Various media outlets tried to downplay Palestinian responsibility for the heinous bus attack on February 14 that killed eight Israelis near Tel Aviv.
The front page of the Los Angeles Times carried an Associated Press photo which shows the damaged bus, and the Palestinian driver still behind the wheel, laid back with a sad face. The caption is as follows:
"Palestinian bus driver Khalil abu Olbeh, 35, sits wounded after leading police on a 19-mile chase. Family members said that he was distraught over financial problems and upset by current unrest."
Why the sympathetic treatment of this mass murderer? The caption and photo almost suggest that this poor distraught fellow is a victim of "Israeli aggression."
The Guardian defended the bus driver as "a sort of Palestinian everyman who finally snapped because of the combined pressure of the four-month uprising and Israel's economic blockade." Despite his having admitted to carefully planning the attack, the Guardian said the attack was "far from being the calculated aim of a dedicated terrorist," and claimed that the killer was merely drowsy from medication.
The worst violator of media objectivity, however, was ABC World News Tonight with Peter Jennings -- which completely omitted coverage of the bus attack. Though the attack was the single most deadly strike against Israelis in the last four years, and every major network covered it in their evening news programs, ABC was inexplicably silent.
Consider this email from an Israel Update reader:
From: Elaine Friedman
On February 14, my family and I tuned into World News Tonight on ABC with Peter Jennings. We had few details about the bus attack and were eager for news. We were surprised that the story was not mentioned at the start as one of the news items to be covered, but there was much news from Washington and we figured they'd get to it in the second half of the show. We patiently sat through the entire half-hour program, but not a mention was made. Perhaps this was a busy news day? Well, there was apparently enough time for ABC to do several Valentine's Day features, including a clip on a nude wedding and another on the reproduction of slime molds. But no Middle East news. Not a word.
We turned next to the McNeil Report on PBS. There, they led with the Israel bus story, complete with video and the response from President Bush, who took time from his day to make a statement in the Rose Garden. So it was indeed seen as quite newsworthy by reputable journalists and heads of state.
I sent an email to World News Tonight, but have received no response. I am baffled at this omission. The tragic story was clearly newsworthy, and did not have reflected very well on the Palestinians. Was that the reason for the omission?
Complain by email:
In a follow-up story one week after the killings, the Washington Post ran an article entitled, "Bus-Stop Killings in Israel an 'Accident.'" Reporter Keith B.Richburg, in asserting that the murders were an unintentional accident, relies on three primary sources: the bus driver's distraught wife, the bus driver's 12-year-old son, and Yasser Arafat.
Nowhere in the article does the Washington Post quote the announcement that, in an interview with Israeli General Security Service investigators hours after the attack, the bus driver admitted the attack was intentional and premeditated. (see http://www.jpost.com/Editions/2001/02/16/News/News.21550.html)
The Washington Post article seeks a number of possible justifications for the murders, including the wife's assertion that he lost control of the bus because "it was raining in Israel."
The Post does not explain how this Palestinian wife suddenly became an expert in the maneuverability of public transportation vehicles. In truth, it is unlikely she has ever driven a moped, much less an 11-ton bus.
The Washington Post gives credence to the 12-year-old boy's assertion that "I knew it was an accident." We wonder about this boy's objectivity when he adds, "I'm happy that Israelis died."
When a Palestinian political leader himself insists that the act was intentional, the Washington Post bends over backwards with apologetics, quoting the Palestinian leader that the bus driver is "a very regular person," and the event which caused the death of eight innocent people is a "natural reaction."