Until Sunday, when Israeli bombers leveled a three-story building in the tiny Lebanese village of Oana — killing at least 55 people, most of them children — the U.S. media have been anything but even-handed in covering Israel's three-week assault on southern Lebanon, a stronghold of Hezbollah.
Israel initiated a 48-hour pause in the aerial attacks, in the face of international condemnation, and later resumed its effort to cripple the military capability of rebel groups intent on destroying Israel. If the past is any indicator, the U.S. media — after its Sunday pause — will return to its mission of blaming Hezbollah and Hamas for all the strife in the Middle East.
Of course, both groups have blood on their hands, but they are not alone. Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, the media watchdog group, reported prior to Sunday's fatal assault: "… The portrayal of Israel as the innocent victim in the Gaza conflict is hard to square with the death toll in the months leading up to the current crisis; between September 2005 and June 2006, 144 Palestinians in Gaza were killed by Israeli forces, according to a list compiled by the Israeli human rights group B'tselem; 29 of those killed were children. During the same period, no Israelis were killed as a result of violence from Gaza."
But you'd never know it by reading U.S. newspapers.
"On July 24, the day before Hamas' cross-border raid," the watchdog group continued, "Israel made an incursion of its own, capturing two Palestinians that it said were members of Hamas (something Hamas denied — The Los Angeles Times, July 26). This incident received far less coverage in the U.S. media than the subsequent seizure of the Israeli solider.
The nation's three leading dailies published one-sided, overly simplistic comments on the Middle East violence.
"In the wake of the most serious outbreak of Israeli/Arab violence in years, three U.S. papers — the Washington Post, New York Times and Los Angeles Times — have each strongly editorialized that Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon were solely responsible for sparking violence and that the Israeli military response was predictable and unavoidable. These editorials ignored recent events that indicate a much more complicated situation," Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting observed.
Under the headline, "Hamas Provokes a Fight," (June 29), the New York Times editorialized that "the responsibility for this latest escalation rests squarely with Hamas" and that "Israeli military response was inevitable." In another editorial two weeks later (July 15), the Times said: "It is important to be clear about not only who is responsible for the latest outbreak, but who stands to gain most from its continued escalation. Both questions have the same answer: Hamas and Hezbollah."
The media monitoring group suggests that the fighting did not begin with the capture of two Israeli soldiers.
"While Hezbollah's capture of two Israeli soldiers may have reignited the smoldering conflict, the Israeli air campaign that followed was not a spontaneous reaction to aggression but a well-planned operation that was years in the making.
" 'Of all of Israel's wars since 1984, this was the one for which Israel was most prepared,' Gerald Steinberg, a political science professor at Israel's Bar-Ilan University, told the San Francisco Chronicle (July 21). By 2004, the military campaigned scheduled to last about three weeks that we're seeing now had already been blocked out and, in the last year or two, it's been simulated and rehearsed across the board.' "
Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting posed a sobering question: If journalists have been told by Israel for more than a year that a war was coming, why are they all pretending that it all started on July 12?
That's a good question. I wish we had some good answers.
George E. Curry is editor-in-chief of the NNPA News Service and BlackPressUSA.com.