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July 26, 2012

Sheik Challenges Hezbollah, Some News Fit to Print

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Sheik Ahmad Assir gets a trim. (Photo: Reuters)

A previously little-known Sunni religious leader in Lebanon made headlines in The Washington Post and Washington Times for public denunciations of the Shi’ite Hezbollah (“Party of God”), the terrorist organization that also is the country’s most influential political movement.

Washington Post readers got the story first. Washington Times readers got it more precisely. The Post relied on one of its own correspondents, The Times on Associated Press.

The Post reported the rise of Sunni critics of the Iranian-backed, Syrian-supported Hezbollah, most vociferously Sheik Ahmad Assir, a hard-line mosque preacher (“In Lebanon, cleric turns rabble-rouser” July 11).

The Times’ AP dispatch quoted Assir as declaring that his small roadside encampment near Sidon “is the start of what will become Lebanon’s Tahrir Square” in rebellion against Hezbollah dominance, but its publication trailed The Post by two weeks (“Sheik Challenges Hezbollah” July 25).

Though late, The Times' AP account was the more straightforward, its details of Lebanon’s sectarian tensions, emerging anti-Shi’ite opposition groups, and the vulnerabilities of a Hezbollah dependent on Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad’s endangered regime somewhat clearer. It included historical context of the Hezbollah/Shi’ite suppression of other Lebanese groups not found in The Post’s coverage, including this:

“Sunni bitterness still runs deep over clashes in May 2008, when Hezbollah gunmen swept through Sunni neighborhoods in Beruit. … More than 80 people were killed".

The Post’s description of Hezbollah as “the Shiite militia and political party that is the most powerful group in the country…” and “Syria’s closest ally in Lebanon” fell short in reminding readers of the movement’s history as an Iranian-allied terrorist surrogate. Both media sources failed to note that Hezbollah has been designated a terrorist organization by the United States, Israel, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and the Netherlands. Neither mentioned that until al Qaeda's Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, Hezbollah had murdered more Americans than any other terrorist group. And neither took note of reports that Hezbollah members have been fighting for Assad’s regime.

The Times dispatch points out that Hezbollah’s “extensive arsenal of weapons and rockets is virtually untouchable at the moment.” The Post refers to Assir’s demand that “the government confront Hezbollah over its arms caches”. Yet neither outlet recalled for readers that Hezbollah’s arsenals violate U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701, the measure that helped end the 2006 Israeli-Hezbollah war. And neither The Post nor The Times mentioned the Israeli military’s release last year of maps said to identify nearly 1,000 Hezbollah underground bunkers, weapons caches and related sites.

The Times lagged behind The Post by two weeks. Both were informative, with the edge going to the former. But neither focused the spotlight on Hezbollah as intensely as deserved.

Erin Dwyer, CAMERA Washington research intern.

Posted by ER at July 26, 2012 03:16 PM

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