IHT Fabricates Purpose of Bush-Sharon Meeting

The International Herald Tribune, owned and published by the New York Times, has taken a page from the Times‘ book of journalistic wrongdoing.

Here’s the history: As earlier reported by CAMERA, the Times‘ Joel Brinkley and Steven Weisman distorted virtually all of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s statements about Israel and the Palestinians in an exclusive interview Aug. 17. While Rice repeatedly indicated that the Bush Administration would not pressure Israel into more concessions after the Gaza withdrawal, Brinkley and Weisman reported that she said just the opposite. (The Times later backtracked from this misreporting, but has yet to correct.)

Enter the International Herald Tribune, which uses numerous news stories from the Times, but frequently edited slightly differently and often shortened. (The Tribune has its own editors and an earlier deadline than the Times.)

Today the Tribune runs a shortened New York Times story under the byline of David Sanger. (The story, as it appears in the Times, is attributed both to Sanger and to Warren Hoge.) Entitled “Step up terror fight, Bush tells UN,” the Tribune version makes an astounding assertion about President Bush’s meeting yesterday Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon–one that does not appear in the Times version or any other media report for that matter:

Bush moved from his speech to a meeting with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of Israel, one intended to press Sharon to move beyond the return of the Gaza to the Palestinians, and to begin to move on the West Bank. The two men took no questions, and Sharon said little in public beyond thanking Bush for working toward peace.

In contrast to the Tribune‘s contention, numerous other media reports make clear that Bush deliberately did not press Sharon on West Bank settlements, and instead used the meeting to praise Sharon and assert that it is the Palestinians who must take the next step. Indeed, even the Tribune itself goes on to provide a quote from Bush, one which undercuts the false charge that Bush’s intention was to pressure Sharon on the West Bank, and which instead puts the focus back on the Palestinians:

“One thing is essential, and the world must hear, that now is the time for Palestinians to come together and establish a government that will be peaceful with Israel,” Bush said. “Gaza is a good chance to start, and I know that the Israeli government wants to see that happen, as well.”

He added: “The world needs to help the Palestinians. The Arab neighbors need to help the Palestinians develop an economy.”

Bush’s full statement is available on the White House Web site.

An Agence France Presse story spelled out in no uncertain terms that Bush’s agenda was encouraging Palestinian reform, and not pressuring Israel. Entitled “Bush praises Gaza pullout but ignores West Bank settlement growth,” the AFP article reported:

US President George W. Bush on Wednesday heaped praise on Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for Israel’s historic withdrawal from the Gaza Strip but turned a blind eye to ongoing construction in West Bank settlements. . . . .

Speaking to reporters traveling with his delegation, Sharon said talks focused almost exclusively on Gaza’s future and efforts by the Palestinian Authority to exert control in the territory that they hope to have as part of a future state.

He also said the US leader understood that no progress on the peace process was possible until the Palestinian Authority had proved its mettle in Gaza, which has been the scene of chaos this week in the days following Israel’s departure.

“Most of the conversation was about Gaza. What happens in Gaza is, to their mind, what will dictate the future of the peace process, Sharon said. . . .

Although Bush was keen to see a swift return to the stalled roadmap, he said moves to further the peace process would be easier if the Palestinians demonstrated strong leadership and took action against violence.

“Now is the time for Palestinians to come together to establish a government that will be peaceful to Israel,” Bush said at the outset of the meeting, later telling Sharon: “It will be easier to move forward on the roadmap, in the peace process, if there is good governance and the Palestinian Authority addresses terror.”

Another AFP article yesterday notes:

Washington is now looking to bolster Sharon and has been petitioning its European allies to hold off from pressuring him too hard to speed up further peace moves, the Israeli press reported.

Despite Sharon’s determination to continue building up settlements in the West Bank, the talks with Bush were expected to focus squarely on the gains achieved through the Gaza withdrawal.

The Associated Press carried a similar report yesterday, entitled “Bush looks to Palestinians to make next move.” It read:

President Bush said Wednesday the Palestinians should follow through on Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza by establishing a peaceful government in the area as a starting point toward coexistence with the Jewish state. . . .

Sharon’s decision to withdraw all Jewish settlers and Israeli troops from Gaza seems to have eased pressure on him . . . .

Bush again praised Sharon during their 35-minute meeting, said Frederick Jones, a White House spokesman.

The Israeli daily Ha’aretz also describes the Bush-Sharon meeting (see here and here), and makes no mention of any alleged pressure regarding the West Bank. Instead, the focus of the meeting is said to be Palestinian Authority control in the Gaza Strip and internal Israeli politics.

Given the solid documentation that the purpose of Bush’s meeting with Sharon was to praise him and to urge the Palestinians to reform and eliminate terror, can the Tribune substantiate its claim that the meeting was supposed “to press Sharon . . . to move on the West Bank”?

Some interesting secondary questions arise due to the fact that the gross distortion appears in the Tribune version but not the Times. Did Sanger (and possible Hoge) write the false charge, or was it inserted by Tribune editors? And if the Times reporters did write it, did they or their editors consciously remove it from Times‘ copy, to their credit? While the answer to these questions are unclear, what we do know is that the Tribune owes its readers a correction.

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