Take a look at the lede paragraph from the New York Times' Syria story today. Peel back the layers of language.
The key thing to notice here is how the persona of the leader substitutes for the names we might apply to the actual troops in battle. That is always dangerous, in my opinion. It represents the beginning (or end) of the process of 'softening up' the country for war.
President Bashar al-Assad’s public activities — in which he acts as if nothing untoward is happening in Syria — mask his increasing aggression in battle and belie his supporters’ fears of an American attack.
Notice this phrase: '...his increasing aggression in battle...' The writer might otherwise have said, simply 'mask the increasing aggression of his troops in battle...' That is more accurate. al-Assad, is not actually in battle.
By summarizing the entire 'other side' in the person of one man -- Hitler, Hirohito, Fidel, Ho Chi Minh, Sadam -- the other side of the conflict can become the cartoon face of some comic/evil character. That's the danger.
This lede paragraph posits the entire problem with al-Assad -- demonizes him in a narrow frame. That's not to say he isn't a demon, but it is to say the intent of the writer -- conscious, or unconscious -- is to suggest his elimination will end the conflict. Of course, the destruction of Damascus and/or the end of his regime will do no such thing. See the results in Egypt.
I haven't been reading closely for this but my impression is this represents a sharp change of direction in the language of the New York Times. It isn't easy to see but it's there all the same, and it's something to worry over. To me, it is always a signal we are, as a people, being softened up for war.