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Jihad passes muster at the Post

I wrote about the photograph of BBC Arabic editor Jihad Masharawi holding the shrouded body of his 11-month-old son in posts here, here and here. The photograph depicted Masharawi outside Shifa Hospital in Gaza City. The young Masharawi’s death was attributed to an Israeli air strike.

The photograph went viral on the second day of the conflict between Hamas and Israel, being featured on the Web and in newspapers around the world. One such was the Washington Post, which ran it on page one. The photo is below.

Washington Post ombdudsman Patrick Pexton devoted a column to complaints about the photograph. Paul Mirengoff has explicated the manifest animus in Pexton’s column. Here is the opening of the column:

A photograph may be worth a thousand words, but even at its most revealing it never tells an entire story. It is the capture of a single moment, a split-second version of the truth. But if it is an effective photograph, it moves the viewer toward a larger truth.

That’s certainly the case for a front-page photograph published Nov. 15, an image of a man’s anguish as he held the shrouded body of his 11-month-old son, who was killed in a bomb strike on the man’s house in Gaza.

That the man is Palestinian — not a terrorist but a journalist — and that the bomb was dropped by Israelis, to my mind, is almost beside the point. This photo depicted loss and pain, the horrific cost to innocents on both sides of the violence in the Middle East.

“When we looked at the selection that night of Middle East photos from the wire services, this photo got everyone in the gut,” Golon said. “It went straight to the heart, this sobbing man who just lost his baby son.”

Post staff then authenticated and verified the facts behind the Associated Press photo. The dead baby was real. The bombing was real.

I believe that everything Pexton asserts directly or indirectly as a matter of fact is wrong. When a major newspaper ombudsman is this utterly clueless, who ya gonna call? Not Ghostbusters. Power Line, I guess.

Paul Danahar is the BBC Middle East Bureau Chief and Masharawi’s colleague. He spent much of the day at Masharawi’s house on the day on the day Masharawi’s son was killed, tweeting a photo of the hole in the roof of Masharawi’s house. The house wasn’t bombed. There is no way Pexton’s Post colleagues verified that Israelis bombed Masharawi’s house. Pexton is in fantasy land on this point. In his Twitter feed, Danahar describes the munition that did the damage as a “shell.”

I tweeted Danahar to ask him on what basis he identified the munition as Israeli. I doubt that it was. I think it is more likely to have been a Hamas rocket that failed to hit its intended target in Israel. (As I recall, something like 10 percent of the Hamas rockets landed in Gaza.) Danahar failed to respond to my tweet.

I have also asked Israeli spokesmen including Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren about the incident. Ambassador Oren was aware of the incident — working in Washington, he could hardly have missed the hard copy of the Post’s handiwork — but he would only say that the incident is under investigation.

Everything about the photograph looks like Gaza Terrorist Theater to me. Is Masharawi sobbing? His face doesn’t even look like he has shed tears. Masharawi looks like he’s enacting grief. I understand that Masharawi in fact lost his son as a result of the munition that hit his house, but I find the photo odd (as I do the other photos in the series of Masharawi parading around for the cameras).

Pexton is apparently unfamiliar with the phenomenon of Terrorist Theater. If you know him, please send him a copy of the Weekly Standard article “He didn’t give at the office.” The article demonstrates how news service stringers in Gaza work as an arm of the terrorist authorities on whom they purport to report. By the way, the staged photos of Arafat that I wrote about in the Standard article were the work of an AP stringer. The photo of Masharawi that the Post ran is credited to the AP.

Terrorist Theater is a function of the malign authority wielded by terrorist forces in the areas where they hold sway. Gaza is of course under the thumb of Hamas, one such terrorist power. Mr. Pexton, do you think the gentlemen of Hamas support a free press? If so, would you please ask one of your Post colleagues to follow up with an interview of the Hamas “Prime Minister” on the subject of Hamas rockets that killed Arabs in Gaza during the conflict? You all might learn something.

The death of Masharawi’s son is a tragedy. My condolences to Masharawi on the loss of his son. I would only say that at this point we don’t know what happened or who is responsible for the death, and it would be prudent to keep an open mind.

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