WASHINGTON POST-WATCH: Freudian Projection at the Washington Post

CAMERA’s mission is to critique journalism, not journalists. But sometimes a journalist would rather shoot the messenger than deal with the message.

A member apparently forwarded by mistake a recent CAMERA Alert, which criticized The Washington Post’s June 20 dispatch, “In Gaza and Israel, a Wary Quiet,” to David Hoffman. Mr. Hoffman is Post assistant managing editor for foreign news. He oversees the newspaper’s foreign coverage, including the work of Foreign Editor Scott Wilson, Middle East Editor Cameron Barr, and the newspaper’s foreign correspondents.

The Alert pointed out basic flaws in the article, including the claim that Hamas was battling “Israeli occupation” rather than fighting against Israel’s existence, and its implied equating of Palestinian terrorism with Israeli counter-terrorism. In a June 23 e-mail reply, Mr. Hoffman claimed that CAMERA “is an interest group which lobbies for one point of view,” by which he meant pro-Israel news coverage. Mr. Hoffman has made this allegation before, including to CAMERA staffers.

CAMERA monitors Middle East coverage in an effort to hold the news media, including The Washington Post, to their self-professed standards. These include, according to ethics codes of the Society of Professional Journalists, the Associated Press and others, accuracy, objectivity, context, comprehensiveness, fairness, balance, avoidance of conflict of interests and willingness to make corrections. Mr. Hoffman has been invited in the past to supply examples of CAMERA lobbying for reporting that violates these standards. That is, of seeking “point of view” reporting rather than accurate coverage. Neither he nor any other Post employee has provided such an example. Nevertheless, the invitation is hereby repeated.

In his e-mail response, which went to a number of CAMERA members, Mr. Hoffman also claimed of The Post that “our work is open and transparent — we publish for all to see, unlike CAMERA, which attempts to hide behind others. Why else does CAMERA urge you to write us and then caution at the top of the Alert, ‘Do no forward it to members of the news media’?”

Like The Post, CAMERA publications, whether on our Web site at www.camera.org, or in print like our magazine, Media Report, are “there for all to see.” Mr. Hoffman, 54, has been a Post staffer since 1982, including stints in Jerusalem and Moscow, foreign editor from 2001 – 2005, and assistant managing editor for foreign news for the past three years. He has been around long enough to know that many organizations, CAMERA included, provide background information that members are then expected to use in their own letters, e-mails and telephone calls. If CAMERA’s mailings inspire readers to contact a news organization, it is more personal and effective for readers to earnestly relay their own thoughts in their own words, rather than simply forward CAMERA’s information. Thus, contrary to Mr. Hoffman there is no covert motive nor any “attempts to hide behind others.” Moreover, most CAMERA Alerts are soon published in article form on the CAMERA website.

Meanwhile, Post foreign desk internal workings are anything but transparent. The decision, long upheld, not to do what other major media have done and spend a day or two in the besieged Israeli town of Sderot and publish a detailed report about the effects of incessant Palestinian terrorist rocket fire, is utterly opaque. So is the pretzel logic behind the foreign desk’s insistence, contrary to the CIA World Fact Book and U.S. Census, that “the Gaza Strip is indeed one of the world’s most populated places.” Similarly non-transparent are its avoidance of the accurate terms “terrorism” and “terrorist” in reporting attacks against Israeli non-combatants but using them in coverage of similar events elsewhere. Likewise, its long habit of referring to Syria’s “presence” in Lebanon but Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. So too the foreign desk’s general indifference to the news potential of the U.N.’s failure in south Lebanon and Hezbollah’s reported rearming; non-coverage of incessant Palestinian anti-Israeli, anti-Jewish incitement that violates numerous agreements; relative silence on the Iranian-Palestinian connection, and so on. Taken together, examples more than enough to suggest not random error and occasional poor editorial judgment but rather chronic bias.

Finally, Mr. Hoffman asserts that “if we covered the conflict as they [CAMERA] demanded, we would indeed be biased.” As a rule, CAMERA does not inquire into media motivations. But in this case, since Mr. Hoffman insists on misrepresenting the organization so he can discount its criticism, maybe what we have is pre-emptive projection. “Projection” is what psychiatrists call the ascribing of undesirable traits one suspects one has onto others.

Sending a CAMERA Alert to The Post was an innocent mistake. But there’s nothing innocent in Mr. Hoffman’s error-filled reply.

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