Good journalism, according to the Code of Ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists, is based on “seeking truth and providing a fair and comprehensive account of events and issues.” But Washington Post coverage of Israel, often extensive, is rarely comprehensive.
Instead, Post reporting and commentary on Arab-Israeli news tells readers regularly of the Jewish state’s putative flaws and misdeeds. It reflexively criticizes its American supporters. But simultaneously, it cuts Israel’s enemies and America’s adversaries plenty of slack. The cumulative effect of this drumbeat is not a journalistic portrait in full of Israelis and Arabs, particularly the Palestinians, but an overriding impression of Israel as a problem.
No hidden agenda -- just pounding away
Consider Post reporting over seven days in August:
- On August 19, the newspaper published “Sharon, Arafat Face Challenges in Ranks; Israeli Party Rejects Leader’s Proposals; Palestinian Acknowledges Corruption” by its Jerusalem correspondents, Molly Moore and John Ward Anderson. The article implied a basic similarity between the political difficulties of Israel’s democratically elected prime minister and the sometimes-violent internal rivalries facing the corrupt and dictatorial Palestinian terrorist leader.
- On August 21, The Post printed a long feature by Moore headlined “Lured to Jerusalem By Religion, Luxury; Foreigners Fuel Boom Around Old City.” A cartoonish portrayal of an indulgent, Orthodox Jewish landlord class, the article told of wealthy overseas Jews who were disconnected from the Arab-Israeli conflict, but were “latching onto posh properties” and “trophy house[s]” as vacation spots in the Israeli capital.
- The August 23 Post featured a front-page story by Moore on Zakaria Zbeida, the leader of a Jenin cell of the Al-Aqsa martyrs terrorist group. Headlined “Refuge Is Prison For Hunted Palestinian; De Facto Sheriff Wanted by Israelis,” the dispatch whitewashed the terrorist and read more like a Fatah press release than an in-depth investigation. Despite Moore's “lengthy interviews” with the fugitive, there was little probing. ( “...Zbeida declined to discuss how he chose targets that killed civilians”) and much romanticizing (“The refugee camp has embraced Zbeida as a native son and as a protector during Israel’s harshest incursions. He has parlayed the empathy and respect into the role of crude politician, rough-edged social worker and lawman.”) Moore described Israel’s actions without context -- Israel commits “harsh incursions” and “shoots dead” Zbeida’s mother-- but portrayed Zbeida as a Palestinian Robin Hood merely “dispatch [ing] someone to administer a bullet” to a local miscreant.
- On August 24, the front page of The Post’s Style section featured “An About-Face on America; In Arab Eyes, the Former Land of Opportunity Can’t Get Much Lower,” in which Israel is blamed for America's apparent lack of popularity among the Arab populace. In this Cairo-datelined article, reporter Philip Kennicott cites a Pew Research Center poll that showed only six percent of Egyptians with a positive view of the United States. According to the reporter, a key reason for strident anti-Americanism is “the gross unfairness of how the United States deals with the Palestinians.” Egyptian media “are filled with pictures of death in Gaza and the West Bank. They are blood-drenched images,” often of children and “associated directly, completely and inexorably, with the United States.” No exploration of how unrepresentative, authoritarian Arab regimes -- like Egypt's -- displace public discontent onto foreign bogeymen. No examination of how Arab popular culture similarly blames Israel and America for its own shortcomings. Like a stenographer, Kennicott essentially repeats what he's told without journalistic skepticism and allows the finger to point at Israel.
- On August 25, in an editorial headlined “Betting on Mr. Sharon,” The Washington Post makes clear it does not like the Bush administration’s failure to oppose Israeli authorization of up to 2,000 new housing units in existing Jewish towns in the disputed West Bank (Judea and Samaria). The Post calls Sharon “a notoriously reckless leader,“ claims President Bush’s “concessions to Israel exacerbate the difficult U.S. Middle East position” and declares that not protesting the new housing units reasonably raises the question whether Bush is merely pandering to pro-Israel voters in Florida and elsewhere.” Even though The Post acknowledges that Washington is trying to help Sharon “carry out a proposed Israeli evacuation of settlements in the Gaza Strip and part of the West Bank” and that the withdrawal could be “a significant step toward a Middle East settlement and could help U.S. standing in the region,” it bashes Sharon and Bush while letting the Arabs off the hook. The Post does not hear in its allegation of “pandering” to pro-Israel voters an echo of the Jew-baiting and antisemitic stereotypes for which an August 14 editorial criticized Ralph Nader.
- On August 26, The Post Op-Ed page published a column by Daniel Seidemann headlined “Letting Israel Self-Destruct.” Seidemann, a Jerusalem resident and lawyer for an anti-settlement group, reiterates the August 25 editorial at higher volume. He claims that “the Bush administration is turning a blind eye to Israel’s disingenuous representations regarding settlement expansion” and asserts with almost no specific factual support that this expansion dooms a two-state solution, making inevitable “the one-state, bi-national solution that signifies the end of Israel as the home of the Jewish people.”
One former Jerusalem city planner told CAMERA that Seidemann's claims are “nonsense,” his description of current Israeli development plans "“quite exaggerated.” How long will Post readers wait for an opposing viewpoint, for balance in the opinion pages?
It’s not that the subject matter of any of these items is not newsworthy, or beyond editorial comment. It’s that six times in seven days Post coverage — in the news, Style, and editorial pages — consistently tilts one way. Its failure to provide a “fair and comprehensive account” as journalistic ethics recommend amounts to a stacked deck against general Israeli positions, perspectives and claims and, by default, in favor of Palestinian and other Arab views.
Further, it is not that August 19 - 26 stretch was atypical, but rather that it continued a recurrent pattern of bias in The Post that has become unmistakable since the start of the current Palestinian terror war against Israel in September 2000.
A story not covered by The Post in this seven-day period tended to confirm the pattern. It dealt with another threat against Israel by a senior Iranian official. The August 24 headline in The Washington Times read “Iran boasts Dimona now ‘within range’; Radiation pills given near reactor.” It quoted Yadollah Javani, head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, as declaring “the entire Zionist territory, including its nuclear facilities and atomic arsenal, are currently within range of Iran’s advanced missiles.” It also cited Israel’s chief of staff: “‘If Iran has nuclear capability,’ said Gen. [Moshe] Ya’alon, ‘it would be a different Middle East. Moderate states would become more extreme’.”
An important exception appeared during this seven-day run, the cover story on the August 22 Washington Post Sunday Magazine: “Fear Itself: Learning to Live in the Age of Terrorism,” by staff writer Gene Weingarten. Much of the lengthy, thoughtful article dealt with Israelis living in Jerusalem, people personally affected by repeated attacks by terrorists like Zakaria Zbeida, yet determined to live as positively as possible.