Lorenzo Tugnoli for The Washington Post

The Washington Post (Lean Left bias) recently ran a profile of Palestinian group al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, labeled a terrorist organization by the U.S. and Israel. 

What Happened?

In the piece, The Washington Post made the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade sound sympathetic and omitted mentioning its victims. This brought accusations that it was a “puff piece” legitimizing a terror group.

Washington Post Coverage 

The Washington Post began its piece by describing the tired state of the leader of the branch of the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade Zoufi. “He had been awake for more than 24 hours and his eyes were red-rimmed as his teenage attendant held a cellphone to his ear, allowing him to lean forward wearily, hands crossed in his lap.” Then, it explains that everyone in the camp calls him father because he is “forced to be the policeman, the father, the guard.”

This builds a sympathetic image of the leader of the Brigade from the outset of the piece, as they make him out to be a weary man trying to do too many jobs in order to protect his people. Throughout the piece they continue to focus on Zoufi without any mention of the exhaustion of the Israelis or an American perspective on the group, beyond a brief mention that they are a labeled terrorist organization. The Washington Post does not mention they are labeled a terror group until paragraph seven. 

The profile continues to paint Palestine as an underdog: “More than 150 Palestinians have been killed since January, most in Israeli military raids; at least 22 Israelis have died in shootings, stabbings, car rammings and other attacks by Palestinians. Last month, Israel sent hundreds of soldiers, backed by air cover, into Jenin’s refugee camp, a show of force not seen in the West Bank in 20 years.” It refers to al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, Hamas, and the Iran-backed Islamic Jihad as “organized cells.” The Washington Post fails to mention Hamas and Islamic Jihad are also designated terrorist organizations by the U.S. Department of State. 

Here is another example of The Washington Post favoring Palestine: “Israel, which depends on the Palestinian Authority to keep order in the occupied West Bank, accuses Palestinian officials of letting militants operate freely and of allowing thousands of smuggled or homemade weapons to flood the territory.” By structuring the sentence to start with the fact that Israel is dependent on Palestine, they discredit the Israeli accusation. 

“As Fatah fighters, the men say, they are not as harassed by the authority as those affiliated with Hamas or Islamic Jihad,” The Washington Post continues. The word choice of “harassed” implies unwarranted harassment. Considering that Hamas and Islamic Jihad groups are considered terrorists, some in the U.S. may have used the word investigated, or other language that avoids the negative connotation of “harassed,” because many may observe it as deserved based on their terror status. 

The article ends by describing the violent tendencies of the group, including a melon bomb they hold. “Most of the fighters said they are focused on defense, shooting back at Israeli forces that enter the camps. But several said Jewish settlers in the West Bank also are considered fair targets. They spoke admiringly of gunmen who ambushed Israeli civilians, including an attack last year outside a Tel Aviv pub that killed three Israelis and a mass shooting at a West Bank gas station that left four Israelis dead in June…There are no innocent Israelis.” Earlier in the piece, The Washington Post gave context about how many Iraelis and Palestinians had been killed since June to help the reader understand the plight of the Palestinian militants, yet here they do not add any context, which could have indicated options other than a violent approach or highlighted the pain caused by the constant violence on both sides. 

Ultimately, the backlash to this piece surrounds the overall slant of the article. It says Zoufi, the leader of the cell, is weary, because he has to act as a father, guard, and policeman. He protects them from raids from the Israelis and harassment from the Palestinian authority. While the Washington Post used biased language to describe the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, they do not mention that the brigade has also killed people. The Washington Post frames the brigade as victims, and they may well be, but they clearly omit the brigade also victimizes others.

Fox News Coverage

Fox News (Right bias) compiled some of the criticism against the Washington Post piece. Critics pointed out The Washington Post may not have done such a story about Al Qaeda or ISIS and said the piece is a result of anti-Israel bias on the left.

Critics said the Washington Post has a double standard when it comes to covering terrorist groups because they refused to mention the violent actions of the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade. One pointed out that the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade carried out a suicide bombing that killed seven in sandwich shop. 

Is the Washington Post piece anti-Israel propaganda, as some accuse? Read the piece for yourself and decide.

Clare Ashcraft (Center) is the Bridging and Bias Specialist at AllSides.

Reviewed by Julie Mastrine, Director of Marketing and Media Bias Ratings (Lean Right) and Andrew Weinzierl, Bias Research MAnager and Data Journalist (Lean Left).