You would think, at minimum, that Landler would be expected to cite an actual Iranian official making a specific threat. But he doesn't and apparently no one in power demands that he do so. His claim that Iran has threatened to attack Israel with a nuclear bomb is simply accepted as what everybody knows to be true.
Explaining the Failure
That is the sort of ludicrous propaganda that has become commonplace in the U.S. news media, a topic that the Post's ombudsman addressed gingerly on Aug. 31. Pexton offered mostly innocent explanations for this journalistic misfeasance.
"First, Israel refuses to acknowledge publicly that it has nuclear weapons," Pexton wrote....
"The U.S. government also officially does not acknowledge the existence of such a program. ... Because Israel has not signed the [nuclear non-proliferation] treaty, it is under no legal obligation to submit its major nuclear facility at Dimona to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections.
"Iran, in contrast, did sign the treaty and thus agrees to periodic inspections. IAEA inspectors are regularly in Iran, but the core of the current dispute is that Tehran is not letting them have unfettered access to all of the country's nuclear installations.
"Furthermore, although Israel has an aggressive media, it still has military censors that can and do prevent publication of material on Israel's nuclear forces. Censorship applies to foreign correspondents working there, too."
Plus, Israel has demonstrated that it will deliver harsh punishment on any Israeli who does divulge secrets about the nuclear program, as nuclear technician Mordechai Vununu learned in 1986 when he became a whistleblower about the secret Israeli arsenal. He was then kidnapped, taken to Israel against his will, and imprisoned for 18 years, much of it in solitary confinement.
Pexton added that "perhaps most important, Americans don't leak about the Israeli nuclear program either." He cited the inclination to protect a friend and ally, as well as the reality that deviating from this silence "can hurt your career."
Pexton quoted George Perkovich of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace as saying:
"It's like all things having to do with Israel and the United States. If you want to get ahead, you don't talk about it; you don't criticize Israel, you protect Israel. You don't talk about illegal settlements on the West Bank even though everyone knows they are there."
However, the job of journalism should be to present all the relevant facts in context, especially on life-or-death issues like war and peace.
When the New York Times and the Washington Post institute systemic bias in their coverage of such an issue -- as the two newspapers also did in the run-up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq -- they not only fail to uphold the principles of journalism, they risk becoming complicit in the slaughter of innocent people.
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