WASHINGTON POST-WATCH: Myopia Mars Post Coverage

Is The Washington Post determined to make its Arab-Israeli reporting something readers must dispense with? A look at foreign desk choices during the week in which Israel exchanged five terrorists and the bodies of 199 other terrorists and gunmen for the bodies of two Israeli soldiers suggests as much.

The Post‘s article on the exchange (published July 17th about the July 16th event) included quotations from both sides, but did not provide any details on its own about the heinous nature of Kuntar’s murder of 4 year-old Israeli Einat Haran and her father Danny. And the lack of reporting about the exchange, its context, the related follow-up stories, the consequences, in the days before and after the startling swap showed poor news judgment. Compare the Washington Post‘s coverage on July 18th to that of other major newspapers. The Washington Times followed the terrorists-for-bodies exchange with a major Associated Press report, Israel mourns; Hezbollah rejoices; Freed militant vows to keep fight going, with a color photograph from the funeral of Israeli soldier Eldad Regev. The Baltimore Sun published another extended version of the AP dispatch, “A wave of anguish in Israel; Thousands attend funerals for two soldiers who were returned in a swap with Hezbollah,” accompanied by a large black-and-white photograph of the funeral of Israeli soldier Ehud Goldwasser. The New York Times paired large black-and-white photos from one Israeli funeral and the transfer of coffins to Lebanon.  What did the Washington Post publish in its print edition on July 18th about the funerals or reaction in Israel?  Nothing.
Late and laughable

What did the Post‘s reporter in Israel decide to cover instead, on a day when the country was in mourning and anguish, when seemingly everyone’s thoughts were on the soldiers’ families and angst about the lopsided swap? A story about an event over a week old that had a heavy emphasis on Palestinian grievances. “Unease Over West Bank Raids; Israeli Crackdown on Charities Problematic for Palestinian Authority,” was the lead World News article in The Post’s July 18 edition.

The lengthy if not detailed report, illustrated with two large color photographs, appeared a week after The Washington Times’ page-one dispatch on the same subject, “West Bank mall raid infuriates Palestinians; Israel suspects Hamas ties; Gazan teen killed” (July 11). According to The Washington Times, Israeli officials said that the Palestinian Authority was not fighting terrorism satisfactorily so they themselves were cracking down on Hamas-related activities; PA representatives said Israel was undermining their standing among the Palestinian Arab public and not hurting Hamas.

The Post added little new. Acknowledging the article’s lateness, Jerusalem Bureau Chief Griff Witte referred to a raid on a Hamas-affiliated school “one night last week …. part of a much broader crackdown that Israeli has recently initiated in the occupied West Bank against Hamas’s extensive social services network.”

• As for laughable, under a large color photo of two teachers in a school room with several desk drawers pulled out, contents askew, one cabinet door standing open, The Post reports that “At the Islamic school, teachers arrived the morning after the raid to find the building almost completely gutted [emphasis added].” Gutted, in this context, generally refers to a building reduced by fire to a charred shell. No doubt, if Israel had gutted the school, The Post would have run a picture so demonstrating.

The Post continues its chronically tendentious language regarding Hamas. It refers in its own voice to Hamas’ “military wing,” “military activities,” and “military training,” but takes care to point out that Hamas is an “Islamist movement that Israel considers a terrorist organization.” Although The Post doesn’t mention it, it’s not only Israel that considers Hamas a terrorist organization. So do the United States, Canada, Australia and the European Union, among others.

Consistently Skewed

Leading up to the exchange, what was the coverage in the Washington Post, Washington Times, and New York Times?

Two days before the exchange of terrorists for bodies, The Washington Times published an article by its Israel correspondent, Joshua Mitnick, headlined “U.N. truce hit; Hezbollah seen stronger; Militants’ rockets triple” (July 15).

One day before the exchange, The Washington Times put a Mitnick dispatch headlined “Israeli general demeans prisoner swap; Sees another Hezbollah win” (July 16), on page one. Retired Brig. Gen. Yosi Tsachor – wounded in the 1979 chase to capture Palestine Liberation Organization terrorist Samir Kuntar, now centerpiece in the Hezbollah exchange – and other Israelis explained why they opposed the deal.

The New York Times published on page one an interview with family members of those murdered in the 1979 raid and relatives of Regev and Goldwasser, who at the time did not know for certain that the Israeli soldiers were dead (“Prisoner Deal Reopens an Israeli Wound,” July 16). A color family photograph of the young father and his two daughters killed in the 1979 terrorist attack accompanied the page one coverage.

The Washington Post foreign desk, which sees the Arab-Israeli conflict largely through the reductive, inverting prism of “the Palestinian narrative,” chose not to report such news of and about Israelis.

Eccentric, not informative

In a week in which the Israeli press, and other international outlets also reported on:

• Hezbollah’s increasing build-up on Lebanon, in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions;

• Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority’s desire to hold a “wedding” funeral for Dahlal Mughrabi, PLO leader of the infamous 1978 Coast Road Massacre and whose crimes paralleled those of Kuntar; and

• Arab exaltation of Kuntar contrasted with dignified grief in Israel, The Washington Post had a different concern: the Washington Post‘s July 11 World News lead was a several week late article about a new transit span in the capital, “Jerusalem Bridge Points to a Divide.” The cutline on the accompanying large color photograph summarized Mr. Witte’s dispatch: “The new Chords Bridge, designed to look something like a biblical harp, is a symbol of discord between the ultra-Orthodox and the secular Jewish populations of Jerusalem.”

In other words, at The Washington Post, important news from Israel and its neighbors generally is about the neighbors, especially the Palestinia n Arabs. Israeli Jews are newsworthy on their own generally when they can be shown to be divided, not getting along, even a little ineffectual if not ridiculous.

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