused to authorize the use of force by its Prime Minister; French journalists have reported multiple uses of chemicals by the Syria government; UN chief Ban Ki-Moon has spoken out against military action, while the Israelis are certain that it must happen to deter further Syrian government aggression.

How can you sort out the conflicting claims? How can you even verify that the photographs and videos of atrocities are real (see our previous lesson on digital image manipulation here.) – much less who is responsible for the attacks? Sorting through the differing points of view, opinions and facts underlying the Syrian crisis is crucial for you as a citizen, for our country, and indeed for the entire world – and makes clear how high the stakes are, why you should become ‘news literate” – and why it matters deeply to all of us.

In this lesson, we lay out some of the statements made by world leaders on the crisis and the push for a military strike in response to the use of chemical weapons in the Syrian Civil War.

President Obama speaks at the White House about Syria 8/31/13:

US Secretary of State John Kerry makes the case for the photographic evidence of chemical weapons being used in Syria 9/4/13:

British Prime Minister David Cameron argues in favor of joining a US Military Strike 8/29/13:

British Labour Party leader Edward Milibrand argues on the methods of the evidence in Syria 8/29/13:

British Parilament votes no on the strike 8/29/13:

Russian President Vladimir Putin comments on what type of proof he would need to agree that a military strike is needed in Syria 9/5/13:

Syrian President Bashir Al Assad speaks with Charlie Rose about the conflict and the evidence presented by the US 9/9/13: 



Do you believe President Obama’s allegations that Syria has repeatedly used WMD – chemical weapons – against his own citizens? After all, his predecessor President Bush falsely claimed that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had dangerous WMDs and used the allegation to justify invading Iraq. What impact if any do you think those claims had the reaction to President Obama?

Can you suggest any ways that might be used to verify President Obama’s allegations? What about those made by President Putin? How can we tell what actually happened in Syria – so we can know who is right and who is wrong?

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