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Media Analyses





UPDATED: Washington Post: Hadera Terrorist Attack Report Accompanied by Photo of Terrorist's Grieving Family


Nov. 1 update follows.

Oct. 27 — In its October 27th article on the terrorist attack in Hadera, the Washington Post exhibited poor news judgment. The paper ran only one photograph with the article, a small color photo of the mother of the bomber holding a picture of her son.

Other major dailies, including the Baltimore Sun and Washington Times published large, page-one color photographs of the bomb scene and Israeli victims. The New York Times, for example, ran a similarly large black-and-white photo inside. But Washington Post readers get none of the readily available visual evidence of Israelis as victims of Palestinian aggression. Instead, the Post chose to publish a photo sympathetic to the terrorist.

The article did a good job of including context and comments from both Israelis and Palestinians, and in describing the gruesome scene of the terror attack. But throughout the article is the recurrent problem the Washington Post has with whitewashing terror groups by describing them euphemistically.

The article studiously avoids using the word "terrorist". Islamic Jihad, a Palestinian group formally listed as a terror organization by the U.S. State Department and Israel, is referred to twice as a group with a military wing, once as a group with a military leader, and once as having a military presence. Terror attacks are called "operations" and "offensive operations," as well as "attacks" and "suicide bombings". The only time they are described as "terror" attacks is when Israeli officials are being quoted.

Islamic Jihad is a terror group that intentionally targets non-combatants. It is not a "military" group representing a state who attack only combatants or who abide by internationally accepted rules of war. Israeli non-combatants are not legitimate "military" targets.

The correspondent also errs by writing that Abbas faces mounting pressure from the United States and Israel "to disarm Palestinian militias, many of which are extensions of political parties." This formulation ignores that the PA committed itself in the diplomatic "road map" to disarm and dismantle the terrorist organizations; U.S. and Israeli pressure is essentially a reminder.

Besides calling terrorist organizations "militias" - the National Guard in American states is much closer to a militia - this wording reverses reality. Many Palestinian "political parties" are outgrowths of terrorist organizations. Hence Abbas' own Fatah movement began as a terrorist organization, rose to prominence as the main component of the Palestinian Liberation Organization terrorist umbrella group, and is still defined by terrorism conducted through affiliates such as the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades (reported by the Jerusalem Post this week to be collaborating with Islamic Jihad), Tanzim and similar offshoots.

Action Items:

1) Write to the Washington Post (letters@washpost.com, ombudsman@washpost.com) and ask why the Post chose to illustrate the Hadera murders with a photo sympathetic to the terrorist (bomberís mother holding his photo) instead of photographs of the bomb scene and Israeli victims. Wouldn't it have been more appropriate to show a mother of one of the victims holding a photo of the victim?

2) Question the Washington Post about its studious avoidance of the use of terror terminology (terror, terrorist, terrorism) when reporting on a terrorist attack by Palestinians, using instead inaccurate terms for the terrorist organizations, such as "military". It's particularly odd since a news brief photo caption, "Terrorism Suspects Convicted" in the same edition, refers to anti-Jewish plotters in Germany as "supporting a terrorist group." Are Islamic radicals planning to attack Jews in Europe "terrorists," but those who murder Jews in Israel something else - members of a "military" organization?

If you notice a similar photo being published elsewhere of the bomber's family (possibly holding a photo of the terrorist), please call or write the editor of that news organization as well.

UPDATE: Nov. 1, 2005: Post Editor and Ombudsman Agree Photo Was Poor Choice

In her Oct. 30 column, the new Washington Post Ombudsman Deborah Howell notes that she

got a number of phone calls and letters from readers distressed over The Post's use Thursday of a small picture of the grieving mother of the suicide bomber who killed at least five people and himself in Hadera, Israel. They were incensed that the Post would highlight her grief and not the sorrow of those who lost loved ones in the bombing. The paper's Middle East coverage often draws criticism, most of which I don't agree with, but in this case I side with the readers. And so does [ executive editor] Downie.

In contrast, Foreign Editor Keith Richburg responded to numerous letter-writers with a note not about the substance of their concerns, not about the bad news judgment involved in publishing the photo of the bomber's mother, but only with a question about how they had heard about the photo. He appears to be more concerned with assessing if the complaints are part of a letter-writing campaign than whether the complaints are valid.



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