WaPo's farewell to objective journalism

The Washington Post’s July 9 headline is splashed in big type across the entire page A6: “Dueling views after a Palestinian teen is killed.”

As the dispatch by correspondent William Booth starts off, readers are assured that both sides will be treated equally and fairly in relating this incident.  As “dueling views” suggests.

“About two things, almost everyone agrees,” Booth writes in his lead.  “A Palestinian teenager threw rocks at an Israeli army vehicle near the main military checkpoint in the West Bank city of Ramallah last Friday. And a senior Israeli army commander got out of his jeep and fatally shot the teen, making him the third son in his family to die in clashes with Israeli soldiers. The Israeli military said the officer feared for his life; Palestinians say the teen was fleeing when he was gunned down.”

So far, Booth hews to objective one-said-the-other-said parallelism.  Sadly, it doesn’t last long.

Booth is not content to let both parties have their say.  He can’t resist a trifecta – not just a balance of Palestinian and Israeli views, but Booth’s own opinion and judgment also are tossed in the pot.  And when he does this, he tilts the article in favor of the Palestinian side.

As in the fourth paragraph, as Booth opines that Palestinian rock-throwers “rarely pose a serious threat to soldiers in helmets and protective gear.”  Score a big one for the Palestinian side as Booth dismisses the lethality of Palestinian rock-throwing barrages.

Or when Booth draws his own conclusion about the wider impact of Palestinian rock-throwers.  As in his eleventh paragraph, when he lets us in on his personal view about the killing of Mohammed al-Kasbah: “The shooting of Kasbah is the latest reminder of how the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, now in its 48th year, continues to take lives and leave scars.”  Goodbye, objective journalism.  Booth is feeding readers pro-Palestinian propaganda, pure and simple.  No mention of Palestinian terrorism.  It’s Israel – and Israel alone – that is responsible for the conflict, according to Booth.  Goodbye to the supposedly balanced “dueling views” promised by the headline.

To telegraph his own views, Booth ends his article with a heart-tugging coda, uncritically quoting the Palestinian teen’s father: “You ask me why this happened to my family? I will tell you. The reason is that we live in this camp. All we have known is jail, jail, jail. If we were still living in my home village, none of this would ever have happened.”

There’s another way to gauge the fairness – of lack thereof – of Booth’s piece.  His article, along with two photographs of demonstrating Palestinians, spares no ink.  But quantitatively, it’s hugely unbalanced – 18 paragraphs for the Palestinian side, 7 paragraphs for the Israeli side.

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