WaPo and NYT Blame Israel for Syrian Aggression

In its March 20 edition, the Washington Post runs the following headline on page A10:  “New Tensions after Israeli planes hit three Syrian army positions on Golan Heights.”  In a similar vein, the New York Times headline on page A6 reads as follows:  “Israeli Strikes on Syrian Army Sites Raise Concern About Entanglement.”

Readers who scan only headlines -- and they are legion -- are left with the distinct impression that Israel is stirring trouble and violence along the Syrian border.  It’s a false impression, of course. As is actually made clear in the body of the actual articles.

At the Post, the lead paragraph of correspondents Ruth Eglash and Liz Sly inform readers that  Israeli warplanes attacked Syrian military positions “in retaliation for a bombing the previous day” And they elaborate in the third paragraph that the Israeli raid was a “response to a bombing along the line Tuesday that injured four Israeli soldiers.”

The article makes clears what the headline does not -- that  Syrian bombing that injured four Israeli soldiers prompted retaliatory action by Israel.  The “tensions” mentioned in the headline were triggered by Syrian aggression -- not by Israeli counterstrikes.

Ditto at the New York Times, where correspondent Isabel Kershner leads off by telling readers that Israeli airstrikes against Syrian military positions came “as a specific response to a bomb attack against Israeli forces along the frontier a day earlier.”

In both instances -- at the Times and at the Post -- the headlines were seriously misleading in blaming Israel for Syrian aggression, when the articles actually make it clear that it  was the other way around.  First, the Syrian bombing; then the Israeli response.

It’s not that the headline writers were squeezed by not having sufficient space to get it straight.  At both papers, the headlines run across the entire width of the page.

To make matters worse, erroneous information stemming from a slanted headline is compounded at the Post in the 12th paragraph of the Eglash-Sly dispatch, which tells readers that Wednesday’s Israeli airstrikes “raised tensions directly between Tel Aviv and Damascus“ -- a double fault.

It wasn’t Israel that raised tensions, as Eglash and Sly themselves acknowledge at the top of their article.  And if tensions were raised, it was between “Jerusalem and Damascus” -- not between “Tel Aviv and Damascus,” as Eglash and Sly put it.

The capital of Israel is Jerusalem -- not Tel Aviv.  That’s why the Post’s Israel bureau is located in Jerusalem.  That’s why Eglash and Sly use as their dateline Jerusalem -- not Tel Aviv, which has no pretense or credentials for being called the capital of Israel.

Leo Rennert is a former White House correspondent and Washington bureau chief of McClatchy Newspapers

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