Does this sound familiar?
"A review of the coverage (of Lebanon) by the major U.S. daily newspapers reveals a consistent ---------- bias. The most important, but also the most subtle, manner in which the press demonstrates its favor . . . is through the daily editorial decision-making process . . . from the choice of words for headlines, the selection and placement of war-related photographs, the phrasing of editorials . . . opinion essays . . . letters . . . political cartoons."
It's not a written bill of particulars from the B'nai B'rith Anti-Defamation League. It is nothing less, though, from the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. So, write "pro-Israeli" in the blank before "bias."
The finding is the result of a survey that arrived here only recently by Eric Hooglund, director of research at AAADC, begun just prior to Israel's invasion of Lebanon through the end of July. While it does not cover the departure of PLO units, the assassination of President-elect Bashir Gemayel or the refugee camp massacres, Mr. Hooglund maintains that AAADC's conclusions are the same today.
The symmetry of the charges with those heard from this area's Jewish community is striking. The statement, "The pro-Israeli attitude of the top echelons . .. encourages and legitimatizes an anti-Arab bias at all levels of the press," has been used almost verbatim by Jewish critics to make the reverse argument. The AAADC identifies most prominently The Post, Baltimore Sun, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times.
This 10-page report expands its conclusions under headings: "Accepting the Israeli line"; "Dehumanizing the Palestinians"; "Downplaying Israeli Destruction." Where news pages are cited, the emphasis is on headlines. For the most part, editorials and opinion columns are invoked to argue the case. The press's "biased coverage of events such as the current war must be considered a public disservice," is the summary note.
The document puts in writing what this paper and the others have heard increasingly from its Arab-American communities. It amounts now to both sides wanting to hang the herald.
Regularly in greater volume, often times more strident, always better organized are the denunciations in the Jewish community. Recently, The Post was pilloried in several synagogues. At one, individual editors and reporters were censured. At another on Yom Kippur, according to one who was present, it was asserted that Jews had three foreign policies to contend with: Israeli's, the U.S. government's and The Washington Post's. Will this kind of thing arise now in the mosques?
One might understand cynical editors saying, "We must be doing our job." Post Executive Editor Ben Bradlee took a different tack recently by inviting Michael Berenbaum, executive director of the Jewish Community Council of Greater Washington to observe the paper's news operations from inside. The invitation grew out of a meeting several weeks ago with the council president, Nathan Lewin, Mr. Berenbaum and Hyman Bookbinder, area representative of the American Jewish Committee.
Mr. Berenbaum spent most of the week he was here at the foreign desk. Two conditions were attached: he could not comment on the paper's content until it "was on the street," nor write about his experience upon leaving. On the second, Mr. Berenbaum says he assumes that doesn't mean "for eternity." I don't know what his conclusions are.
I believe this was a worthwhile decision; irregular, yes, but so is the shelling newspapers are taking. Meantime, other publications are bemused, and the newsroom here isn't much for it, although assistant managing editor for foreign news, Jim Hoagland, modified his initial reaction that "it was an awful idea."
Some see it as an acknowledgment of vulnerability; others as opening a way for "lobbying the process." These are not dismissable points. Still, it's interesting that those whose business is probing tighten up instinctively at the thought of someone auditing their course. As they often tell government, if you're playing it straight, there's nothing to fear and something to gain from those with conspiracy on the mind. I don't see that sources or methods were jeopardized any more than with routine visitors and part- time interns, as Mr. Bradlee maintains.
Would he do it again? It's not anticipated, but one thing at a time is as far as he will go.