Can The Washington Post Cover Israel Fairly?

The Washington Post has announced that it will establish a “Standards Desk” to monitor reporters’ stories for absence of bias and comprehensiveness of coverage, as well as providing readers with the opportunity to make complaints, in the assurance that they will be taken seriously, and corrections swiftly made to stories requiring them. One area where the Washington Post leaves much to be desired is in its slanted coverage of the Israel-Palestinian conflict. More on this can be found here: “Are New Standards Coming to The Washington Post?,” by Sean Durns, Algemeiner, January 26, 2023:

Trust in the media is at a “near record low,” according to an October 2022 Gallup poll. A mere seven percent of Americans have a “great deal” of trust and confidence in the media. Notably, the survey is “the first time that the percentage of Americans with no trust at all in the media is higher than the percentage with a great deal or a fair amount combined.”

The Washington Post is one of the largest and most influential newspapers in the world. And it has gone without a standards desk for years. Instead, the media conglomerate has maintained a part time reader’s representative. As I can personally attest in my numerous interactions with the Post, this arrangement has hardly been sufficient. More has been needed — as Gallup’s poll readily shows.

Recently announced changes, however, might offer some hope.

On Dec. 11, 2022, the Post announced the creation of a standards desk, to be helmed by Meghan Ashford-Grooms and Carrie Camillo. The former was deputy copy chief at Kaiser Health News. Camillo has been with the Post since 2002.

They are entering what is, no doubt, a challenging assignment at a challenging time — both for media in general and for the Washington Post itself, which recently announced major layoffs and the elimination of huge sections, including Outlook.

One longstanding area of concern for the newspaper — and one that Ashford-Grooms and Camillo should pay attention to — is the Post’s coverage of the Middle East and Israel.

Jamal Khashoggi was a Saudi Arabian dissident who “wrote” a column for the Post prior to his 2018 disappearance and murder in a Saudi consulate in Turkey. After his tragic death, Khashoggi was hailed as a martyr to journalism. Washington DC officials even named a street near the Saudi Embassy after him.

Yet, Khashoggi didn’t even write his own columns. The Washington Post admitted as much.

Buried in a Dec. 22, 2018, article that appeared shortly before Christmas of that year, the Post revealed that “text messages between Khashoggi and an executive at Qatar Foundation International show that the executive, Maggie Mitchell Salem, at times shaped the columns he submitted to The Washington Post, proposing topics, drafting material and prodding him to take a harder line against the Saudi government.”

The newspaper also acknowledged that Khashoggi “appears to have relied on a researcher and translator affiliated with the organization.” Further, as the Security Studies Group, a Washington DC-based think tank, noted: “We heard from reliable sources familiar with the investigation [into his death] that documents showing wire transfers[of money] from Qatar were found in his apartment in Turkey,” but were “immediately put out of reach by Turkish security services, so they did not show the collusion between Khashoggi, Qatar, and Turkey prior his death.”

In other words, Khashoggi’s “journalism” consisted of articles whose topics were suggested by, and then researched, edited, and in whole or in part written by, people paid by the Qatar Foundation or the government of Qatar. Khashoggi was a hired foreign agent, paid by Qatar to make its enemy, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, look as bad as possible in the columns he signed as a presumably legitimate journalist. And though the Washington Post, that had regularly published what the Qataris helped Khashoggi produce, knew by December 2018 who had assisted him in myriad ways and been paying him handsomely, the paper has yet to say a word about Khashoggi as an agent of Qatar.

Suffice [it] to say: this is scandalous. And it’s equally lamentable that the Washington Post has, in the intervening years, failed to offer any additional details or make any necessary changes. It raises the question of whether other countries or entities have used Post column space for influence operations, breaking promises to disclose any conflicting interests and assurances that they themselves authored their own articles — both of which are standard operating fare when submitting columns.

The newspaper’s coverage of Israel has long been replete with double standards, bias, and misleading omissions. Indeed, as the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis (CAMERA) has documented, the newspaper perennially omits the numerous instances in which Israel and the United States have offered Palestinian leaders a state. For example, in more than a decade, the Post ran dozens of stories relating to a “two-state solution” — only to omit that one party, Palestinian leadership, responsible for rejecting that “solution.” Nor is this the only problem relating to the Post’s coverage of Israel….

The Washington Post keeps reporting on that will-o’-the-wisp, a “two-state solution” to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, but almost always its stories about it neglect to mention the generous offers made by Israel in the past and rejected out of hand by the Palestinians. These include the offer made by Ehud Barak to Yassir Arafat in 2000, which would have given the Palestinians 95% of the West Bank, 100% of Gaza, and part of Jerusalem, and that made by Ehud Olmert to Mahmoud Abbas in 2008, which would have given the Palestinians more than 93% of the West Bank and, as compensation, 5.8% of Israeli territory, as well as 100% of Gaza; in addition, Olmert offered to put the Old City in Jerualem under international control. Like Arafat, who simply walked away from Barak’s offer in 2000, Abbas did the same with Olmert’s offer in 2008.

The Washington Post rarely mentions the P.A.’s “Pay-For-Slay” program, which provides generous subsidies to imprisoned Palestinian terrorists and to the families of terrorists killed while engaged in their attacks. These sums now amount to about $350 million a year. In this way does the “moderate” P.A. reward past, and incentivize future, terrorism. And that is not the only way that the P.A. and Hamas encourage terrorism — or antisemitism. They name streets, schools, plazas, sports competitions after terrorists; they plaster their photographs on walls in Gaza and the P.A.-ruled parts of the West Bank. And both Fatah and Hamas encourage antisemitism in their schoolbooks, and in their media, where Jews – not just Israelis – are constantly maligned as the sinister and conniving enemies of Muslims. You know the kind: caricatures of hook-nosed Jews rubbing their hands as they contemplate a globe, while dollar signs float in the ether. On the P.A.’s television shows for children, tiny tots are filmed holding tiny knives and pretending to stab “yahudim”(Jews), while they sing songs about recovering “stolen Palestinian land.“ None of this incitement to murder, and this constant spittle-flecked spewing of antisemitism, is given the coverage it deserves by the Washington Post. 

The Washington Post might bring home to its readers the true horror of the terrorism that Israelis have had to endure, by telling the story of a few of its victims – memorializing with a “local habitation and a name” some of those whom Palestinian terrorists have killed, or interviewing others who are still consumed by grief for family members murdered, or who, having been severely wounded, must continue to deal with their own maiming, years after they were on a bus, in a pizzeria, at a Passover service, when the suicide bombers detonated themselves. The paper has never done this, though as Durns points out, it presents sob stories about the Gazans who have built an art museum but still don’t have any pictures to put on its walls.

Durns notes that The Washington Post doesn’t cover the Palestinians if the story can’t be connected to Israel. The colossal corruption of their leaders has been completely ignored. Nowhere in The Washington Post will you read that just two leaders of Hamas, Khaled Meshaal and Mousa Ibn Marzouk, have each amassed fortunes of $2.5 billion, or that Mahmoud Abbas, with his two sons Yasser and Tarek, has built a business empire worth $400 million. Are the paper’s reporters in Jerusalem unaware of this incredible story, or are they aware, but choosing to hide it from their readers, because of their pro-Palestinian sympathies?

And what about the Palestinians’ internecine warfare? The Washington Post did cover the murder, by Abbas’ goons, of Nizar Banat. But it hasn’t given much attention to the rivalry, and war, between Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Gaza. Nor has it explained the conflict between Hamas and Fatah in the West Bank. Neither story involves Israel; could that be the reason for the neglect?

We’ll know that the Standards Desk is having an effect when we start to read stories about the Palestinians with headlines or ledes like these: “Palestinians ask: Where are all the missing billions?” and “How long will the Administration ignore “Pay-For-Slay?” and “A Tempest In a Teapot: No one has changed the status quo on the Temple Mount.” There. Three possibilities. It’s a start. Onward and upward, Standards Desk. Do your job. Raise those standards.

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