Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP
Washington Post under fire for repeated anti-Israel bias, systemic sloppiness in Middle East coverage
Under pressure, newspaper published editor’s note admitting numerous mistakes with November front-page story on Israel’s treatment of Palestinian infants
As leading mainstream news outlets continue to navigate the pitfalls of covering the Israel-Hamas war, The Washington Post is facing particularly intense scrutiny over a growing number of issues connected to its reporting on the conflict, fueling mounting concerns among Jewish leaders, foreign policy experts and even some staffers, among other critics.
The most prominent source of contention has in recent weeks centered on a factually challenged front-page story, published in mid-November, that detailed the struggles of premature Palestinian infants born in the West Bank and Israel who were separated from their parents amid Israel’s ongoing war in Gaza.
In an extensive editor’s note added to the story last week after more than a month’s delay, the paper listed multiple inaccuracies in the original article, effectively undermining its core thesis — that Palestinian mothers were required by the Israeli government to return to Gaza when their travel permits had expired. Meanwhile, the note also acknowledged that the triple-bylined feature had not initially sought comment from Israeli officials, “an omission that fell short of the Post’s standards for fairness.”
Though the paper admitted culpability in its mishandling of a politically sensitive subject, the editor’s note still left some questions unresolved, including why the story chose not to identify the hospitals or medical workers it cited anonymously. The story had, without evidence, attributed its decision to protecting “staff members” who “fear reprisals from Israeli authorities.” But critics have cast doubt on that claim, noting that NBC News published a similar story just a few weeks later on two of the parents cited in the Post article — and the outlet was for its part able to name the hospital in East Jerusalem as well as the head of its neonatal unit.
It is unclear why the editor’s note took more than a month to produce. Before it was appended to the top of the article during the holiday break last week, the story had raised eyebrows among some Post staffers who privately expressed reservations that it did not meet the newspaper’s rigorous editorial standards, according to a source familiar with the matter.
A spokesperson for the Post declined to comment on the story and did not address questions sent by Jewish Insider on Thursday afternoon, referring instead to the editor’s note.
Robert Satloff, the executive director of The Washington Institute for Near East Policy whose sustained criticism of the recent Post story helped contribute to the publication of the editor’s note, said he was pleased that the paper had ultimately recognized some of its mistakes. But he added that he remains frustrated with the broader thrust of its Middle East coverage, which he views as flawed.
“I believe the egregious violations of journalistic standards I highlighted in my critique of the Nov. 17 story is regrettably not limited to this article,” he said in an email to JI.
In addition to the story on Palestinian infants, at least two other articles authored by its lead reporter, Louisa Loveluck, have drawn significant corrections in recent weeks, raising questions about the paper’s commitment to accurate and balanced coverage of the evolving war between Israel and Hamas.
The paper has also faced accusations that its Middle East coverage has veered into activism, presenting a one-sided picture of the conflict that has differed in many ways from the stories seen in competing outlets like The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal — which have produced some of the most searing coverage of Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack while also reporting aggressively on the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.
In contrast with the Times, for instance, which this week broke the story on newly declassified U.S. intelligence bolstering Israel’s claims that Hamas used the Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza as a command center, the Post has for its part been fiercely skeptical of that determination. The paper concluded in its own analysis last month that “the evidence presented by the Israeli government falls short of showing that Hamas had been” operating out of the hospital. The Post acknowledged the new assessment from U.S. spy agencies in a separate article on Wednesday, while continuing to assert that such claims have been “challenged by a lack of conclusive proof.”
To some readers who have taken issue with the Post’s coverage, its skepticism of U.S. and Israeli intelligence findings has been especially troubling because, according to critics, the newspaper has otherwise continued to uncritically cite Palestinian casualty figures provided by the Gaza Health Ministry — which reporters have habitually refrained from identifying as a Hamas-controlled agency. The newspaper has also been accused of amplifying unverified claims from Hamas’ media office.
Meanwhile, the Post has faced criticism for the language it has used to characterize the war. In November, for example, the paper came under fire for describing as “captives” Palestinian prisoners who were being released by Israel in a negotiated exchange for hostages held by Hamas and other terror groups, drawing an allegation of editorial bias from Jonathan Greenblatt, the chief executive of the Anti-Defamation League, who called the Post’s word choice “absolutely shameful.”
In an unorthodox editorial decision that departs from most other competing national outlets, the paper has framed its coverage of Israel’s war with Hamas as the “Israel-Gaza war,” rather than casting the fight as Israel’s battle against Hamas.
Last November, some staffers at the Post also reportedly signed an open letter claiming that newsrooms are “accountable for dehumanizing rhetoric that has served to justify ethnic cleansing of Palestinians.”
The paper’s approach to Middle East coverage has been an ongoing source of frustration among Israeli officials in Washington. In an early November meeting, for instance, top Israeli Embassy officials met with newsroom leadership — including Sally Buzbee, the paper’s executive editor, and Douglas Jehl, who directs international coverage — to privately air their concerns, according to a source familiar with the matter.
Soon after the conversation, however, the Post unveiled its now-amended story on Palestinian infants, which did not originally seek comment from Israeli officials but was later updated to include a statement.
Buzbee and Jehl did not respond to requests for comment on the meeting.
Tal Naim, the spokesperson for the Israeli Embassy, declined to comment on the meeting but did not deny that it had taken place. “As part of the Embassy’s routine media outreach in Washington, we meet with various journalists, editors and news organizations on a regular basis,” she said in a statement to JI on Thursday. “These activities serve to maintain an open line of communication with the American news media and are not limited to any one outlet in particular. We do not comment on the content of these private engagements.”
While the Times and the Journal, among other outlets, have also drawn scrutiny for some alleged reporting errors as well as suggestions of slanted coverage, critics of the Post claim the paper has distinguished itself as a leading repeat offender.
The quality control issues have come at a rocky moment for the financially struggling newspaper, which last October announced a plan to cut 240 jobs. In recent weeks, the Post has been shedding staff as some of its most experienced reporters have taken buyouts.
Buzbee, who previously led the Associated Press and served as its Middle East regional editor in Cairo before joining the Post in 2021, has strained to recapture the momentum the paper built during the Trump administration, when Marty Baron, the former longtime editor, oversaw an increase in subscriptions.
Buzbee also seems to have struggled to balance competing internal sensitivities around the Israel-Hamas war, which has become a divisive issue in newsrooms. Last November, the paper deleted an editorial cartoon criticizing Hamas that was accused of racism — a decision that Buzbee, in an email to staff, attributed to “the many deep concerns and conversations” voiced by newsroom employees.
In contrast with Buzbee’s brief tenure atop the Post masthead, Baron, who stepped down at the beginning of 2021, faced less criticism over the paper’s Middle East coverage.
Shortly after Hamas’ attack in early October, Baron, in an interview with JI, characterized the massacre as an “unprovoked” act of “state terrorism” — even as he acknowledged that Post stories have typically described Hamas as a militant organization.
Baron declined to weigh in, however, on recent backlash to the Post’s coverage of the war. “I’m not going to comment on any of this,” he said in an email to JI on Thursday.