Washington Post-Watch: Terrorist or Militant?

The Washington Post did what CAMERA has long requested in its January 6, 2005 report, “Hamas Won Power In West Bank Vote; Local Elections May Prove to Be Harbinger”: it informed readers that Washington and Jerusalem consider Hamas a terrorist organization.

From the West Bank, Post correspondents John Ward Anderson and Molly Moore reported that “today, the government in Obeidiyeh is in the hands of the Islamic Resistance Movement, the radical Islamic organization known as Hamas that is labeled a terrorist group by the U.S. and Israeli governments [emphasis added].”

The Post also did not alter “terrorist” to “militant” in paraphrasing Israeli sources:

While Hamas leaders acknowledge that the organization … has conducted dozens of suicide bombing attacks against Israeli civilians, they say a key objective of the group is operating a vast network of social welfare programs in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Israeli officials say they make no distinction between the various wings of Hamas, asserting that its political and social activities are directed at building support for terrorist operations [emphasis added].

That the Post got it right should not merit special attention. Including relevant information and accurately citing sources is basic journalism. However, the newspaper often avoids full disclosure regarding Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist groups when reporting Arab-Israeli news.

However, “Hamas Won Power In West Bank Vote” continued to obscure the reality of Fatah (Movement for the National Liberation of Palestine). Anderson and Moore correctly referred to Fatah as the late Yasser Arafat’s “movement,” but reiterated the Post’s chronic description of that movement as a political party. They were silent on Fatah’s nearly five – decade involvement in terrorism, including the 1973 murders of two American diplomats and a Belgian envoy in Khartoum – and today’s numerous attacks by Fatah’s Al-Aksa Martyrs Brigade. The Al-Aksa Martyrs Brigade, like Hamas, is listed by the United States as a terrorist organization.

Back to the Past

“Rocking the Vote in Gaza, West Bank; Campaigns Fire Up Palestinians for Presidential Poll” by Moore and Anderson in the January 7 edition of the Post indicated that the previous day’s candor regarding Hamas was an aberration.

The pair reported that presidential candidate Mahmoud Abbas “was endorsed by the Fatah movement’s armed wing, the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, which has waged a deadly campaign of suicide bombings against Israelis.” Again, they failed to tell readers that the U.S. government designated the Brigades as a terrorist organization. To do so might have been awkward since they described “the Fatah movement” as “the dominant Palestinian political party, founded by Yasser Arafat,” and American readers don’t commonly think of “armed wings” that specialize in murder when they read the words “political party.”

In “Rocking the Vote in Gaza, West Bank” the Post also says that the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine “has supplied bodyguards on the campaign trail” for Mustafa Barghouti, another Palestinian presidential candidate. They do not inform readers that the PFLP also is listed by the United States as a terrorist organization or that it, like Hamas and Fatah’s Al Aksa Martyrs Brigade, has claimed responsibility for acts of anti-Israeli terrorism.

The Post’s correspondents also revert to the paper’s favorite euphemism for terrorist — militant. They note that “Abbas angered militant organizations this week when he demanded that they stop firing” at Israelis, and that the presidential candidates must “avoid alienating militant [emphasis added] groups” with calls to “curb the violence.”

Closer to Home …

It’s not that the Post finds the U.S. terrorism list unnewsworthy. The Dec. 27, 2004 report “Islamic Group Banned by Many Is Not on U.S. Terrorist List,” by staff writer David Ottoway, focused on the problematic exclusion of the Islamic Liberation Party (Hizb ut-Tahrir al-Islami), a group “outlawed in all Arab countries” and much of Central Asia. Ottaway’s use of “militant” to describe the group appears appropriate, since the group is not held responsible by Washington for terrorist acts nor its inflammatory rhetoric for inciting them. But by this standard, Hamas, Al-Aksa Martyrs Brigade, and the PFLP do not qualify for the militant label.

And not a militant is mentioned in a January 3 front-page article, “Terrorism Fight Prods NSA to Look Beyond its Fortress,” by Post staff writer Christian Davenport. Here – considering potential threats to Americans, not actual attacks like those by Palestinians against Israelis – the paper reports on “terrorists,” “global terrorism,” and “bioterrorists.”

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