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October 27, 2008

Two paragraphs of trouble in The Washington Post

News briefs are by definition short items. But they can include large errors.

Take The Washington Post’s October 15 brief, “Syria: Lebanon Ties Restored.? The headline reads “Ties Restored,? when Syria and Lebanon never previously had diplomatic relations. Syrian political analyst Sami Moubayad, among others, has pointed out that since 1932 Damascus has viewed its tiny western neighbor as rightfully part of Syria. The headline should have read “Syria Finally Establishes Ties with Lebanon.?

The brief also asserted that “relations between the two Arab nations have been lopsided since the 1970s, when Syria sent its army into Lebanon and retained control for nearly thirty years.?Syria didn’t just “retain control,? it occupied Lebanon, infiltrated its military and security services, illegally arrested and deported Lebanese citizens and imprisoned them in Syria, and reportedly arranged the assassination of numerous Lebanese opposition figures.

The Post brief states that “ties unraveled when former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri was killed in a 2005 car bombing that many Lebanese blame on Syria.? Ties did not unravel, Syria’s military occupation did, in the face of mammoth Lebanese protests and international diplomatic pressure including a U.N. investigation that pointed to high-level Syrian culpability in Hariri’s murder.

The Post’s short item did not mention why Syria might be willing, suddenly, to recognize Lebanon. The Washington Times, running as a full article the wire service material apparently briefed by The Post, reported that “some observers say that Syria is more comfortable dealing with Lebanon now that its ally Hezbollah has gained veto power in a unity government that was formed in July? and now has “a president sympathetic to Syria.?

The day The Post carried its inadequate, even misleading brief on Lebanese-Syrian relations, The New York Times published a full-length article headlined “Up North, Hothouse of Tensions in Lebanon.? It reported that Syria and its radical Lebanese allies were trying to create an atmosphere of fear by engaging in terrorism ahead of parliamentary elections. According to The New York Times, though Syria withdrew its soldiers in 2005, it still retains armed allies in Lebanon among the Alawites, Lebanese security forces, and Hezbollah.

Post readers did catch up some when the paper ran, as a lead October 22 World News section article, “Lebanese City’s Strife Reflects 2 Conflicts; Tripoli Rocked by Internal Rifts and Mideast Proxy War.? Special correspondent Alia Ibrahim reported that Tripoli’s intermittent fight between Sunnis and Alawites “is fueled by Lebanon’s internal divisions and a slow-burning proxy war that involves Iran, Saudi Arabia and Syria.? Interesting and informative — though Syria is described gently as Lebanon’s “often meddlesome neighbor? and the Hariri and other recent assassination are not mentioned. In any case, a week after New York Times coverage. RS

Posted by ER at October 27, 2008 03:51 PM


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