Washington Post Correction Policy and Reality Clash

Every day the largest newspaper in the nation’s capital publishes a notice on page A-2 stating “The Washington Post is committed to correcting errors that appear in the newspaper.” Following this pledge are e-mail and telephone contacts for readers.


But apparently it all depends on what the meaning of “correcting” is.


In “Abbas condemns alleged abductions; Palestinian leader also decries Israeli response to 3 disappearances” (June 17, 2014 print edition) The Post reported that the mayor of Hebron “accused Israel of enforcing a collective punishment on a municipality of 750,000 people, who have seen the main entrance into the city closed by Israeli authorities and their roads rumbling with troop convoys.”


The same day CAMERA requested a clarification, pointing out “the Palestinian Authority’s own Central Bureau of Statistics estimates the 2014 population of the city of Hebron at 202,172. It estimates the population of the much larger Hebron governorate at 684,246.


Non-correcting correction
“Even discounting the fact that some Israeli and American demographers believe official Palestinian population figures to be inflated, The Post’s references to “the mayor,” “a municipality” and “main entrance into the city” may well suggest to readers that the population of the city of Hebron is three or four times larger than its actual total. That would imply erroneously that Hebron was nearly as populous as Jerusalem or San Francisco.”


The following correction appeared in The Post’s June 20th print edition:


“A June 17 A-section article … incorrectly said that the population of the West Bank city of Hebron, according to its mayor, is 750,000. In fact, Mayor Daoud Zatari was referring to the larger Hebron governorate, or district.”


So in the future Post readers should remember that mayor might mean governor, municipality and city might refer to governorate, and 750,000 could mean 684,000. Or not. Clear?


At least that “correction” nodded at specificity. When it came to “Israel says 3 teens were kidnapped by a terrorist group; One is a U.S. citizen; Palestinians being held accountable” (print edition, June 15) The Post stuck with journalistic shorthand so concise it omitted basic facts.


Short-shrift shorthand
“Israel says 3 teens were kidnapped by a terrorist group” told readers “Israelis have responded to past kidnappings with dramatic moves. The 2006 Lebanon war was sparked when Hezbollah, a Lebanese militant group, captured two Israeli soldiers along the border. In 2011, Israel release more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit …”


The next day CAMERA requested a correction, pointing out “Israel’s 2006 war against Hezbollah in Lebanon began when, under cover of a rocket barrage against northern Israel, Hezbollah members infiltrated Israel, killed three Israeli soldiers and kidnapped two others. Five members of an Israeli patrol sent to rescue the captured men also were killed.

“CAMERA recognizes the need at times for journalistic shorthand. But for The Post to state without attribution that the war was sparked by the capture of two soldiers along the border when, in fact, it began with a cross-border raid, the killing of eight soldiers, large-scale rocket attacks against Israeli civilian and military targets and capture of two soldiers misleadingly minimizes why Israel went to war. Without a comprehensive reminder of what sparked the war, readers might well understand ‘dramatic moves’ to imply, in this case, excessive [moves] rather than a response to four, not one, casus belli.”

Post Jerusalem Bureau Chief William Booth, who wrote both the reports mentioned above, with the bureau’s Ruth Eglash, replied that it was the consensus of historians and news coverage at the time that the abduction of the two soldiers sparked the war, although they were not necessarily the only cause. Booth cited 34 Days: Israel, Hezbollah, and the War in Lebanon, by Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff, who wrote: “The border abduction of two Israeli soldiers on the morning of July 12, 2006 set in motion what would eventually become the Second Lebanon War.” 

Set in motion, yes. But without the rocket attacks and killing of the other soldiers, started the war? Unproven, probably unprovable, and—given Israel’s initial hesitancy to reply with overwhelming force, lingering reluctance to commit large numbers of infantry and willingness to accept a cease-fire that did not lead to the return of the two captured soldiers—unlikely.

Ironically, even discouragingly, the uncorrected Hebron population error and dubious 2006 war conjecture marred otherwise well-rounded coverage in both Post articles.  






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