Narrative and bias are the chief problems facing the news media today—not, as some would have it, issues of revenue created from the rise of digital media and the Internet. The tendency to condense stories into preformed narratives—irrespective of facts—is ruining good journalism. And The Washington Post’s reporting on the Israel-Islamist conflict is a sterling example.
For its part, The Post seems to think otherwise. The newspaper ran a glitzy one-minute ad during the February 2019 Super Bowl. Narrated by actor Tom Hanks, the ad praised journalism—and cost an estimated $10 million. The expensive ad raised quite a few eyebrows, including from several Post staffers who wondered whether a costly ad during the Super Bowl was a wise expenditure. As Town and Country Magazine, among others, documented, some employees criticized The Post for dropping millions towards an ad while their own benefits and pay were wanting.
To be sure, that money could have been spent on an ombudsman. Having an independent employee tasked with ensuring accuracy could prevent the embarrassing—and at times lengthy—corrections that the paper has had to issue recently.
But the ad is proof of something else. It shows that the problem with reporting in general, and reporting on Israel and the Middle East in particular, isn’t a problem of resources—which The Post clearly has, misspent or not. Rather, its one of narrative.
As the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) has documented The Washington Post’s reporting on the Israel-Islamist conflict is not just scattershot, it’s misfiring. The newspaper routinely ignores Palestinian politics and developments, while devoting inordinate—and largely selective, if not biased—coverage to Israel.
Indeed, Palestinians rarely make an appearance in The Post, unless it’s to serve as the perennial victim—and this too is contingent on portraying Israel, and only Israel, as their oppressor. When Palestinians suffer at the hands of their leaders, The Post is nowhere to be found.
Take, for example, the case of Issam Aqel, a Palestinian-American with Israeli residency. As Shoshanna Keats-Jaskoll, a co-founder of the Israeli NGO Chochmat Nashim, documented in a Dec. 31, 2018 Forward op-ed, Aqel was detained, arrested and tortured by the Palestinian Authority (PA), which rules the West Bank (Judea and Samaria). Aqel received this punishment for the “crime” of selling land to Jews—an offense that is literally punishable by death according to PA law and tradition. Indeed, the PA itself posted on Facebook that it had arrested 43 other individuals for selling property to Jews—an attempt, some think tanks have argued, to distract from the Authority’s chronically low approval ratings among Palestinians. But the “distraction” might have been unnecessary, the Western press, at any rate, shows little proclivity for reporting on topics that might cast the PA in a bad light.
In fact, as Keats-Jaskoll highlighted, not only did major U.S. news outlets fail to report the detention and torture of a Palestinian with U.S. citizenship, several NGOs with pretensions to caring about the treatment of Palestinians, such as B’tselem, Jewish Voice for Peace and Human Rights Watch, declined to advocate on his behalf. German, UK and EU officials also declined to intervene—another opportunity for a story, if The Post were actually interested. Instead, the Israeli government, an Israeli group called the International Legal Forum, and U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman—the latter a frequent target of both Washington Post columnists and faux human rights NGOs like HRW—advocated for Aqel.
The Post’s inability—or perhaps unwillingness—to report on the PA’s imprisonment and torture of these Palestinians is revealing. The paper itself had belatedly and briefly covered a selective HRW report on human rights abuses by the PA in an Oct. 23, 2018 dispatch. Yet, as CAMERA noted at the time, this was more illustrative of the newspaper’s reliance on anti-Israel NGOs like HRW than an actual concern with, or interest in, the abuses that Palestinian leadership inflict on their own people. And indeed, that HRW report obfuscated on Palestinian groups using their people as human shields.
To The Washington Post, it seems, Palestinians are not so much people with agency as they are Israeli victims. For proof, one only need only look at what The Post has failed to report in recent months. Numerous Palestinian developments—some of great importance—have been completely ignored by the paper:
- Omar Hilmi Al-Ghoul, a columnist for the official daily newspaper of the PA, called the U.S. Special Representative for International Negotiations, Jason Greenblatt a “mongoloid,” according to Palestinian Media Watch (PMW).
- According to a Feb. 27, 2019 PMW report, a growing financial crisis has prompted PA President Mahmoud Abbas to cut salaries of Authority employees. However, Abbas, PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, and several other officials declined to cut payments to imprisoned terrorists and murderers.
- Tensions between Hamas, the Palestinian terrorist group that rules the Gaza Strip, and Fatah, the movement that controls the PA, have continued to increase. According to a Feb. 24, 20910 report by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), Hamas is reviving the Administrative Committee in the Gaza Strip and is running a campaign calling Abbas a traitor to the Palestinian people. The group has also taken over the Kerem Shalom crossing and expelled PA officials.
- In December 2018, the PA disbanded the Palestinian Legislative Council, the Authority’s parliament. The Post provided an analysis of the event at an online-only blog, but no reporting.
In contrast, five of the last seven reports from The Post’s Jerusalem bureau are on Israeli politics. The sixth report uncritically echoes charges by the United Nations Human Rights Council that Israeli forces “may have committed war crimes” in their effort to prevent Hamas-orchestrated attempts to breach the Israel-Gaza border in the spring of 2018. The newspaper failed to note the extensive documentation—video, photographic and otherwise—showing that the majority of Palestinians killed in those Hamas-run operations were members of U.S.-designated terror groups.
As CAMERA has noted, studies by the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism and Information Center (ITIC), as well as reports by Joe Truzman and others have shown this to be the case. Truzman has also recently documented how Hamas and other Gaza-based Palestinian factions are currently ramping up their activities on the border, possibly preparing for a repeat of last spring’s operation. The Post has been mum on the matter.
Of course, neither Truzman, a US-based reporter who has carefully cultivated contacts in the region, nor ITIC possess the budget, staff, and resources at the disposal of The Post, or for that matter, the UNHRC, which relied on anti-Israel NGOs for its report. Money, then, is not why The Post’s reporting has gone awry.
Indeed, one example of how little The Post prioritizes covering Palestinian politics can be discerned in the Feb. 12, 2019 job posting for bureau chief of its Jerusalem office. The newspaper noted that it was “a particularly fraught moment in the relationship between Israel and the Palestinians” citing investigations into Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and relations between the U.S.-Israel. Impending and ongoing crises in Palestinian politics didn’t merit a mention or, apparently, The Post’s concern—despite the fact that PA President Abbas is an octogenarian autocrat with no clear successor or succession plan.
Instead the newspaper continues to place its reporting in the service of its narrative. A March 6, 2019 dispatch, “Attacks by Israeli settlers surge as West Bank tensions boil,” ran more than a thousand words and included several pictures. The report by Ruth Eglash and Jerusalem bureau chief Loveday Morris relied on anti-Israel organizations with a history of bias. The U.N.—whose documented and undeniable bias CAMERA recently highlighted in a Fox News Op-Ed—was quoted uncritically, as were B’tselem and Yesh Adin.
However, as CAMERA has pointed out, B’Tselem employees have been caught staging scenes and misrepresenting statistics of Palestinian civilian deaths in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, among other actions that reflect a lack of impartiality and, perhaps, a consistent desire to portray Israel in a negative light.
In 2014, B’Tselem was forced to admit—after initial denials—that it was employing a Holocaust denier (“Israeli rights group admits employee denied Holocaust,” The Times of Israel, Oct. 7, 2014).
As for Yesh Adin, NGO Monitor has documented how “Murad Jadallah,” a field researcher for the group, “tweeted praise for the terrorists Sameer Kuntar, Yihye Ayash, and Hassan Nasrallah, and also shared a photo of himself posing with Salah Hamouri (June 29, 2013) – a Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) terrorist responsible for planning the assassination of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, a former Chief Rabbi of Israel.” The group’s primary legal counsel, Michael Sfard, has served as an expert witness on behalf of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), and another employee, Emily Schaeffer, has said, “Yesh Din was founded to use law as a tool to fight the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories.”
These are the go-to sources for The Washington Post.
If, as The Washington Post, has frequently asserted, journalism is in danger, then the newspaper needs to take a hard look in the mirror and realize that it’s contributing to its demise. Revenue, ad buys, promotions and much vaunted “clicks,” might go up and down. And media trends might change. But old-fashioned things like journalistic due diligence and ethics shouldn’t go out of style—if they do, the death of good journalism is assured.
(Note: A slightly different version of this article appeared in the Algemeiner on March 6, 2019)