Targeted Strikes

As Baghdad falls and the U.S. begins efforts to structure an interim Iraqi government, one key question remains: Where is Saddam Hussein? Did the U.S. Air Force seal his fate under a residential building earlier this week?

While the suspense lingers, the action begs comparison with the Israeli front. HonestReporting has recently exposed double standards in media coverage of suicide bombings and checkpoint accidents; this time, it’s aerial strikes against terrorist masterminds.

The parallel events:

— On Monday, acting upon intelligence indicating Saddam Hussein’s whereabouts, a U.S. B1-B aircraft dropped four 2,000 lb. bombs on a West Baghdad building. While Saddam’s status remains unknown, at least 10 civilians died under four collapsed structures.

— On Tuesday, acting upon intelligence indicating the whereabouts of Hamas terror leader Sa’id Arabid, the Israeli Air Force struck Arabid’s car with missiles, leaving Arabid, his Hamas partner and four others dead. Arabid was Hamas’ replacement for Salah Shehadeh, who was killed in his Gaza apartment by an Israeli F-16 last July; 14 others died in that strike.

The media spin:

— In Iraq, the major media almost uniformly highlighted the remarkable intelligence gathered by the CIA, the swiftness of the B1-B’s call to duty, and a U.S. spokesman’s proud declaration that “a leadership target was hit very hard.” The civilian death toll was typically relegated to the end of reports, if mentioned at all.

— In the Shehadeh incident, however, Israel was censured by the Western press from London to California for the “atrocity” (BBC and Hartford Courant), an “indefensible and indiscriminate attack” (Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel) that itself constituted “unspeakable terror” (San Jose Mercury News).

See the original HonestReporting critique:

At the time, White House spokesman Ari Fleisher condemned the Israeli strike as a “heavy-handed action that is not consistent with dedication to peace in the Middle East.” When pointedly asked to justify the difference between Israel’s Gaza action and U.S. Afghanistan efforts (seaborne Tomahawk missiles fired at terror-leader compounds), Fleisher stated: “It is inaccurate to compare the two. And the crucial difference here being that in this instance, in Gaza, this was a deliberate attack against a building in which civilians were known to be located. And that does separate it from the [American] activities taken.”

See Fleisher’s widely quoted statements at:

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In the wake of 9/11, a Western consensus emerged that the evil of terrorism threatens entire democratic populations. In response, both the Israeli and U.S. governments reached the operative conclusion that terrorism must be fought with military means. Civilians, used contemptuously by terrorists as human shields, often pay the unfortunate price of these military efforts.

Given this important common ground, why does the media apply two standards — the Israel-standard and the U.S. coalition-standard — when covering military strikes against terror leaders? When it comes to reporting armed defense against terror, does Israel form a black hole, warping the media’s moral compass?

HonestReporting was established on the intuitive belief that Israel does not receive fair media coverage, but until now we lacked a solid benchmark to confirm the bias. The Iraq war provides that benchmark, confirming the contention that it was not specific tactics that the media objected to, but rather that Israel was using them.

HonestReporting encourages members to monitor your local media to see how they are reporting targeted strikes against terror leaders, and the collateral civilian deaths.


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