Accuracy in Media

I lost count of the number of stories the Washington Post ran about Senator George Allen singling out a Jim Webb campaign operative with what was said to be a derogatory statement. Allen has been forced to repeatedly apologize, even though the meaning of the term he used, “macaca,” is still a mystery to most people. It doesn’t matter, however. If it can be twisted to cause problems for a Republican, the Post motto is full speed ahead. 

Post reporters, on the other hand, never have to apologize, even when they smear an entire nation and its government by making false and anonymous charges.

Consider senior Pentagon Post reporter Thomas Ricks, author of a much-publicized book on the Iraq War, Fiasco. He is said to have produced a searing indictment of the Bush Administration’s conduct of the war. But Ricks, a Pulitzer Prize-winner, gave a live television interview about the war in Lebanon and let the viewers in on his questionable method of doing business. It was not pretty. In fact, it was much worse than calling somebody “macaca,” whatever that may mean. 

Ricks claimed, without citing any specific evidence at all, that Israel had deliberately allowed Hezbollah to kill its own citizens.

Ricks made the comment weeks ago on CNN’s Reliable Sources program, hosted by Howard Kurtz of the Post. Here’s the exchange:

KURTZ: Tom Ricks, you’ve covered a number of military conflicts, including Iraq, as I just mentioned. Is civilian casualties increasingly going to be a major media issue? In conflicts where you don’t have two standing armies shooting at each other?

THOMAS RICKS, REPORTER, “THE WASHINGTON POST”: I think it will be. But I think civilian casualties are also part of the battlefield play for both sides here. One of the things that is going on, according to some U.S. military analysts, is that Israel purposely has left pockets of Hezbollah rockets in Lebanon, because as long as they’re being rocketed, they can continue to have a sort of moral equivalency in their operations in Lebanon.

KURTZ: Hold on, you’re suggesting that Israel has deliberately allowed Hezbollah to retain some of its fire power, essentially for PR purposes, because having Israeli civilians killed helps them in the public relations war here?

RICKS: Yes, that’s what military analysts have told me.

KURTZ: That’s an extraordinary testament to the notion that having people on your own side killed actually works to your benefit in that nobody wants to see your own citizens killed but it works to your benefit in terms of the battle of perceptions here.

RICKS: Exactly. It helps you with the moral high ground problem, because you know your operations in Lebanon are going to be killing civilians as well.

The Post was questioned about these comments by the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA), which said, “One wonders who these ‘military analysts’ are and why they have apparently not gone on the record. And why has Ricks so far not written the story in the Post? Can it be that his claims are too much even for the Washington Post to publish?”

In response, Leonard Downie, the Post’s executive editor, said: “I have made clear to Tom Ricks that he should not have made those statements.” 

Should not have made those statements? That’s obviously the case. What about apologizing to the nation of Israel?

Ricks did not back away from them when he told The New York Sun, “The comments were accurate: that I said I had been told this by people. I wish I hadn’t said them, and I intend from now on to keep my mouth shut about it.” Later, however, he told ombudsman Deborah Howell that he really didn’t have any proof that such a “strategy” had been carried out by Israel.

Ricks is in deep “macaca.” But he’ll never receive the George Allen treatment. That’s one of the benefits of being a Post reporter.

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