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February 20, 2003

Washington Post Bias Watch

Martin Kimel posts this succinct note

Can you catch the problem in the paragraph below from John Ward Anderson's story, "Palestinians Strike Back With Rocket Attack?"

The crackdown on Hamas in the Gaza Strip came as senior officials from Israel and the Palestinian Authority continued talks with international mediators and aid groups in London over Palestinian reforms, economic assistance and reviving cease-fire negotiations to end the 29-month Palestinian uprising against continuing Israeli occupation in Gaza and the West Bank.

Although the story focuses on Israel's battle with Hamas, it states that the Palestinian uprising is against "continuing Israeli occupation in Gaza and the West Bank" when, in fact, Hamas's goal is the destruction of the Jewish state and its replacement by an Islamic one. It should be obvious to news editors that this is a major point because it casts doubt on the ability of Israelis to ever reach a peaceful accommodation with Hamas. Yet WaPo, National Public Radio and other major American media outlets make this mistake over and over again -- despite repeated efforts to bring the issue to their attention.

The point is illustrated more subtly in an NPR report yesterday by Linda Gradstein. Here's the statement from the NPR transcript:

GRADSTEIN: More and more Palestinians in Gaza say they support Hamas' resistance to the Israeli occupation.

In the eyes of Hamas, the "Israeli occupation" refers to the existence of the State of Israel. But by uncritically parroting the language of radical Palestinians, many of the major media outlets help create the false impression that Israel could have peace if only it would abandon its settlements in the West Bank and Gaza. (The above statement also should have been qualified by inserting "what they call" before "Hamas' resistance . . . .")

Here's a simple suggestion for international news-desk editors: Whenever a reporter identifies Hamas in a story, make sure that he or she notes Hamas' avowed aim of destroying Israel. Had WaPo's reporter done so in the above story, it would have been clear to the editor (and readers) that the paragraph in question had to be changed.