Fact Check

White House Admits Syria Missile Attack Was a Publicity Stunt to Make Trump Look Good?

Unreliable web sites spread the false claim that senior White House officials openly admitted that the missile strike against Syria had no actual purpose.

Published Apr 8, 2017

Image Via Shutterstock
In the wake of a missile strike ordered by President Trump on Syria in April 2017, senior White House officials admitted that it served no actual purpose.

On 7 April 2017, one day after President Trump ordered a missile strike against Syria in response to a deadly chemical weapons attack on civilians carried out by the Bashar al-Assad regime, some anti-Trump news and opinion web sites posted articles declaring that the White House admitted that the attack was nothing more than a "publicity stunt."

NewCenturyTimes.com reported:

As if things weren’t bad enough, senior White House officials openly admitted that the chemical [sic] strike against Syria had no actual purpose–the intention was to make it seem as though Trump is doing something for America. The attack was  not part of a more in-depth strategy or part of an effort to remove Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad. Instead, the missile strike was a meaningless attempt to distract us from the real issue that’s right in our backyards: Donald J. Trump.

PoliticsUSA.com stated:

Senior White House officials are admitting that the missile strike against Syria was not part of a broader strategy or part of an effort to remove Assad. In other words, the missile strike was a meaningless slap on the wrist that was intended to make Trump look strong.

The only evidence advanced by either source to support these claims was a pair of tweets sent by CNN reporter Jim Acosta on the morning of 7 April:

"So in other words, there was no thought or plan put into this strike," NewCenturyTimes.com concluded on the basis of Acosta's tweets. "This was Trump’s way of saying 'hey, look what I can do.'”

Similarly, PoliticsUSA.com took Acosta's reports as evidence that the missile strike was an "empty gesture" (a phrase to which the author resorts three paragraphs in a row):

In typical Trump fashion, the missile strike was a big showy empty gesture that was intended to get the president some good press.

The message that this White House sent to Assad was that the only price he will have to pay for using chemical weapons on his is own people is having 50 missiles lobbed in his direction. A missile strike without a plan is an empty gesture. Assad now knows that Trump is all talk and little action. He can do whatever he wants because Trump isn’t serious about Syria.

Much like Trump’s presidency, the missile strike was another loud but ultimately empty gesture by a president who incapable of formulating and pursuing coherent policies.

On the question of whether or not President Trump's military action against Syria was an "empty gesture" or a "publicity stunt" we take no position, but we find nothing in Jim Acosta's tweets to support these judgments. Acosta reported two unambiguous statements from a White House source: 1) the strike wasn't the beginning of a wider campaign to weaken or remove Assad, and 2) its mission was to demonstrate to Assad that his actions were "unacceptable." Neither can be accurately characterized as an "admission," much less that of an "empty gesture" or "publicity stunt."


Easely, Jason.   "White House Admits That Syria Missile Strike Was A Meaningless Publicity Stunt."    PoliticsUSA.com.   7 April 2017.

Starr, Barbara and Diamond, Jeremy.   "Trump Launches Military Strike Against Syria."    CNN.   7 April 2017.

NewCenturyTimes.com.   "White House Admits Syria Missile Attack Was A Publicity Stunt Aimed To Make Trump Look Good."    7 April 2017.

David Emery is a West Coast-based writer and editor with 25 years of experience fact-checking rumors, hoaxes, and contemporary legends.