Robert Satloff
Insights on the Middle East and U.S. policy

In the case against the Washington Post, Exhibit A is NBC News

It’s been a week since I published a Times of Israel essay showing that the Washington Post – both reporters abroad and editors at home — committed journalistic malpractice in its unsourced, unverified, unbalanced Nov. 17 story claiming that a mean-spirited Israel knowingly separated Palestinian mothers from their premature, newborn babies.

So far, there has been radio-silence from the Post – no apology, no correction, no “editor’s note” and, I should note, no effort to rebut my critique or defend the many glaring problems in the original article. On behalf of paying subscribers, we deserve better.

If the facts I presented a week ago were not evidence enough, new information has come my way which casts the Post’s reporting in even worse light.

Here is a link to a Dec. 6 NBC News report on the same basic story as the Post’s – same mother, same triplets, same hospital. But in this far more balanced version, NBC cites the specific hospital where the babies were born and are now being cared for (Makassed Hospital in Jerusalem); it cites by name the head of neonatal medicine in the hospital; and it cites Israeli officials from whom NBC sought comment.

The Post, one should recall, had none of those items in its report because it claimed – without evidence or substantiation – that to identify the hospital or anyone who worked there or to even ask the Israelis for their view of the story would put everyone involved at risk of official “retaliation” by Israel. NBC News, a first-class news operation that takes protection of its sources at least as seriously as the Post, clearly had no such concern. And it doesn’t appear that the hospital staff cited by NBC asked to remain anonymous, a request NBC was almost certainly sure to honor.

What then explains the Post’s accusation about the fear of Israeli “retaliation”? Readers deserve to know.

NBC’s version of this story is much closer to what I believe happened: namely, this is a fundamentally good news story in which Israel provided medical care for Palestinians in difficult situations — care it is not required to provide — and regrettably, the outbreak of war left a Gazan mother separated from her babies who are still being well cared for despite being on the other side of the battle lines. Indeed, both parents cited by name in the NBC story – mother and father – are grateful that the babies are where they are, in a hospital in Jerusalem rather than in Gaza: “It is more safe there,” the mother, Hanan, told NBC; “Let them stay there in safety,” said the father, Fathi.

Even NBC’s story, however, contains one much-disputed element – that is, in both NBC’s and Washington Post’s version, the mother in question was allegedly compelled to return to Gaza two days after the August birth of her children because her travel permit expired. Could Israel really be so cruel as to knowingly and purposefully separate a mother and her newborn infants?

On this issue, the Washington Post didn’t even ask the Israelis; NBC evidently asked but didn’t get a reply. So, I pressed the issue.

Before my Times of Israel essay appeared, I asked a senior official of the Israeli ministry of health, which oversees these matters, and he rejected the accusation that the mother was forced to return to Gaza because of the expiration of her travel permit; such permits, he told me, can be renewed online and a positive reply is virtually automatic.

I contacted him again when I saw that the NBC News report repeated the accusation and this time he was even more categorical – absolutely not, he said. The mother went home of her own volition, he said emphatically, adding that perhaps the mother had family reasons to return to Gaza or maybe the hospital suggested she leave the babies for oversight and monitoring and then plan on returning when they were stronger. Whatever the reason, this Health Ministry official stated, the mother’s decision to return home was hers alone.

In my view, that’s a strong denial — but not as good as I would like. It would be best if the IDF spokesman or some other Israeli official went on the record, by name, with Israel’s rejection of the charge that it knowingly and purposefully separated mother and babies. But that’s where we are.

In either case, the Post has a lot of explaining to do.

About the Author
Robert Satloff is the Segal executive director of The Washington Institute and its Howard P. Berkowitz Chair in U.S. Middle East Policy.
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