The Washington Post Bias Duo

The news from Israel and the Palestinian territories is so fast and furious that some newspapers have posted two correspondents to cover the beat.

Last April, Daniel Williams filed a sympathetic profile of a Palestinian homicide bomber, Dia Tawil, a 19-year-old “star” student, “headed toward a career in electrical engineering” and an “unlikely candidate for a suicide mission.”

Not to be outdone, Lee Hockstader wrote a defense of Aziz Salha, the young man photographed proudly waving his bloody hands out the window of a Ramallah police station after lynching two Israelis. Hockstader sympathetically described Salha: “The young man was very ill when he was a baby, he stuttered, he was shy… maybe it really wasn’t him photographed in the window … people’s emotions were boiling over because of Palestinians teens shot by Israeli soldiers… Israel’s settlements and occupation were on Salha’s mind… he was a calm, good-natured and athletic kid…”

As the violence escalated last week, so did the depths of the Williams-Hockstader bias. Even the Washington Post’s ombudsman called into question some of their recent reporting.

We present here a review of last week’s coverage, as published on The Post’s website. This HonestReporting communique is longer than usual, but The Washington Post’s influence on policymakers is greater than most other newspapers.

—– MARCH 4 —–

Williams filed a story, “Aqsa Martyrs Brigades Operate in the Shadows” which interviewed the terrorist commanders and described the supposed difficulties Arafat has controlling this offshoot of his Fatah organization. Williams whitewashed the Al Aqsa brigades’ terrorist acts with these descriptions:

– “A pair of gunmen ran down a main Jerusalem street and shot up bystanders.” The Post makes no mention of the 3 Israelis killed in the Jaffa Road attacks.


– “Gunmen ambushed a West Bank policeman.” The Post makes no mention that the Israeli was killed.

– “A Jerusalem suicide bombing… that killed nine men, women and children.” Actually, the bomb killed 6 children, 2 women and a man. Williams’ order of victims, we argue, serves to lessen the barbarity of the act.

– “Brigade members attacked an Israeli checkpoint at a place called Ein Arik.” The Post makes no mention of the 6 Israelis killed there.

Parroting a familiar Palestinian refrain, Williams also claimed that the Palestinian uprising was “triggered” by Ariel Sharon’s September 2000 visit to the Temple Mount. Most media outlets have long abandoned this rhetoric, given the ample evidence (including statements by Arafat deputies) showing that the uprising was planned well in advance of Sharon’s visit.

—– MARCH 5 —–

Williams filed a story, “Israeli Shell Kills Woman, 5 Children,” describing how “Israeli forces shelled a pickup truck carrying a Palestinian militant’s wife and children.” There is no mention in The Post’s coverage of 3 Israelis killed in a Tel Aviv restaurant that day. The Post website cited an Associated Press account.

Williams and Hockstader jointly filed, “Mideast Fighting Intensifies; Both Sides Vow More.” The Post writes that each side “vowed to inflict even more casualties on the other… The result: a daily trading of punches that has raised the number of victims, most of them noncombatants.”

The Post presents a moral relativism, even though Palestinian terror groups specifically target Israeli civilians, while when Palestinian civilians are hit, it is always unintentional.

—– MARCH 6 —–

Williams filed, “Death Toll Rises as Mideast Conflict Escalates,” which hides the fact that some of the Palestinians killed were combatants. He presents a total of 8 killed, only later mentioning that 3 were civilians — leaving the reader to do the math and conclude that the majority of those killed were gunmen.

Williams charged that the Israeli “offensives against refugee camps are an extension of a longstanding [Sharon] policy… to invade Palestinian territory to kill and roundup fighters and terrorist suspects.” Actually, the policy is relatively new, but Williams lays the cornerstone here for a later article in which he tries to show that Sharon is continuing his 1982 war against Arafat and Palestinian refugees.

—– MARCH 7 —–

Williams presents, “Israel Answers Missiles with Broad Offensive.” Williams repeats his “hide-the-combatant” game, writing that 7 Palestinians were killed in Gaza, and only later revealing that the majority were military personnel.

—– MARCH 8 —–

Hockstader and Williams continue to hide the Palestinian combatants in “Israeli-Palestinian Bloodshed Mounts.” They write of the killing of “at least 33 Palestinians, including two ambulance workers.” Who were the other Palestinians killed?

For the answer, The New York Times described one of the battles: “16 Palestinians, most of them armed, died in one savage firefight with Israeli forces.”

The Post team mentions a Palestinian attack that killed “five Israelis and wounding 20, according to the Israeli army.” Note that in reporting the 33 Palestinian casualties, The Post don’t cite Palestinian sources; they just accept it as fact. By contrast, the Israeli casualty report is “according to the Israeli army,” putting the figure in question.

The Post mentioned the 5 Israelis killed in passing. By comparison, The New York Times wrote in its opening paragraph of “five Israeli teenagers [who] died in a Palestinian’s suicidal rampage through a settlement.” The Times detailed the attack: “A Palestinian militant from Hamas, armed with an assault rifle, at least nine clips of bullets and six grenades, raced though a school in the settlement. He flung a grenade into a dormitory room, killing one student with a blast that scorched the room black. He then killed four teenagers while they were studying religious texts, before he was shot dead.”

The Washington Post completely ignored details of the barbarous attack.

—– MARCH 9 —–

In “Deadliest Day in Mideast,” Williams lost all semblance of objectivity when he attempted to show that the Israeli attacks on terrorists are part of the “longtime struggle by… Sharon to crush Palestinian armed resistance… More and more, the current offensive has taken on characteristics of S
haron’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon.” Williams describes Israeli attacks against Palestinian refugee camps 20 years ago, and for good measure throws in the Christian Lebanese atrocity in Sabra and Shatila refugee camps for which “an Israeli inquiry found Sharon indirectly responsible.”

—– MARCH 10 —–

Williams gave graphic details of the death of a Palestinian mother in “Israeli Troops Turn Homes Upside Down.” The Israeli soldiers, Williams wrote, “did not knock. They blew in [her] metal door,” killing her.

For all the detail of the Israeli tactic, Williams never explained why the Israeli soldiers “did not knock.” In their search of the Aida refugee camp, the Israeli army was aware of Palestinian mines, ambushes, booby-traps, and snipers waiting for them in the camp’s maze of alleyways. The army could have used tanks and bulldozers to safely clear their entry, putting large numbers of Palestinian civilians at risk. Instead, the Israeli troops punched and cut through the walls of homes in their search for gunmen, bomb factories and arms caches. Israeli soldiers found their quarry in some of their searches, but Williams reported none of that information.

The Post’s duo got their due on March 10 in an understated critique by The Post’s ombudsman, Michael Getler:

“Most of the calls last week, not surprisingly, were about The Post’s coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (so why does Getler stick it at the bottom of his column? – HR), and most charged The Post with a pro-Palestinian bias in the way stories and headlines were written and displayed. These charges, which occasionally are reversed by other readers, have gone on for as long as I can remember. In my view, Post correspondents are doing tough and courageous reporting of a brutal war. But that is not to say that readers with strong, partisan views in this conflict don’t lodge valuable judgments at times — such as underplaying the killing of five Israeli teenagers by a Palestinian gunman as a factor in this weekend’s violence. It is the burden of editors to make sure this reporting is presented consistently in a fair manner so that the news doesn’t have to fight through perceptions of bias.”

Write to The Washington Post editor at:
(include home address, and home and business telephone numbers)

Letters to the Editor
The Washington Post
1150 15th Street Northwes
t Washington, DC 20071

Write to The Post ombudsman, Michael Getler, at: