With Redskins-mania gripping the town, I suppose it doesn't much matter what I write today; nobody is going to read it anyway. So it is probably safe for me to discuss at long last The Post's news coverage of Israel.
Complaints from subscribers about this newspaper's reporting from the Middle East have been accelerating the past couple of weeks, keeping pace with increasing civilian unrest on the West Bank and the Israeli army's efforts to keep things under control.
The reader protests reached their peak last week with the front-page report by Post correspondent Glenn Frankel of a press conference called by the general in charge of the Israeli forces on the occupied West Bank.
The headline, stretching across half the page, read: "Israeli Finds Riot Duty Troubling. 'I Don't Feel So Well When I Wake Up in the Morning, General Says.' " The headline accurately reflected the main thrust of the story.
That same day The New York Times carried the general's remarks not on the front page, but on Page 8, and the headline suggested The Times correspondent had attended a different press conference. It read: "Israeli General Describes Charges of Brutal Beating as 'Just Stories.' "
Actually, the two reports did not contradict each other. The Times article contained exactly the same quotation about the general's morning malaise, but it was near the end of the story. The Post reporter also detailed the general's observations about exaggerated stories of brutality, but most of them were at the tail end.
Who was right? It is a matter of news judgment and honest differences. All I can say is that I've known a lot of generals, and this is the first time I've ever heard of a commanding flag-rank officer worrying out loud to reporters about his inner travail over the call of duty to crush civil unrest. It speaks well of the Israeli general. The story belonged on the front page.
I have not always agreed in the past with Post editors about the prominent positioning of Israeli stories, and one in particular comes to mind. It was a story on Page 1 of the alleged torture of a prisoner of the Israeli army, based on an interview with the man when he arrived in the United States. There was no corroborating evidence. It was simply the alleged victim's account of what had happened, unsubstantiated. When I protested the front-page display, I was informed that State Department officials had advised The Post they had reason to believe the story was true. But there was nothing in the story to suggest the State Department was behind it. There is no reason in the world why readers should accept this "trust me" type of journalism, as columnist James Kilpatrick is wont to say. The editors showed poor judgment.
But I cannot find any ground for legitimate complaint about The Post's West Bank news coverage. Interestingly, no one has charged inaccuracy. The callers have all demanded to know why The Post holds the spotlight so relentlessly on the activities of the Israeli army when it is in the act of containing rioting Arabs.
One reader expressed vehement displeasure at what he called discrimination -- front-paging a report of Israeli soldiers killing a single Arab protester but relegating to Page 27 a one-inch story about Brazilian police murdering more than 100 protesting gold miners. Good point, but it doesn't stand up under dispassionate analysis. In Brazil, the police were killing their own; the Israelis are an occupying force. Furthermore, what happens in Israel and the surrounding territory can set the world aflame, which makes every act of violence, regardless of who commits it, a candidate for Page 1.
This same caller was exasperated with my argument. He said he'd canceled his subscription to The Post three months ago because of its biased coverage of events in Israel.
So how was he able to be so well informed on The Post's distortion of happenings in Israel if he'd canceled his subscription? "Oh, I pick up my copy of The Post every morning at Peoples," he said. "This way, you never know from one day to the next whether I'm going to buy your lousy newspaper."