In response to the Washington Post ombudsman’s comparison of Hamas missiles to “bee stings” the other day, Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren took the media to task in WaPo’s opinion section this morning. Oren doesn’t single out ombud Patrick Pexton directly, but it’s clearly implied:
Media naturally gravitate toward dramatic and highly visual stories. Reports of 5.5 million Israelis gathered nightly in bomb shelters scarcely compete with the Palestinian father interviewed after losing his son. Both are, of course, newsworthy, but the first tells a more complete story while the second stirs emotions.
This is precisely what Hamas wants. It seeks to instill a visceral disgust for any Israeli act of self-defense, even one taken after years of unprovoked aggression.
Hamas strives to replace the tens of thousands of phone calls and text messages Israel sent to Palestinian civilians, warning them to leave combat zones, with lurid images of Palestinian suffering. If Hamas cannot win the war, it wants to win the story of the war. …
Like Americans, we cherish a free press, but unlike the terrorists, we are not looking for headlines. Our hope is that media resist the temptation to give them what they want.
As Oren writes, this is exactly the kind of coverage that benefits Hamas, and the frustrating part is many journalists don’t seem to have a problem with it. Israel has the right to use force to defend its own people from attacks, but media figures like Pexton act as if any response is out-of-bounds simply because Israel has a strong military.
To give an analogy, there are no reliable estimates of Taliban and insurgent casualties in Afghanistan, but the numbers are obviously much larger than the number of fallen NATO forces. Add in the number of Afghan civilian casualties (the majority of them killed by the Taliban and its allies) and that would greatly outweigh the number of NATO fatalities. The Taliban also fights with unsophisticated weapons, improvised explosive devices and Soviet-era rifles, and limited training. Often the Taliban blows up its own fighters while setting up IEDs; in some cases they fail to go off or are detected. Meanwhile, the U.S. has the greatest military the world has ever seen. Not only do NATO troops have access to far superior weapons and training, but billions are spent on counter-IED efforts and protective gear.
Yet serious journalists don’t contrast the number of NATO fatalities with the number of insurgency fatalities (or lump in Afghan civilian deaths with Taliban deaths) without putting it in proper context. They don’t compare the Taliban’s IEDs and small-arms attacks — which have caused horrific NATO casualties — to “bee stings on a bear’s behind.” They don’t describe U.S. defense against insurgency attacks as “disproportionate,” or set it up as a David v. Goliath scenario.
Hamas is as much a terrorist group as the Taliban, but they are not treated that way by a large portion of the media. As Oren argues, this type of coverage will only encourage more violence from Hamas, not less.