When Obama Met Mubarak: Bias by Omission in Washington Post Coverage

Omission of basic information often figures more prominently in a biased news account than does the reporting of errors as fact. The Washington Post’s “Obama Optimistic About Mideast Peace; President Meets With Mubarak, Who Expresses Willingness to Advance Process” (August 19), provides a textbook example.

President Barak Obama, in a joint press conference with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on August 18, indicated that progress was being made to bridge U.S. and Israeli positions on West Bank settlement construction. In a departure from previous criticism, Obama credited Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government with moving “in the right direction” regarding growth of Jewish communities in the disputed territory and for taking discussions with American officials U.S. “very seriously.”

Obama noted Israel’s removal of some security checkpoints in the West Bank and a hold on new construction permits for additional housing in Jewish settlements. “I’m encouraged by some of the things I’m seeing on the ground,” he told reporters.

The president added that “my hope is that we are going to see not just movement from the Israelis, but also from the Palestinians around issues of incitement and security, from Arab states that show their willingness to engage Israel.”

None of this appears in “Obama Optimistic About Mideast Peace,” by Post staff writers Anne Kornblut and Mary Beth Sheridan.

This national desk article — CAMERA criticism of Post Arab-Israeli coverage more often focuses on the foreign desk — essentially omits Obama’s positive comments about Israel. The lead paragraph reports the president’s optimism about an eventual diplomatic breakthrough, but the second paragraph cites his remark about “movement in the right direction” in such a way that it seems to apply to all sides, not specifically to Israel.

Yet, the transcript shows that Obama’s “movement in the right direction” remark came in response to a reporter’s question about Israeli settlements.

The president’s other pro-Israel remarks either were not reported or were edited out.

In addition to omitting information fundamental to the story that might be read as pro-Israel by subscribers, The Post omitted material that might have been considered critical of the Palestinian Arabs. The paper did not mention Obama’s nudge of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to crack down on anti-Israel incitement, which is rampant in the PA, and to upgrade security in the West Bank and for Israel against terrorist attacks from the area.

Obama and Mubarak both expressed hope for an early resumption of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Post coverage did not tell readers that Netanyahu has been calling for an immediate return to negotiations without pre-conditions by either side, but that Abbas has refused to do so until Israel first acquiesces to his demands. These are:

* A freeze on Jewish building in eastern Jerusalem, including Jewish neighborhoods, as well as in the West Bank;

* Release of terrorist prisoners and suspects; and

* Acceptance of the “right of return” for the remaining Arab refugees from what became Israel and their several million descendants. (No such “right” appears in any of the U.N. resolutions from the late 1940s and early ‘50s dealing with those displaced by the 1948-49 Arab war against Israel).

The omission of these pertinent points emanating from the Obama-Mubarak news conference amounts to bias by omission, a chronic flaw in Post Arab-Israeli reporting. Contrast it to The New York Times coverage of the same news conference. The Times directly connects Obama’s optimism that there’s “movement in the right direction” with the issue of Israeli settlements. And in its second paragraph, The Times attributes this change in the president’s view to Israel’s announcement that the government has not given final approval for any new housing projects in the West Bank since it took office.

(Thanks to Leo Rennert, retired McClatchy Newspapers Washington bureau chief and CAMERA member, for pointing out The Post’s omissions and contrasting them with The Times’ coverage in a letter to Washington Post Executive Editor Marcus W. Brauchli.)

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