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Media Analyses





WASHINGTON POST-WATCH: March Madness


THE WASHINGTON POST – IMPLICIT CORRECTIONS, EXPLICIT OMISSIONS

One of the duties of the press, the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics asserts, is to provide the public with "a fair and comprehensive account of events and issues." By this standard, Washington Post coverage of Arab-Israeli news continues to fall short.

Unacknowledged corrections

In a March 7 article, "Hezbollah To Protest U.S. Stance On Lebanon," Post correspondent Scott Wilson noted, among other things, that "the United States has placed Hezbollah and its satellite television channel on its list of terrorist organizations" and that the Lebanese Shi’ite terrorist organization is "linked to the 1983 bombings of the U.S. Embassy and Marine barracks in Beirut ...."

Call that a tardy step toward comprehensiveness. Wilson’s March 1 report, "Lebanese Premier Resigns As Street Protest Heats Up," referred to Hezbollah 11 times without the above facts. It termed Hezbollah an "armed political movement," a representative of "the vast majority of Lebanon’s Shi’ite population," as operating "with Syria’s support along the southern border of Israel," and "enjoying a heroic reputation ... for its armed resistance to the Israeli occupation of a part of southern Lebanon that ended in 2000."

CAMERA, in a letter to The Post two days later, pointed out that the March 1 account omitted, among other key facts about Hezbollah, its: designation as a terrorist organization by the United States, United Kingdom Australia, Canada and Israel; involvement in the 1983 bombings or the 1984 bombing of the embassy annex; 1992 and 1994 bombings of the Israeli embassy and Jewish community headquarters, respectively, in Argentina; kidnaping of dozens of Westerners and the murders of several in Lebanon in the 1980s and ‘90s; 1985 hijacking of TWA flight 847 and murder of U.S. Navy diver Robert Stethem; and its goals of the destruction of Israel and imposition of an Islamic theocracy in Lebanon.

Unacknowledged corrections II

Belatedly beginning to flesh-out Hezbollah, The Post’s March 7 article cleared up another key issue the paper previously obscured. In a December 20 article, "Lebanese Wary of a Rising Hezbollah," Wilson had written that despite a U.N. Security Council resolution demanding disarmament of all Lebanese "militias," Hezbollah "party leaders said they had no intention of doing so while Israel occupied Lebanese land, contending Israeli troops were in the disputed 100-square-mile Shebaa Farms." The article included no information from Israel, the United Nations, or other sources pointing that while, yes, Israeli troops are in the Shebaa Farms region, no, they’re not in Lebanon because Shebaa Farms isn’t either.

Dropping the correct information into the March 7 story gives readers necessary information. But again, The Post did so in a manner that allowed it to avoid making a formal clarification first requested by CAMERA on December 20. As a result, readers don’t know that earlier accounts were not "fair and comprehensive." On March 7, Wilson reported that under the 1989 agreement ending Lebanon’s civil war, "Hezbollah was allowed to keep its arsenal ... because Israel at the time still occupied parts of southern Lebanon." But, he added, "Five years after the Israeli occupation ended, Hezbollah continues to claim the 100-square-mile Shebaa Farms area as part of Lebanon. The United Nations considers the Israeli-occupied Shebaa to be a part of Syria ...."

In letters, e-mails, and phone calls beginning on December 20 and continuing for two months, CAMERA repeatedly requested a clarification. We documented that Israel’s 2000 withdrawal from the south Lebanon "security zone" had been complete and that Hezbollah (and its Syria and Iranian backers) used the claim of Israeli occupation as a pretext to retain its weapons and continue its "resistance" – terrorism.

Not nearly enough

Meanwhile, The Post continues to muddy rather than provide a "fair and comprehensive" account of other developments related to Hezbollah, Lebanon, Syria, Israel and the Palestinian Arabs. For example:

* In numerous dispatches following the February 14 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, Wilson referred to Syria’s occupation of Lebanon twice (once paraphrasing a reference by anti-Syrian Lebanese as "what they describe as Syria’s occupation"). He referred to Syria’s presence in Lebanon 10 times. Wilson mentioned Israel’s former occupation of southern Lebanon four times, an Israeli presence in south Lebanon not at all;

* Missing, in addition to the rest of Hezbollah’s murderous, international record cited above, is Post investigation of the intentions of Hezbollah and its Iranian and Syrian backers. According to a March 11 Newsday commentary by Jonathan S. Paris of Oxford University: "Hezbollah has cleverly stashed thousands of rockets in urban areas, mosques, hospitals and other public buildings, leaving Israel momentarily without an internationally acceptable military solution to Hezbollah-instigated suicide bombings and cross-border attacks." Such attacks would be staged to prevent progress in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, Paris says, and Iran and Syria will attempt to continue attempting to use Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and other Palestinian terrorist groups, in addition to the Lebanese Hezbollah, to do the same. A March 11 New York Times news story also mentions Hezbollah’s destabilizing arsenal;

* Likewise no Post follow-up to Israeli reports (Israel TV Channel 1, February 9) that Palestinian terrorist organizations "are exploiting the case-fire to the fullest in order to gain strength and to prepare for what they themselves term the ‘third round’.";

* When Israel released 500 Palestinian prisoners on February 21 as part of a confidence-building deal with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Post coverage the following day included three color photographs – two large and one small – of tearfully joyous Arabs. A large page one photo was a close-up of a young girl holding the hand of a newly-released relative and staring tenderly upward. The Post has published no similarly emotional news-feature or follow-up on the February 25 terrorist bombing outside a Tel Aviv nightclub that killed five Israelis. Instead, in his February 27 report on the arrest of seven suspects in the bombing, Post correspondent John Ward Anderson gave a terrorist spokesman the last word:

"Nasser Jumma, a leader of the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades in the West Bank city of Nablus, said that even if all of the main militant groups agreed to a cease-fire, a lone bomber or militant cell still could stage an attack. Such operations, he said, will only stop when Israel ends its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

"‘If you want a complete end to these kinds of operations and stop individuals from acting on their own, the Israelis should give the Palestinian side, which has shown seriousness in putting an end to the violence, control on the ground,’ Jumma said."

* On March 10, a day before the one-year anniversary of terrorist bombings in Madrid that killed 191 people and wounded 1,500, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan called for a world treaty that would outlaw attacks targeting civilians. Speaking to world leaders and terrorism experts gathered in Spain, Annan declared that "the right to resist occupation ... cannot include the right to deliberately kill or maim civilians." According to the Associated Press, Annan said the United Nations must proclaim "loud and clear that terrorism can never be accepted or justified in any cause whatsoever." The Post did not report Annan’s speech, even as a news brief.


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