Monday, March 11, 2013

WaPo's Max Fisher gets it wrong

The Washington Post was one of the major media outlets, along with the BBC, that gave extensive coverage to the death of Omar Mishrawi, blaming it on Israel.

Now that the evidence that the boy was killed by Hamas has come out, WaPo's Max Fisher tries to contextualize the incident. 

His contextualization is the problem.
A conflict in which two armed groups exchange fire across a populated area is probably bound to kill civilians. So why the heated debate, still ongoing, over whose army inadvertently killed an 11-month-old infant who was the enemy of neither?

Both sides, of course, were arguing about more than just the fate of this one boy. They were, and are now, continuing the same argument about blame, responsibility and victimhood that has run parallel to the Israel-Palestine conflict for years. Omar Mishrawi’s death and his photo, like so many incidents before it, are treated as a microcosm of the much larger conflict that took his life. But, as I wrote in November when reports suggested that an Israeli strike had killed Mishrawi, does knowing which military’s errant round happened to have landed on this civilian home really determine the larger narrative of one of the world’s thorniest and most complicated conflicts? Does assigning blame for Mishrawi’s tragic death, awful as it may be, offer us any real insight into who holds the blame for 60 years of fighting? And is partitioning blame really going to serve either side particularly well?

It’s difficult to see how knowing whose rocket or missile killed Mishrawi would resolve the larger questions for which that debate is a proxy: responsibility for continuing the long-term conflict, for sparking the latest round of fighting in November, and for the Israeli and Palestinian civilians who suffer as a result. But these are notoriously thorny debates. As with so many protracted geopolitical conflicts, neither side comes out looking as angelic or demonic as its partisans might wish. In many ways, something as isolated as a single photo of a wounded or killed child offers a purer, cleaner, lower-risk way to talk about issues too messy to engage with directly. They’re a great way to win arguments, but not necessarily to end them.
No, Max. The importance of Omar Mishrawi's death isn't that it is a microcosm of the conflict.

The importance is that the world's major news media organizations completely and thoroughly screwed up.

Nearly all of them stated, as fact or near-fact, that an Israeli missile killed baby Omar. The BBC even returned to the scene, without any experts in military explosives, and "verified" that the son of their colleague was killed by Israel.

And they were, as we see, wrong.

Fisher says, perhaps referring to me:
[S]ome observers sympathetic to the Israeli strikes pointed out, with what may have been prescience, that Hamas rockets often miss and might have landed on Mishrawi’s house.
Forgetting the odd phrase "sympathetic to the Israeli strikes," what Fisher is glossing over is that those observers knew something that the world's media didn't and should have.

It doesn't take a prophet to know that many of the rockets from Gaza have always landed inside Gaza. In fact, right before the outset of Cast Lead, when Hamas declared its own operation Oil Stain, two Gaza girls were killed by a Qassam rocket. It was reported by Reuters.

That was hardly an isolated incident, although the world media ignored the many injuries and damaged houses that Gaza rockets inflicted on Gaza.

The problem, that Fisher is trying to deflect, is that the reporters from his newspaper and all the other media purposefully ignored this fact that bloggers like me knew very well. They assumed that any civilian killed in Gaza must have been killed by Israel. Any other thought did not even cross their minds.

That is why this story is so popular on social media. It has nothing to do with this case being being a microcosm of the conflict. It is entirely about people being sick of being lied to by an arrogant media. It is about the fact that the supposed expert reporters on Gaza didn't consider a simple fact about Qassam rockets that they should have known intimately. It is because they were too lazy to think critically - which is their job.

After years of seeing that Palestinian Arab spokespeople routinely lie, that they try to manipulate the media, that they would never admit any mistake on their side - and after years of seeing that practically every time the Israeli side of the story ends up being proven correct - the media still reflexively blames Israel, time and time again, for things that aren't Israel's fault.

It doesn't take prescience to know this. It takes simple observation.

This is why this story strikes a chord, Max - because the media dropped the ball, in a way that it has dropped it countless times beforehand. Sadly, instead of learning that lesson, you are engaging in a magician's redirection trick to take the focus away from the truth.

And that is why people are upset over this story.