On November 15, 2012, the Washington Post ran a front-page photo of BBC journalist Jihad Masharawi weeping openly as he carried the sheet-covered body of his 11-month-old child Omar. The photo covered four columns and was in full color. The headline: “Israeli aircraft pound Gaza.” The caption read:
Jihad Masharawi weeps as he holds the body of 11-month-old son, Ahmed, at al-Shifta hospital after an Israeli airstrike in Gaza City. The Israeli military said its assassination of Hamas’s military chief marks the beginning of an operation against Gaza-based militants.
The Washington Post website then ran a story titled “The story behind the photo: Journalist’s 11-month-old son killed in Gaza strikes.” The story gushed about the horrors of the event, complete with quotes from BBC Middle East bureau chief Paul Danahar, who suggested that the Israelis were purposefully targeting civilians. “Questioned asked here is: if Israel can kill a man riding on a moving motorbike (as they did last month),” he tweeted, “how did Jihad’s son get killed.” Danahar handed photos of the scene of the incident to the Post, which ran with them. Finally, the Post summed up by justifying Palestinian violence:
The story that these photos tell, of loss and confusion, may help inform the Palestinian reactions – and, as the photos continue to spread widely on social media, perhaps the reactions from beyond the Palestinian territories – to the between Israel and Gaza.
In other words, Palestinians’ violence against Israel is driven by the sort of thing that happened to Omar Masharawai.
Only one problem: Israel probably didn’t kill Omar. Hamas did.
According to a new report from the United Nations, in all likelihood the child was killed by a Hamas rocket that fell short. Max Fisher, the columnist who wrote the follow-on piece about Masharawi, did not respond to requests from the Washington Free Beacon asking if he would correct his story. As of late this afternoon, he had run a bare-bones update embedded in the piece. The BBC refused to issue comment, and Jihad Masharawi has gone silent.
The Post originally defended the piece back in November, when then-Post ombudsman Patrick Pexton wrote a long screed blaming Israel for the bombing and stating that the photo “told not the whole story of the Gaza conflict, no, but certainly a telling and important part of the truth.” And Pexton added:
I think we can all agree that the Gaza rocket fire is reprehensible and is aimed at terrorizing Israeli civilians. It’s disruptive and traumatic. But let’s be clear: The overwhelming majority of rockets fired from Gaza are like bee stings on the Israeli bear’s behind …. Gaza, meanwhile, is almost entirely urban and densely populated; bombs there will kill civilians no matter how precisely targeted.
This is hardly the first time the mainstream media has completely blown a story in order to attack Israel. During the Second Intifada of 2000, the New York Times printed an Associated Press photo of a man bleeding profusely, an Israeli policeman in the background shouting and wielding a club. Its caption: “An Israeli policeman and a Palestinian on the Temple Mount.” But the bleeding youth was a Jewish student beaten nearly to death by Arabs, and saved by the policeman.
That same year, French television accused Israel of shooting and killing Muhammad al-Durrah in the Gaza Strip. As it turns out, al-Durrah may not have been killed at all, and if he was, was most certainly killed by Palestininans. Nonetheless, the story became international news, and was used by terrorists as a backdrop to the murder of Daniel Pearl.
Such malicious reporting has become a hallmark of the anti-Israel press. During virtually every conflict, false stories are carried by the mainstream press suggesting outsized Israeli atrocities. It’s typical that the Washington Post ran with such an unequivocal report in the first place, and that they then went silent, when just months ago they were cheerleading for Hamas sympathizers based on a lie.
UPDATE: Late on Monday evening, Fisher posted a story about his initial coverage of the Masharawi incident. First, he claims that the “question of which ‘side’ bears responsibility for Mishrawi’s death is of course important, if at the moment not fully known, in its own right.” But then he proceeds to explain that it doesn’t really matter, since knowing the source of the ordinance that killed Omar Masharawi won’t solve the problem of peace in the Middle East:
Both sides, of course, were arguing about more than just the fate of this one boy. They were, and are now, continuing the same argument about blame, responsibility and victimhood that has run parallel to the Israel-Palestine conflict for years. Omar Mishrawi’s death and his photo, like so many incidents before it, are treated as a microcosm of the much larger conflict that took his life. But, as I wrote in November when reports suggested that an Israeli strike had killed Mishrawi, does knowing which military’s errant round happened to have landed on this civilian home really determine the larger narrative of one of the world’s thorniest and most complicated conflicts? 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? …. [T]hese 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.
This directly contradicts the words of the former Post ombudsman, who clearly attempted to turn the entire photo incident into a microcosm of the Israel-Hamas conflict. In fact, the title of his piece was “Photo of dead baby in Gaza holds part of the ‘truth.'” The opening of his piece:
A photograph may be worth a thousand words, but even at its most revealing it never tells an entire story. It is the capture of a single moment, a split-second version of the truth. But if it is an effective photograph, it moves the viewer toward a larger truth.
The Post treated the photograph as the best distillation of the conflict available. That was a lie. Now they’re trying to downplay the whole incident. But of course, nobody asked that the supposedly-objective Post solve the problem of Middle East peace. One thing is certain: falsely reporting Israeli atrocities is no way to promote that peace under any circumstances.
Ben Shapiro is Editor-At-Large of Breitbart News and author of the book “Bullies: How the Left’s Culture of Fear and Intimidation Silences America” (Threshold Editions, January 8, 2013).