In journalism, standards and objectivity are passé. That is the message of a recent Washington Post opinion piece by the newspaper’s former executive editor. And the Post’s recent reporting on Israel illustrates that they’re happy to take his advice.
On Jan. 30, 2023, the Post published, “Newsrooms that move beyond ‘objectivity’ can build trust.” The op-ed was authored by Leonard Downie, Jr., who served as the Post’s executive editor from 1991 until 2008.
Downie first joined the newspaper in 1964 and was on staff when fellow reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward helped unravel the Watergate scandal, an event that culminated in the resignation of then-President Richard Nixon and garnered plaudits for the Post. But that was then. This is now.
Ironically, Downie’s argument that the media should set aside objectivity came shortly after Woodward slammed the Washington Post for the Russiagate controversy, in which the newspaper chose to embrace narrative-driven reporting at the expense of both facts and common sense.
A veteran journalist and former executive editor of one of the world’s largest and most influential newspapers calling to discard objectivity is disturbing. One expects it from some of the newer “journalists” like Taylor Lorenz, but it is shocking to hear such a take from someone of Downie’s generation and experience.
Yet, for those who closely follow The Washington Post’s coverage of Israel, Downie’s advice isn’t surprising. When it comes to the Jewish state, the once esteemed media outlet has long since dispensed with objectivity and impartiality.
Take, for example, the newspaper’s coverage of recent terrorist attacks in Israel.
One January 28, 2023, headline minimized anti-Jewish violence as merely a “spate of shootings.” That was how the newspaper chose to describe to describe an Arab terrorist murdering seven Jews during religious services in a synagogue.
The paper also described the attack as occurring in “East Jerusalem.” The capitalization of “East” wrongly implies that it is a separate city of its own — a longstanding demand of the Palestinian Authority (PA), the entity that rules over most Palestinians. Effectively, the Post is doing the PA’s public relations bidding. Instead of reporting the facts, the newspaper is taking sides.
And when the Post isn’t playing favorites, it’s content to wallow in false equivalency.
Indeed, the Post’s reaction to the murders at the synagogue in Neve Yaakov was to worry about “looming escalation,” as one January 29 story put it. It’s hard to imagine the newspaper having similar reactions if a mosque or church were assaulted and its congregants murdered. Indeed, the paper’s coverage of such attacks does not offer concerns about potential “escalation” from “both sides.” But when Jews are murdered in a synagogue by a Palestinian terrorist it is somehow different.
The Washington Post’s determination to minimize Palestinian agency has led the newspaper to new depths of biased reporting.
The print version of a February 10 report had the headline, “Car rams into crowd near Jewish settlement, killing 2, injuring 5.” Yet, it wasn’t a self-driving car that just happened to run over Jews. It was a Palestinian Arab terrorist who murdered two Israeli children, who were six and eight years old. Once again, the Post referred to the attack as occurring in “East Jerusalem.” And once again, the newspaper indulged in false equivalency and misleading omissions.
Post reporter Miriam Berger wrote “Israeli forces and settlers have killed more than 40 Palestinians in the occupied territory this week.” In the Post’s telling — reminiscent of blood libels of old — Jews are just wantonly murdering non-Jews. In fact, the overwhelming majority of those Palestinians killed have been terrorists — a fact that was documented before the newspaper printed Berger’s misleading claim. The few who weren’t terrorists were civilians caught in crossfire during counter-terrorist operations. The Post, however, described the situation as a “spiraling cycle of violence.”
It’s hard to imagine the newspaper conflating the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks by Al Qaeda with the 2011 US raid in which Osama bin Laden was killed. But when it comes to the Jewish state, different standards are applied.
The increase in violence against Jews in Israel is the result of a deteriorating security situation in the PA-ruled Judea and Samaria (West Bank) — a situation that the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis (CAMERA) has been documenting for years and which the Post has, until recently, largely ignored.
Indeed, a February 15 profile of Israeli politician Itamar Ben-Gvir by Post reporter Shira Rubin is noteworthy. As CAMERA has highlighted in the past, the Post largely ignores Palestinian political developments.
PA President Mahmoud Abbas is 87. He’s currently in the 18th year of a four-year term. And despite being the beneficiary of considerable US and international aid — much of which he has reportedly pilfered — he’s rapidly losing control over key towns and villages that the PA, in theory, rules.
The octogenarian kleptocrat has no clear successor. But the Post prefers to focus on Israeli politicians and self-driving cars “ramming” Israelis, part of a “cycle” of violence. In so doing, the newspaper continues to miss a developing and important story.
Far from the era of its Watergate reporting, the Post seems intent on being caught flat-footed. Readers looking for balanced and informative reporting on the Jewish state would be well advised to look elsewhere. Today’s Washington Post is less a source for news and more a forum for misinformation.
(Note: A slightly different version of this article appeared as an op-ed in the Algemeiner on Feb. 16, 2023)