At LA Times, ‘Chronology’ Redefined

There’s something strange going down at the Los Angeles Times. Last July, the paper’s own correspondents correctly reported the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah began when the Lebanese terror group hit Israeli civilian areas with rockets while simultaneously staging a cross-border raid. Since then, the newspaper has twice refused to correct erroneous claims that Israel was the first to fire.

The most recent case appeared in a May 1 sidebar outlining the major events of the Lebanon war, starting with the beginning of the war and concluding with the end of the war. The Times’ stated reason for refusing to redress the false statement defies logic, common sense and journalistic standards. The sidebar wrongly indicated that Hezbollah rocket attacks began after Israel bombed Beirut’s airport.

The sidebar states:

The conflict begins

Hezbollah militants from southern Lebanon kill eight Israeli soldiers and capture two others in a cross-border raid July 12.

* Israel responds with airstrikes on Beirut’s airport, sending troops deep into southern Lebanon for the first time since withdrawing from that country in 2000.

* Hezbollah militants begin a series of deadly rocket strikes into Israel that will continue for the duration of the conflict, striking as far south as Haifa, Israel’s third-largest city.

The sources of the timeline are listed as Times reports, U.S. State Department, and the Israeli Foreign Ministry, yet these sources do not support the timeline’s claim that Hezbollah begins firing rockets after Israel hit Beirut’s airport.

Thus, the Times’ own Laura King and Vita Bekker reported July 13:

Under cover of rocket and shell fire at northern Israeli hamlets and border army posts, the guerillas sprayed gunfire at two armored Israeli jeeps patrolling the frontier. It was at the site of that attack, which left three soldiers dead, that two Israelis were captured, Israeli news reports said.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry, another source for the timeline, also reports that Hezbollah rocket fire accompanied the initial cross border raid. The Ministry’s Web site states:

On July 12, 2006 eight IDF soldiers were killed and two kidnapped on the border with Lebanon, in an attack by the Hizbullah terror organization. Hizbullah simultaneously launched Katyusha rockets against Israeli communities near the border.

Likewise, the State Department confirms that Hezbollah rocket attacks began right at the beginning of the conflict, when the group attacked Israeli soldiers. Speaking at the July 12, 2006 daily press briefing, spokesman Sean McCormack clearly stated:

You have the Secretary’s statement in which she condemned the kidnapping of these two Israeli soldiers and the unprovoked attack on the Israeli soldiers. I would also note the fact that as part of this attack the Hezbollah militia launched missiles and fired on innocent civilians and civilian populations.

The Times’ own sources couldn’t have been more definitive about the fact that Hezbollah started shooting rockets at the very beginning of the conflict. In a response to CAMERA’s request for a correction, Kent Zelas, the assistant readers’ representative doesn’t dispute the fact that Hezbollah fired on Israel right from the beginning. He can’t.

So, flouting his professional responsibility to “admit mistakes and correct them promptly,” Zelas takes an unconventional approach, writing: “The sidebar was a summary of some key occurrences in the course of the war, however – not a timeline or a chronology of every action.”

In other words, though the sidebar’s summary of events starts with “The conflict begins” and concludes with “Israel lifts its sea and air blockades in early September. Full withdrawal is completed in October,” readers should not assume that it is a chronology. And even though all events are listed in chronological order, with the exception being the matter of Hezbollah first firing rockets, readers shouldn’t be so silly as to mistake the otherwise sequential list of events for a timeline. According to Zelas, it’s just a random list of events in no special order.

If the sidebar is not a timeline, than Zelas is not a readers’ representative — just someone who answers email from readers, giving random comment unrelated to actual events, journalism or truth.

Furthermore, Zelas must not have a very high estimation of Times’ readers intelligence when he argues that the sidebar was “not a timeline or a chronology of every action.” Of course, CAMERA’s objection was not that the Times’ left out something that should have been included; rather it was that Times misidentified the starting point of an action that it had (rightfully) opted to include.

In the same correspondence, Zelas agrees to correct the inaccurate assertion that Hezbollah rockets hit as far south as Haifa. In fact, they reached as far south as Hadera, about 43 kilometers south of Haifa. Also, Afula, approximately 25 kilometers south of Haifa, was hit 21 times.

Why did Zelas make a point of dodging the chronological error while agreeing to correct the geographical error while? Maybe we’ll never know, but we do know it’s not the first time that particular chronological error had been pointed out to the paper. On July 19, 2006, Saree Makdisi, a UCLA English professor and a frequent contributor to the Times’ Op-Ed pages, falsely alleged that Hezbollah’s rockets “came in retaliation” for “Israel’s blanket bombardment of Lebanon.”

You Knew It Was Coming’

The Times failed to correct that Makdisi falsehood about the Lebanon war, as it has Makdisi’s other errors on Hezbollah issues. For example, using documentation from the New York Times, Washington Post, Associated Press and a United Nations official, CAMERA challenged Nicholas Goldberg, editor of the Op-Ed page, on Makdisi’s Oct. 21, 2006 false allegation that “Hezbollah [was] not hiding behind civilians.” Goldberg replied, apparently inadvertently, with an email to CAMERA which read: “what do you say to this? (you knew it was coming, didn’t you?)” The intended recipient – a Times colleague or Makdisi – is not identified, but the casual note suggests a familiarity or maybe even a conspiratorial friendliness.

In short, while determining the source of the paper’s refusal to correct the question of Hezbollah firing amounts to murky speculation, this much is clear: Readers should not assume that a Times list of actions, which starts with the beginning and ends with the conclusion of an event, to be a timeline. The fact that 99 percent of the sequence is chronologically accurate is just a coincidence and no conclusions should be drawn from this.

Also clear: The Times has only erratic interest in getting the facts right.

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