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BEIRUT (Reuters) – Warplanes bombed Aleppo on Friday with what residents described as unprecedented ferocity after the Russian-backed Syrian army declared an offensive to fully capture Syria‘s biggest city, killing off any hope of reviving a ceasefire.

Video images filmed by residents showed a young girl screaming as rescuers frantically dug her out of rubble, pulling her out alive. Another showed rescuers digging out a toddler with their bare hands, shouting “God is Great” as they lift him from the debris. The boy showed no signs of life as he was rushed off in a rescuer’s arms.

The apparent collapse of U.S.-backed peacemaking may mark a turning point in the five-year civil war, with the government and its Russian and Iranian allies now seemingly determined to crush the rebellion in its biggest urban stronghold.

“Can you hear it? The neighborhood is getting hit right now by missiles. We can hear the planes right now,” Mohammad Abu Rajab, a radiologist, told Reuters. “The planes are not leaving the sky, helicopters, barrel bombs, warplanes.”

The Civil Defense rescue group that operates in opposition areas said at least 70 people had been killed and 40 buildings destroyed. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring body gave an initial death toll of 27.

Ammar al Selmo, the head of the Civil Defense, said the rescuers themselves were targeted, with three of their four centers in Aleppo hit.

“What’s happening now is annihilation in every sense of the word,” he told Reuters. “Today the bombardment is more violent, with a larger number of planes.”

The bombing came after the Syrian army announced overnight that it was launching an operation to recapture the rebel-held sector of the city. Western diplomats fear a bloodbath if the government unleashes a full-blown assault to capture the besieged opposition-held zone, where 250,000 civilians are still trapped.

“The only way to take eastern Aleppo is by such a monstrous atrocity that it would resonate for generations. It would be the stuff of history,” one Western diplomat said.

The assault left no doubt that the government of President Bashar al-Assad and its Russian allies had spurned a plea from U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to halt flights to resurrect the ceasefire, which collapsed on Monday after a week.

Recovering full control of the rebels’ last significant urban area would be the most important victory of the war so far for Assad, strengthening his control over Syria‘s most populous and strategically important regions.

COMPREHENSIVE OFFENSIVE

In its late night announcement on Thursday, the Syrian military announced “the start of its operations in the eastern districts of Aleppo”. It warned residents to stay away from “the headquarters and positions of the armed terrorist gangs”.

An army source said on Friday that the offensive would be “comprehensive”, with a ground assault following air and artillery bombardment. “With respect to the air or artillery strikes, they may continue for some time,” he said.

Several residents said explosions had struck with far greater force than anything that had hit the city in the past, making bigger craters and bringing entire buildings down.

“I woke up to a powerful earthquake though I was in a place far away from where the missile landed,” said a rebel commander in a voice recording sent to Reuters. His group had “martyrs under the rubble” in three locations.

The offensive coincides with international meetings on Syria in New York, ostensibly intended to revive the truce announced jointly by the United States and Russia on Sept. 9.

But the collapse of that ceasefire – the same fate as all previous efforts to halt a 5-1/2-year-old war that has killed hundreds of thousands of Syrians – appears to have already doomed the peace bid, probably the last chance for a settlement during Barack Obama’s presidency.

The Syrian government, strengthened by Russian air power and Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias, has been tightening its grip on rebel-held districts of Aleppo this year, and this summer achieved a long-held goal of fully encircling the area.

The government already controls the city’s western half, where fewer people have fled. Before the war, the city held nearly 3 million people and was Syria‘s economic hub.

The army made attempts to advance in several districts but was repelled said Zakaria Malahifji, a Turkey-based official for one of the main Aleppo factions. The Observatory said the army had made some progress in a southern district of the city.

On Thursday at the United Nations, the United States and Russia failed to agree on how to revive the ceasefire during what U.N. Syria mediator Staffan de Mistura called a “long, painful, difficult and disappointing” meeting.

Western countries pushed in the meeting for warplanes to be grounded everywhere inSyria apart from over areas held by Islamic State, but Russia has refused to accept the demand.

Assad remains defiant, saying on Thursday he expected the conflict to “drag on” as long as it is part of a global conflict in which the groups fighting him are backed by Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and the United States.

(Additional reporting by Laila Bassam and Angus McDowall; writing by Tom Perry and Angus McDowall; editing by Peter Graff and Peter Millership)

Photo: Men ride a motorcycle near damaged buildings in the rebel held Douma neighbourhood of Damascus, Syria September 22, 2016. REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh

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Rep. Bennie Thompson

Photo by Customs and Border Protection (Public domain)

Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-MS) Friday afternoon announced the House Select Committee on the January 6 Attack has issued subpoenas to 14 Republicans from seven states who submitted the forged and "bogus" Electoral College certificates falsely claiming Donald Trump and not Joe Biden won the 2020 presidential election in their states.

The Chairman appeared to suggest the existence of a conspiracy as well, noting the "the planning and coordination of efforts," saying "these so-called alternate electors met," and may know "who was behind that scheme."

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Chris Cuomo

News Literacy Week 2022, an annual awareness event started by the News Literacy Project, a nonpartisan nonprofit dedicated to making everyone “smart, active consumers of news and information and equal and engaged participants in a democracy” has closed out. From January 24 to 28, classes, webinars, and Twitter chats taught students and adults how to root out misinformation when consuming news media.
There’s no downplaying the importance of understanding what is accurate in the media. These days, news literacy is a survival tactic. One study estimated that at least 800 people died because they embraced a COVID falsehood — and that inquiry was conducted in the earliest months of the pandemic. About 67 percent of the unvaccinated believe at least one COVID-19 myth, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
It’s not that accurate information isn’t available; people are rejecting reports of vaccine efficacy and safety because they distrust the news media. A third of Americans polled by Gallup said they have no trust at all in mass media; another 27 percent don’t have much at all.
Getting people to believe information presented to them depends more on trust than it does on the actual data being shared. That is, improving trust isn’t an issue of improving reporting. It’s an issue of improving relationships with one’s audience.
And that’s the real news problem right now; some celebrity anchors at cable news outlets are doing little to strengthen their relationships with their audiences and a lot to strengthen their relationships with government officials.
The most obvious example is how CNN terminated Prime Time anchor Chris Cuomo last month for his failure to disclose the entirety of his role in advising his brother, former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, on the sexual harassment accusation that unfolded in Albany, a scandal that eventually led to Andrew Cuomo’s resignation.
But there are others. Just this month, the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol revealed that another anchor on another cable news network, Laura Ingraham of Fox News’ The Ingraham Angle, texted then-White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows last January, advising Meadows how Trump should react to reports of possible armed protests at state capitols around the country. This revelation followed the story that Sean Hannity, host of the eponymous news hour at Fox News, also texted Meadows with advice last year.
And while he didn't advise a government official, CNN anchor Don Lemon revealed information not available to the public when he texted embattled Empire actor Jussie Smollett to tip him off about the Chicago Police Department’s wavering faith in his story about an assault. That’s from Smollett’s own sworn testimony.
When English philosopher Edmund Burke joked about the press being the Fourth Estate — in addition to the First, Second and Third (the clergy, nobility and commoners, respectively) — his point was that, despite their influence on each other, these “estates” — bastions of power — are supposed to be separate.
The Fourth Estate will always be an essential counterweight to government. But, since Donald Trump was elected in 2016, we’ve been so focused on stopping an executive branch from pressing the press to support an administration's agenda — either by belittling journalists or threatening to arrest them for doing their jobs — that we’ve ignored the ways that it affects and influences other Estates, and not necessarily through its reporting.
That is, we have news personalities-cum-reporters who are influencing government policy — and not telling us about it until it’s too late.
The United States has fostered an incredible closeness between the Second Estate — which in 2021 and 2022 would be political leaders — and the Fourth Estate. About a year ago, an Axios reporter had to be reassigned because she was dating one of President Biden’s press secretaries. Last year, James Bennet, the former editorial page editor of the New York Times and brother of Colorado Senator and 2020 Presidential candidate Michael Bennet, had to recuse himself publicly from the Gray Lady’s endorsement process. In 2013, the Washington Post reported at least eight marriages between Obama officials and established journalists.
To be clear, there aren’t any accusations that anyone just mentioned engaged in anything other than ethical behavior. But I, for one, don’t believe that James and Michael Bennet didn’t discuss Michael’s campaign. I don’t think the Axios reporter and her West Wing-employed boyfriend — or any journalists and their federally employed spouses, for that matter — didn’t share facts that the public will never know. Such is the nature of family and intimacy.
And as long as those conversations don’t affect the coverage of any news events, there’s nothing specifically, technically wrong with them. But that doesn’t mean that they aren’t damaging.
As these stories show, when we don’t know about these advisor roles, at least not until someone other than the journalist in question exposes them, it causes a further erosion of trust in news media.
What’s foolish about the Cuomo, Ingraham, Hannity, and Lemon improprieties is that they don't necessarily need to be the problem they’ve become. Cuomo’s show contained opinion content like 46 percent of CNN’s programming. An active debate rages on as to whether Fox News is all opinion and whether or not it can rightly even be called opinion journalism since its shows are so studded with inaccuracies and lies.
What that means is that Cuomo, Ingraham, Hannity, and Lemon are allowed to take a stand as opinion journalists; Cuomo and Lemon never really worked under a mandate of objectivity and Ingraham and Hannity likely wouldn’t honor it if they did. Indeed, a certain subjectivity — and explaining how it developed for the journalist — is part of an opinion journalist’s craft. To me, little of these consulting roles would be problematic if any of these anchors had just disclosed them and the ways they advised the people they cover.
But they didn’t. Instead, the advice they dispensed to government employees and celebrities was disclosed by a third party and news of it contributes to the public’s distrust in the media. While personal PR advisory connections between journalists and politicians haven’t been pinpointed as a source of distrust, they may have an effect. Almost two-thirds of respondents in a Pew Research poll said they attributed what they deemed unfair coverage to a political agenda on the part of the news organization. No one has rigorously examined the ways in which individual journalists can swing institutional opinion so it may be part of the reason why consumers are suspicious of news.
Cleaning up ex post facto is both a violation of journalistic ethics and ineffective. Apologies and corrections after the fact don't always improve media trust. In other credibility contests, like courtroom battles, statements against one’s interests enhance a person’s believability. But that’s not necessarily true of news; a 2015 study found that corrections don’t automatically enhance a news outlet’s credibility.
It’s a new adage for the 21st century: It’s not the consulting; it’s the cover-up. Journalists need to disclose their connections to government officials — up front — to help maintain trust in news media. Lives depend on it.

Chandra Bozelko did time in a maximum-security facility in Connecticut. While inside she became the first incarcerated person with a regular byline in a publication outside of the facility. Her “Prison Diaries" column ran in The New Haven Independent, and she later established a blog under the same name that earned several professional awards. Her columns now appear regularly in The National Memo.


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