Washington Post-Watch: Meltdown on Sunday in August

Was The Washington Post a reliable source for coverage of Israel’s war against Hezbollah? Judging by the August 13 edition, the answer would have to be: generally, no. With the exception of that Sunday’s lead editorial, misleading word choices, key factual omissions, and lack of logic undermined news articles, features, and even the ombudsman’s weekly column.

Partial News

The Post’s page-one news article, “Cease-Fire Is Accepted In Lebanon; Fighting Unlikely to Halt Immediately,” by correspondents Edward Cody and Molly Moore in Beirut, refers several times to Hezbollah as a “militia” and its members as “fighters” — once as “defenders” of a south Lebanese village. The newspaper never reminds readers that Hezbollah is listed as a terrorist organization by the United States government, that it receives a reported $100 million to $200 million annually from Iran, that it is dedicated to Israel’s elimination, never complied with U.N. Security Council Resolution 1559 (2004) requiring its disarmament, or that — prior to al Qaeda’s Sept. 11, 2001 attacks — the Shi’ite “Party of God” killed more Americans than any other terrorist group.

The unqualified use of “defenders” is particularly misleading: Hezbollah commits aggression against Israel from, and hides in, Lebanese villages and towns; when Israel counter-attacks, The Post awards Hezbollah the positive description of “defenders.” These “defenders” repeatedly violated international law — by not disarming, by killing and capturing Israeli troops in Israel and firing rockets at Israeli civilian areas, and by basing themselves among noncombatants. “Hostage-holders” would have been more accurate.

News mis-analysis

Leading the “World News” section was a news analysis headlined “As Mideast Smoke Clears, Political Fates May Shift,” by Robin Wright, a Post diplomatic reporter. Wright quotes many knowledgeable sources, including former ambassador Dennis Ross, President Clinton’s chief Arab-Israeli mediator; former ambassador to Israel and Syria, Edward Djerejian; and Undersecretary of State R. Nicholas Burns. But she leads with Robert Malley, a mid-level Clinton administration National Security Council official who, contrary to Ross, insists that the Israeli-U.S. offer to Yasser Arafat in 2000 of a West Bank and Gaza Strip state with eastern Jerusalem as its capital wasn’t really such a good deal for the Palestinian leadership. She also gives credence to the views of Rami Khouri, of Beirut’s Daily Star, whose anti-Israeli, anti-U.S. spin CAMERA repeatedly has exposed.

Wright’s analysis cites no Israeli analysts. It also states that a Lebanese survey “showed about 87 percent of Lebanese support Hezbollah’s retaliatory [emphasis added] attacks on Israel.” Hezbollah’s attacks are criminal provocations; it’s Israel’s response that is retaliatory.

News diluted

Post coverage of an anti-Israel protest, “Lebanon Supporters Converge at White House; Families, Activists Travel to Demand Cease-Fire, Protest Actions of U.S. and Israel,” was superficial even when correct. Staff writers Petula Dvorak and Robert Samuels noted that the rally, which drew less than 10,000 people, according to unofficial police estimates, was primarily organized by the ANSWER coalition, “a left-wing group that has sponsored numerous antiwar rallies that often attract socialists and anarchists.”

Good, as far as it goes — but it doesn’t go far enough: anti-Zionism and tolerance if not encouragement for Palestinian terrorism mark many of ANSWER’ leaders and activities. Its roots in the World Workers Party and hospitality for fellow-travelers including Sheik Omar Abdul Rahman’s lawyer, Lynne Stewart, and British parliamentarian George Galloway make it not “a left-wing group” but a radical, hard-left group. (See “The Anti-Iraq War Movement’s Anti-Israel ANSWER,” CAMERA on Campus, Winter, 2006).

The Post sympathetically quotes Julia Shearson, “director of the Ohio chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations,” with no description of CAIR. The organization presents itself as a civil rights group advocating acceptance of and equality for America Muslims, but, according to Daniel Pipes and Sharon Chadha in “CAIR: Islamists Fooling the Establishment,” Middle East Quarterly, Spring, 2006:

“The Department of Homeland Security refuses to deal with it. Senator Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) describes it as an organization ‘which we know has ties to terrorism.’ Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) observers that CAIR is ‘unusual in its extreme rhetoric and its associations with groups that are suspect.’ Steven Pomerantz, the FBI’s former chief of counter-terrorism, notes that ‘CAIR, its leaders,, and its activities effectively give aid to international terrorists groups.’ The family of John P. O’Neill, Sr. the former FBI counter-terrorism chief who perished at the World Trade Center, named CAIR in a lawsuit as having ‘been part of the criminal conspiracy of radical Islamic terrorism’ responsible for the September 11 atrocities. Counter-terrorism expert Steven Emerson calls its ‘a radical fundamentalists front group for Hamas.'”

Off-focus feature

The Post’s Anthony Shadid won a Pulitzer Prize for his Iraqi war reporting. But his coverage from Lebanon has included a large number of features full of the close-focus “what” of human interest journalism yet lacking much of the necessary “why” of news hard or soft. When hundreds of thousands of residents of south Lebanon fled was it to due to mindless Israeli assaults, or because Hezbollah labored for years, ultimately successfully, to turn the area into a battlefield? According to features like Shadid’s “Fleeing Lebanese Christians See Town Forever Changed,” it’s difficult to tell.

And Shadid’s big Sunday story includes this whopper of misdirection:

“[Hikmat] Farha left his clothes, his three-month-old dog Max and pretty much all his belongings in a house he had painstakingly remodeled. And he thought back to more distant stories: 1948 and the war that led to Israel’s creation. Palestinians [Sic. — in 1948 “Palestinian” generally applied to Jews, not Arabs] in such towns as Haifa, Acre and Jaffa, and villages along the coast, were told to leave their homes for a few days until the war ended. They never returned.”

Who told them to leave? Neither Shadid nor his source say. The implication, from the quote and the thrust of the article overall, is that it must have been the Israelis. But in 1948, Arabs fled from what became Israel largely to escape fighting caused by Arab League and Palestinian Arab rejection of U.N. partition of western Palestine into two states, one Jewish, one Arab. The Research Group for European Migration Problems noted in its January-March, 1957 Bulletin that: “As early as the first months of 1948, the Arab League issued orders exhorting the people to seek temporary refuge in neighboring countries, later to return to their abodes in the wake of the victorious Arab armies and obtain their share of abandoned Jewish property.” Ad-Difaa, a Jordanian newspaper, wrote in its Sept. 6, 1954 edition that “the Arab government told us: “Get out so we can get in.’ We got out, but they did not get in.”

Such a basic omission, when a source has brought the issue up, is simply unacceptable.

Ombudsman confused

In her column “A War of Images and Perceptions, ” Post Ombudsman Deborah Howell, acknowledged that Reuters’ “admission that a freelance photographer had altered two photographs” to make Israeli attacks in Lebanon seem more dramatic “stoked readers suspicions about Post illustrations.” But “my review of war photos published in The Post didn’t show any obvious manipulation.” What about more subtle but perhaps pervasive manipulation? Given press reports of armed Hezbollah men restricting reporters’ and photographers’ access and activities in areas under their control, don’t all photographs from such places carry implicit Hezbollah approval?

Howell reviewed photos from Qana, where Israeli missiles destroyed a house, killing 28 people and found that “only one photo, not published, looked staged.” How could she tell? What standards did she use? And since Hezbollah based itself among noncombatants in part so Israeli retaliation might harm them, making Israel look the aggressor, are not all such photographs, if not specifically “staged,” then the result of a general “set-up?” Yasser Arafat used to call the international press corps in Beirut in the 1970s — often either sympathetic or intimidated — his “best battalion.” Howell seems unaware that Hezbollah has updated the old Palestine Liberation Organization approach to press management.

In trying to account for the revision of initial deaths reports from Qana from 56 to 28, Howell cites Human Rights Watch’s emergencies director “in a telephone interview from Damascus.” She seems unaware of HRW’s history of one-sided, anti-Israel “studies”, making it a dubious source on this issue, or the possibility that a “telephone interview from Damascus” might require listening between the lines.

Editorial on target

Credit where it’s due: The Post’s lead editorial, “A Month of War; And now, at least a chance for peace,” is basically accurate and worth reading. It points out that “the chief cause [of the war] was Hezbollah ….” “Israel responded with air and ground attacks that on the whole were justified but painful in their effect on civilians ….” Hezbollah fired “thousands of missiles into Israel with the deliberate goal of killing and wounding civilians.” And “it may be that the damage inflicted on Hezbollah during a month of fighting is what led it to accept the terms of the [cease-fire] resolution.” If not, and “The Party of God” attempts to continue being an armed state-within-a-state, “it will be up to Lebanon’s government, the United Nations and the European nations expected to supply troops to prove the militia wrong.”

Readers could have skipped all the news, analysis, feature, and columns mentioned above, and simply read the editorial. They would have been better informed, and much less misinformed.

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