Headlines in The Washington Post often display more bias than is found in the articles below, but one on Aug. 17 hit a new low. In an op-ed, Natan Sharansky spoke eloquently of the high standards that Israel maintains in its (forced) wars, compared with other nations. Amazingly, the headline above his piece read “Yes, Israel should meet a higher standard,” implying the exact opposite of what Sharansky wrote, and this is the message the casual reader will come away with. This headline belongs in the Headline Hall of Shame.
Another source of bias in the Post is the way it reiterates Palestinian claims that 80 percent of the deaths in Gaza were civilians, while Israeli countervailing claims that close to half were fighters are subordinated. An 80 percent civilian casualty rate can’t help but convince people that Israel deliberately targets civilians, especially when accompanied by photos of funerals and grieving relatives. Israel can protest all it wants, but it can’t undo the damage caused by these reports. Yet, are they true?
It is not hard to test the Palestinian claims. In fact The New York Times, in a rare independent effort, did just that on Aug. 5, by analyzing the age and gender of a list of deaths supplied by the Palestinian Health Ministry. The result casts serious doubt on the Palestinian claim of 80 percent. Yet this finding has not been mentioned by The Washington Post or many other newspapers.
Surely good journalistic practice requires that questionable or disputed data should be fact-checked before passing it along, especially when it’s not that hard to do. Giving readers a false picture of what’s happening should be avoided at all costs.
With that in mind, I took a look at the Times’ data. Of the total deaths reported, 13 percent were female in the 15-59 age range and 64 percent male in that same age range. Is it possible that the 51 percent additional males just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time? Or is it more likely that they were involved in some way with Hamas’s militant activities? (And if anyone thinks a 15-year-old boy wouldn’t do that, they don’t know the way Hamas operates.) And is it just a coincidence that the number 51 percent agrees with Israel’s estimate?
But good journalistic practice requires more than just fact-checking. It also
requires that the credibility of sources be examined and reported. There are many examples of Palestinian lies in the past. The most famous, perhaps, is the Jenin “massacre” of 2002, which was shot down by the U.N. itself, as reported in the New York Daily News on Aug. 2, 2002: “United Nations investigators found no evidence to support Palestinian claims that Israeli forces massacred 500 people in the battle for the Jenin refugee camp last spring, they said in a report released yesterday. The inquiry also accused Palestinians of violating international law by stockpiling weapons and putting their own people in jeopardy by hiding among them. In addition, the report said the Palestinians might have used children to transport and possibly lay booby traps.”
And if history isn’t enough, there is this recent smoking gun: Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) has translated a Hamas pamphlet telling Gazans: “Anyone killed or martyred is to be called a civilian from Gaza or Palestine… . Don’t forget to always add ‘innocent civilian’ or ‘innocent citizen’ in your description of those killed in Israeli attacks on Gaza.”
Here is proof of ongoing Palestinian duplicity. Good journalists should know of this pamphlet and this history, and should be wary of reporting Palestinian claims – or at least cite the unreliability of a source. Has the Post ever done that in regard to Palestinian claims?
There has been an explosion in anti-Semitic incidents throughout the world since Operation Protective Edge began, including here in the United States. Bad headlines and bad numbers have surely played a role in this.
Rodney A. Brooks is a retired physicist and author and was a founding member of eyeonthepost.org.