Washington Post coverage of Israel’s battle against Hamas in the Gaza Strip has been extensive, although The New York Times’ reporting, as CAMERA has noted, has been more comprehensive. (See “From Gaza: Exclude or Include? The Washington Post and New York Times, January 16, for example.) Now USA Today’s “Cover story,” “Hamas is battered, but resilient; Gaza tension shows scope of challenge for Obama” (January 23), eclipses The Post’s same-day “No Home to Return to in Gaza; 15,000 Still Living In crowded Shelters.”
One-Eyed in Gaza
The Post’s detailed coverage presents the Sultan family as symbolic of a reported “50,000 people” made homeless by Israeli military action. It follows an article that included similar themes and examples, “As Constraints on Gaza Ease, New Reports of Misery,” January 22,” and the lead World News section article for January 20, “In the Silence, Gazans Take Stock; Remains Retrieved; Survivors Recount Attack on Family” about another set of relatives.
According to”No Home to Return to in Gaza,” by Post Jerusalem bureau chief Griff Witte, “in the aftermath of the war, there are scenes of devastation at nearly every turn in Gaza.” Really?
Three days earlier, just after the cease-fire, the hardly uncritical Tim Butcher reported (“Gaza has been hit hard, but has it made any difference?” Telegraph [United Kingdom], January 20), that “targets had been selected and then hit, often several times, but almost always with precision munitions. Buildings nearby had been damaged and there had been some clear mistakes …. But, in most the cases, I saw the primary target had borne the brunt …. [F]or the most part, I was struck by how cosmetically unchanged Gaza appeared to be.”
Do the Math
The Post reports that of the 50,000 initially in shelters, most already found refuge elsewhere, usually with relatives. U.N. officials “say 15,000 remain in such facilities [shelters] because of damage to their homes ….” The newspaper says 1.5 million people live in the Strip, though it should be noted that some news sources, including USA Today, estimate 1.4 million; the figures, from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency and Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics may be inflated. UNRWA having acknowledged years ago it cannot vouch for its “refugee” totals. Fifty thousand people made homeless through Israeli action against Hamas — which fought from populated areas and, Israel stressed, stored ammunition in homes and mosques — would be 3.3 percent. The 15,000 The Post says are still in shelters would be one percent.
They are not to be ignored, and their misery no doubt is real. But such totals clearly do not support The Post’s claim that “there are scenes of devastation at nearly every turn in Gaza.”
While The Post reported its third variation of the same main subject in four days — Palestinian suffering at Israeli hands — USA Today’s “Hamas is battered, but resilient” covered a range of breaking news with more detail, variety and nuance. As for devastated Gaza, USA Today’s Jim Michaels reported not only that”many homes north of Gaza City have been destroyed, leaving many families homeless,” and many other homes still standing have no electricity, but also that “stores, restaurants and markets have reopened. Workers are busy restringing power lines and shopkeepers are sweeping rubble from the sidewalks in front of their businesses. In short, the status quo is being restored — and the possibility that the offensive might result in Hamas’ collapse, and the rise of a group more sympathetic to Israel’s existence, seems to be fading.”
Michaels quotes a range of sources, including ordinary Gazans, a Hamas police captain, a Palestinian bureaucrat, former senior U.S. and Israeli officials, and Egyptian and Israeli academics. He reports “broad skepticism of the peace process among Israelis, reinforced by the Gaza war,” Palestinian anger at Arab governments “for not helping them when they were under attack by Israel,” “hatred … reserved for Israel and the United States,” and that “Hamas is not popular in Gaza, some Palestinians say.”
Get the Picture?
If Washington Post foreign news coverage of Israeli-Palestinian developments were a movie, it would be filmed almost completely in close-ups. Virtually nothing but faces, and most of them Arabs. Who the people were, their environment, why they were there, and how they related to each other and why often would be only implied, and then insufficiently. Few wide-angle shots, few establishing scenes, not much panning or zooming out as well as in. There’s a reason almost no movies are filmed overwhelmingly in close-up — the lack of context, of meaning would drive audiences away. The same applies to news reporting.