CNN's documentary Undercover in Syria received the prestigious Peabody Award for excellence in foreign news coverage in 2016 – a fact trumpeted by the network in news releases and in on-air commercials. Correspondent Clarissa Ward went behind rebel lines in Aleppo to report on Russian involvement in the Syria civil war.
But CNN covered up the name of the individual who filmed most of the documentary. Bilal Abdul Kareem and his website had been contracted by CNN to shoot the project for the network. But when award time came, the CNN sort of, kind of forgot the participation of Abdul Kareem and barely mentioned his name in the credits.
Why? Because Abdul Kareem is one of the top English-language propagandists for al-Nusra, the al-Qaeda offshoot in Syria.
Contrary to Abdul Kareem's claim that CNN had simply "forgotten" him, the network may have had reason to airbrush him out of its public relations material. The man Ward contracted to take her into rebel-controlled territory was well established as one of the top English-language propagandists for al-Qaeda's Syrian affiliate, Jabhat al-Nusra, along with other extremist groups fighting the Syrian government.In fact, the Saudi Arabian news outlet Al Arabiya reported on June 7 that Abdul Kareem officially joined al-Nusra in 2012.Abdul Kareem denied this accusation in a Facebook video response. "I am not, nor have I ever been, nor do I need to be a part of al-Qaeda. I don't have any need for that," he said, noting that he is considering legal action against Al Arabiya for its report.However, one of Abdul Kareem's closest colleagues has also been accused of membership in Syria's al-Qaeda franchise. Akif Razaq, an employee of Abdul Kareem's online media group, On the Ground News, was recently stripped of British citizenship for his alleged involvement with al-Nusra. A notice presented by British authorities to Razaq's family in Birmingham accused him of being "aligned with an al-Qaeda affiliated group" and declared that he "presents a threat to the national security of the United Kingdom."During Abdul Kareem's Facebook video response to the Al Arabiya report, he was seated beside Razap. Razaq has also co-hosted On the Ground News segments with him.While Abdul Kareem insisted there was "no proof" of his membership in the Salafi-jihadist organization, rebels inside Syria tell a different story.AlterNet contacted Abdullah Abu Azzam, an activist affiliated with the rebel group Kataib Thawar al-Sham. Abu Azzam, who asked to be identified by a pseudonym out of fear of retaliation by al-Nusra, is one of many opposition activists who have come into contact with Abdul Kareem and his colleagues. Speaking to AlterNet by Whatsapp, he said Abdul Kareem was not only a propagandist for al-Nusra, but well known as a member of the group.Fighters in Thawar al-Sham, according to Abu Azzam, refer to Abdul Kareem as the "American mujahid" (mujahid is Arabic for jihadist).
CNN has a long history of working with unpleasant characters in the Middle East. Recall the network's secret deal with Saddam Hussein during the first Gulf War. When every other respectable news outlet in the Western world had been kicked out of Iraq prior to the American invasion, CNN received permission to stay as long as it broadcast Saddam's propaganda.
The network's biased coverage during Israel's war with Hamas in 2014 was heavily criticized by the Israeli ambassador. Its reporting on Iran and Syria has also come in for scathing denunciations. Former CNN chief foreign correspondent Christiane Amanpour was considered an anti-American Arab mouthpiece during her time at the network.
Using a terrorist propagandist to film a documentary might be considered beneath the dignity of most news networks. For CNN, which apparently tried to cover up its gross violation of journalistic standards, it's just par for the course.