Washington Post Self-DiagnosisMay 21, 2002 12:00 by ManagingTeam
The Washington Post has been a frequent topic of HonestReporting communiques, but perhaps the best critiques appear in The Post’s own pages.
This week, The Post published a lengthy letter to the editor Eric Rozenman, editor of B’nai B’rith’s International Jewish Monthly. Rozenman examined nearly 100 news and feature stories published by The Post and found the paper, “guilty of imbalance and bias by omission…”
Rozenman’s sharp analysis can be seen in his dissection of one sentence from a March 21 story by correspondent Dan Williams, who wrote: “For Palestinians, a collaborator may be defined as someone… who has been deemed overly cozy with occupation authorities since Israel seized the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1967 or who… was accused of giving Israelis information leading to the harm or death of resistance fighters.”
According to Rozenman, “This one sentence skews coverage in three fundamental ways. The reference to ‘occupation authorities’ uncritically adopts Arab rhetoric meant to recall Nazi and Soviet occupations in World War II and the Cold War. The phrase ‘Israel seized the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1967′ appears with no context that it did so in a war of self-defense — taking the land from Jordan and Egypt, illegal occupants as a result of their aggression in an earlier war. ‘Resistance fighters’ overwhelmingly refers to terrorists who target civilians.”
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Some of the sharpest criticism of The Post, however, comes from the paper’s own ombudsman, Michael Getler. Last year Getler complained about HonestReporting’s “robot-like members” and their “knee-jerk” reactions. But it appears that a year of complaints have gotten Getler’s attention. In five recent columns — March 10, 24; April 21; May 5, 12 — Getler has alluded to or directly confronted allegations of pro-Palestinian bias in the Post’s reporting.
His latest introspection appears in a column, “How do they know that?” a question that, according to the ombudsmen, is asked by readers who read unsourced or unnamed reports. “From my vantage point,” Getler wrote, “reporters and editors do not think about that nearly as often as do readers.”
Getler notes: “When Post reporters made their way to Afghan villages to report on the impact of U.S. bombing or commando raids on the civilian population, some readers complained. They asked… why would anyone believe anything an Afghan villager told a reporter? In the Middle East, some readers say the same thing about Palestinians. My view, often expressed in this column, is that experienced correspondents do a good job of sorting things out, reporting what they see and what is said on the record by individuals and that over time, as story piles upon story, the cumulative picture clarifies. Although we may never know precisely what the toll was in the Jenin refugee camp, for example, the continuing reporting has provided a better sense of proportion…
“The same is true on occasion in reporting here. A front-page story last month, for example, said in the headline: ‘Defiant Sharon Losing Support in the White House.’ It was attributed only to administration sources and senior White House aides. No additional help was given for the reader in answering the “how do they know that” question on an important and touchy matter. Does the president feel that way, or is this a political or policy adviser talking, or someone who wants a harder line on Israel?”
We encourage HonestReporting members to follow Rozenman’s lead and monitor their own local media for patterns of imbalanced reporting.
===== BOYCOTTING THE TIMES? =====
Gary Rosenblatt, Editor and Publisher of the New York Jewish Week, writes his perspective on fighting imbalanced reporting, in light of a recent grass-roots effort to “boycott” The New York Times. Rosenblatt writes:
“In practical terms, the proposed boycott can have a backlash effect, having less impact on profits at the Times than on its attitude toward the Jewish community, convincing editors and executives we are unreasonable and irrational. They may conclude, in their own frustration, that nothing they do in their newspaper can pacify us. We will be dismissed as less than serious, and the result could be less motivation to provide balanced coverage. In effect, end of discussion.
“But unless we conclude The New York Times as an institution has no interest in providing balanced coverage (and I’m not there yet), it’s to our advantage to keep the dialogue going because the facts are on our side. We need more constructive criticism, more marshalling of information, more voices speaking out for fair reporting — not a call to shut ourselves off from reporting and opinions we don’t want to deal with.
“‘Nothing will bounce off the ear of a reporter like the charge of total bias,’ said Jay Rosen, a professor of journalism at New York University. ‘It’s a loser’s word.’
“I also worry about the tendency in our community, born of annoyance and anger, to dismiss the media as anti-Israel or anti-Semitic. Those are loaded phrases and we should use them with extreme caution…”