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Anchored by Jake Tapper, The Lead airs at 4 p.m. ET on CNN.

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August 30th, 2013
05:50 PM ET

Lessons from Iraq: Media cautious reporting intelligence on Syria

President Barack Obama has seemingly faced three stages in the media coverage since the alleged chemical attack in Syria last week. The first was: Look at these horrible pictures, doesn't the U.S. have to respond right away? After that was: Hold on, how can the president respond without congressional support and an international coalition? The third was: What has taken so long for the president to act?

There is a reason for the media whiplash. Iraq hangs over the media reporting of Syria, and the public view of the situation. Media organizations are trying to behave differently this time around.

"The breakdown that happened before the Iraq war in 2003, where you had news organizations (that) didn't express real skepticism of what the government was putting forward. So right now, in the last couple days especially, you've seen a lot more skepticism," said The Huffington Post reporter Michael Calderone.

Calderone added some editors even referenced Iraq in memos to staff, urging them to think about Iraq when covering Syrian intelligence.

But the challenge is reporters are not always qualified to assess the intelligence. They cannot stir up the soil and know if chemical weapons were really used in Syria. At a certain point, reporters have to trust the evidence that is being presented by the authorities.

Calderon said the Syrian war has been incredibly difficult to cover because the press has limited access to Syria, official visas to report there are hard to come by. Many reporters have been sneaking in illegally, often with rebel forces.

"The best reporters can do is press their sources in government and challenge their sources to not just say the government is certain, but to show you why the government is certain," said Calderone.

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