It was a moment worth remembering and relishing. Here was the State Department with its vaunted Arabist leanings declaring, without equivocation or qualification, that Israel was the victim of Lebanese cross-border aggression when IDF troops were fired upon by the Lebanese Army while operating legitimately on their side of the border.
Here's how Assistant Secretary of State Philip J. Crowley put it at his Aug. 4 briefing for diplomatic correspondents:
"The firing by Lebanese Armed Forces was wholly unjustified and unwarranted. We don't want to see it happen again. We don't want to see a repeat of this."
Crowley went on to explain that he was making his statement, on the record and even before he could be questioned by reporters, because the U.S. had made a careful examination of all available evidence, including an earlier report from UN peacekeepers in southern Lebanon that the IDF had not breached the border and that it was the Lebanese Army that fired first.
Nothing wishy-washy for a change from Foggy Bottom. A simple, direct, declarative statement about what happened, which completely refuted Lebanon's lying propaganda that it had responded to Israeli aggression.
Yet, in their Aug. 5 editions, the New York Times and the Washington Post totally ignored the Obama administration's official, on-the-record endorsement of Israel's version of the exchange of fire, which claimed the lives of an Israeli commander, two Lebanese soldiers, and a Hezbollah journalist..
The Times instead led off with the UN verdict "U.N. Backs Israel Account of Border Clash," page A8), but blacked out Crowley's on-the-record U.S. confirmation of the UN findings. Instead, in Paragraph 17 of a 19-paragraph article, it recycled a much softer, day-earlier item that "a senior American official said the Lebanese military appeared to have been responsible for starting the gunfire."
That's not nearly good enough. For one thing, readers rightly tend to be skeptical about unidentified sources. And for another, Crowley did not hedge in his statement that it "appeared" that the Lebanese Army fired first. Crowley declared that the Lebanese fired first. Period. There was a time when editors put more weight on on-the-record statements than on reporting based unidentified sources. But that dictum obviously is no longer operative at the Times.
The Washington Post performed even more badly. Besides completely ignoring Crowley's statements, Janine Zacharia, the Post's Jerusalem correspondent, didn't even bother to lead with the UN's backing of Israel's version.
Instead, she somehow found it more newsworthy to lead off with the commander of UN peacekeepers in Lebanon holding a meeting with Lebanese and Israeli representatives to prevent further escalation (U.N. tries to reduce Israel-Lebanon tension" page A8).
The UN's confirmation that Israeli troops were operating within Israeli territory was relegated to a second sentence in her next paragraph. Nothing, of course, about Lebanese generals admitting that their soldiers had fired under orders and deserved praise as "heroes." And not a peep from the Post about Crowley's press-briefing statement about the administration's own conclusions.
Nor did the Post and the Times inform their readers that the same Lebanese Army, which staged this lethal ambush, received $400 million last year from the Obama administration for procurement of weapons. Some reporters at Crowley's briefing zeroed on this issue, raising questions about the spectacle of a U.S.-equipped army firing on Israel, an American ally. But evidently not the Times or the Post.
When Israel happens to be on the right side of events,that apparently does not rise to the level of "all the news that's fit to print."