Washington Post: It Doesn’t Matter Who Killed Baby Omar

Washington PostIt must have been fatiguing for Max Fisher to look at so many photos of injured Palestinians and Israelis during last year’s Gaza conflict.

The Washington Post blogger argued in November, and now again, that it doesn’t matter who killed baby Omar.

Does assigning blame for Mishrawi’s tragic death, awful as it may be, offer us any real insight into who holds the blame for 60 years of fighting? And is partitioning blame really going to serve either side particularly well?

It’s difficult to see how knowing whose rocket or missile killed Mishrawi would resolve the larger questions for which that debate is a proxy: responsibility for continuing the long-term conflict, for sparking the latest round of fighting in November, and for the Israeli and Palestinian civilians who suffer as a result. But these are notoriously thorny debates. As with so many protracted geopolitical conflicts, neither side comes out looking as angelic or demonic as its partisans might wish. In many ways, something as isolated as a single photo of a wounded or killed child offers a purer, cleaner, lower-risk way to talk about issues too messy to engage with directly. They’re a great way to win arguments, but not necessarily to end them.

Yes, war is messy.

Yes, the photo is one small facet of a long, wearying conflict.

But if news is the proverbial “first draft of history,” it behooves Big Media to get the facts right. That’s the best way to head off a lot of needless arguments.

It’s the passage of time that allows us to see events in a larger historical context. I can relate Fisher’s aching desire to see the big picture pronto, but what he’s looking for is the product of history, not news. News is about the hard facts you learn in Journalism 101: who, what, where, when, why and how. The what-it-all-means questions are posed to fallible Big Thinkers we refer to as pundits, wonks, and talking heads.

Unfortunately, the demonization of Israel takes place in the here and now when the world jumps to unfortunate conclusions about photos such as Jihad Mishawari’s tragedy.

As far as the first draft of history is concerned, the number of people who saw the image in November and associated with Israeli responsibility will never match the number of people who are now aware of the real story. The damage to Israel can’t be undone.

But what lessons can the Washington Post and Big Media learn for the future?