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August 10, 2010
WaPo credulously reports Hezb'allah line
After former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri was killed by a truck bomb five years ago, the United Nations set up a tribunal to bring the culprits to justice. After exhaustive investigations by UN prosecutors, it soon became clear that Syria and Hezb'allah -- seeking to bolster their control of Lebanon -- were behind Hariri's murder. In recent weeks, there have been a spate of reports that the tribunal is on the verge of indicting some Hezb'allah officials and operatives.
Sensing that the UN probe was closing in on Hezb'allah, the terror group and Syria launched a campaign to derail the indictments -- with not so subtle hints that if the UN tribunal insisted on fulfilling its mandate, Lebanon again might be plunged into a sectarian civil war.
It's against this background that Janine Zacharia, the Washington Post's Jerusalem correspondent, traveled to Beirut, supposedly to update readers on the latest developments, including a speech by Hezb'allah leader Hasan Nasrallah intended to deflect complicity by his organization.
But as it turns out, Zacharia ends up being bamboozled by Nasrallah. She reports, at face value and unrebutted, his attempts to shift the blame to Israel, while she goes downright gaga over the Hezb'allah leader ("Lebanon crisis feared as key indictments near" Aug. 10, page A7).
"In an elaborate two-hour live presentation broadcast from his hiding place," Zacharia writes, "Nasrallah, in lawyer's style, tried to build a case showing how Israel could have been behind Hariri's assassination.
Continuing in similar smitten fashion, she adds: "With dramatic flair, Nasrallah spliced his argument with video clips of Lebanese spies confessing they had worked for Israel." and he also wondered why the UN had failed to question them.
Nasrallah, she reports, also "showed what he claimed was intercepted Israeli surveillance footage from an unmanned aerial vehicle of Hariri's travel routes." Which leads Nasrallah to conclude that the videos were made in preparation for an operation. In addition, Nasrallah also "claimed that Israeli warplanes flew over the site where Hariri's convoy was attacked and that an Israeli spy was present at the Hariri crime scene."
And why would Israel kill Hariri ? The Hezb'allah leader, Zacharia dutifully reports, argues that Israel wanted to kill him so it could blame Hezb'allah.
But why would Nasrallah wait until now before airing his "evidence"? Zacharia again obliges and buttresses Nasrallah's transparently phony alibi: "Hezb'allah did not trust the UN investigators and would not share its findings with them."
What is remarkable about Zacharia's dispatch from Beirut -- aside from the adulatory hype ("dramatic flair," "lawyer's style," "elaborate two-hour live presentation form his hiding place") -- is that she fails to provide Post readers any rebuttal and/or denial by Israel. Basic journalistic ethics require that if you're going to print accusations against a person or a government, it behooves reporters and editors to make sure that the accused party gets a chance to respond before the presses start running. Murdering Hariri is a pretty serious charge against Israel, yet there's not a word about Israel's response in Zacharia's dispatch. Nasrallah has the floor all to himself.
Nor did it sink in to Zacharia and the Post that terrorist organizations like Hezb'allah habitually use lies as a basic weapon in their arsenal. Given the progress made by UN investigators in tracing the real culprits, Nasrallah's fictional charges are doubly laughable and don't stand up to even cursory scrutiny. . They're patent fabrications, which most media understandably shrugged off. But not Zacharaia and the Post, who instead treat them as serious news and even spice them up a bit.
Even the New York Times, with its well-known anti-Israel proclivities, allotted Nasrallah a single paragraph at the bottom of its "World Briefing" summary. And unlike the Post, the Times coupled Nasrallah's speech with an Israeli response dismissing his allegations as "simply ridiculous."
As to Zacharia's entire story from Beirut, she again plays into Hezb'allah's tactics by dwelling on warnings from Arab and other regional leaders that a UN indictment of Hezb'allah would plunge Lebanon into chaos.
"The choice for the international community," she opines, "is between stability in Lebanon and justice for Hariri." Given the entire tenor of her article. she clearly prefers the former (as attested by the "Lebanon crisis feared" headline).
The irony, of course, is that the Post has never shied away at home from pursuing and exposing miscreants at the highest levels (see Watergate) -- whether or not such exposure threatened domestic stability or security.
Yet, in the Middle East, the Post abandons its vaunted investigative zeal (the paper has been AWOL in tracking leads and clues of Harriri's assassination to Syria and Hezb'allah), and when it finally weighs in, it abets a terror organization's cover-up of its crimes.
Somewhere, Richard Nixon must be chortling.