Palestinian Advocate Hosts Washington Post Web Forum

One of the central tenants of professional journalism is the notion that reporters remain objective in their analysis and reporting. Generally, it is the responsibility of a newspaper’s management to ensure that individuals who express a desire to maintain emotional and psychological distance from stories they cover are employed to report news under the title of a “journalist.” If the writer is an opinion writer, this is known as a “pundit.”

That stated, the Washington Post hosted an online “Live from Syria” chat session this past Monday on their website. The forum was conducted by a Syrian writer named Sami Moubayed. The Posts’ description of the writer is “PostGlobal Panelist/Syrian Political Analyst, Journalist and Author.” Flipping to the writer’s website and reading the “About” section, however, shows that Mr. Moubayed has some conflicts of interest when it comes to covering the Lebanon-Israel conflict. From Moubayeb’s profile:

An advocate of the Palestinian Cause, he has written many articles on Palestinian affairs and was a strong supporter of former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Moubayed is working on a collection of articles on Arafat entitled,” Arafat Remembered,” due for release exactly one year after Arafat's death, on November 11, 2005.”

Fair enough. The man is allowed to have his opinions. The problem, however, comes when the Washington Post tries to hold this guy out as “journalist.” Mr. Moubayeb’s profile doesn’t even mention the word “journalist.” To the Washington Post, apparently, there is no difference between a “journalist,” who is supposed to at least have a pretext of neutrality, and an “advocate,” who makes no secret or has a discernable viewpoint on an issue. In the case of Mr. Moubayeb, there is a genuine conflict of interests that at the very least compromise the Posts’s characterization of Mousayeb as a “journalist.”

Need more convincing? Here’s what Mr. Moubayeb wrote in responses to some of the questions he chose to answer at the forum (I’ve responded in parenthesis with editorial comments summarizing and occasionally responding to Mr. Moubayeb’s answers – I’m not acting under the auspices of being a “journalist” in this instance):

I disagree with Israel's actions in the South for a variety of reasons. Why is Hizbullah in South Lebanon to start out with? The Sheba Farms are of little importance to Israel and Tel Aviv knows this? Why doesn't it withdraw from them--then use the argument in its own favor to call for a disarming of Hizbullah? It would make it more difficult for the Lebanese group to keep its arms if there were no Israelis in Sheba.”

(Its Israel’s fault)

“The biggest answer to what might happen is repeating the case of air force officer Ron Arad, who was arrested when he parachuted into Lebanon in 1986. Amal, the party that took him, demanded a high price. Isreal refused to pay, and Arad disappeared. What Israel now has done is put high danger on losing its two soldiers in Lebanonn and the one in Gaza, in addition to the rest of those who would be killed in battle. Meaning: Israel did not enter the war to free the soldiers. It entered the war to destroy Nasrallah and Hizbullah.”

(Its Israel’s fault – they need to pay ransoms, and they’re lying about their motives.)

“Peacekeeping forces from the USA are a bad idea in the Muslim World. Great Britain, until events got out of hand recently in Basra, were more friendly to the Muslims and Arabs. But on the whole, a UN peacekeeping force, or a peacekeeping force organized by the Arab League, is much more effective for the Islamic World. This is something debated by the Arab League when it was founded in 1945 but it never materialized. That was a pity and it should see the light today.”

(Its the West’s fault – Middle Easterners need “special” peacekeeping forces.)

The United States needs to get Israel to stop the war. The war is destructive. It has ruined Lebanon. The USA must convince Israel to a cease-fire, and to sit down in indirect negotiations to free the Israeli prisoners in exchange for a freeing of Lebanese prisoners. This is the only way. War was not needed to free prisoners. The same kidnapping took place in 1985 and was solved by diplomacy. Again in 2000, and it was solved by diplomacy. Why shouldn't diplomacy work out now? The reason is that Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert needs his war medals. Its that simple.”

(Hizbullah bears no responsibility, and Israel needs to negotiate with kidnappers. Olmert needs his ‘war medals?’ Interesting take – quite biased, too.)

“There is a conviction in the Arab World and I agree with it, that peace with the current leaders of Israel is impossible. The atrocities in Palestine and now Lebanon have killed whatever current chances of peace there was. Sharon could have signed peace in his final hours--he had the war history and the legitimacy to do so, but this has faded with Olmert.”

(Again, the situation is Israel’s fault. Peace impossible? Kidnapping and ransoming is not an atrocity? Launching rockets from apartment buildings and hiding among children is not an atrocity? Israel has repeatedly stated that the return of its kidnapped soldiers that the disarming of Hizbullah are the requirements for peace. This is not unreasonable, considering Hizbullah is a threat to Israeli civilians. Israel left Gaza – the Palestinians responded by raining down over 800 rockets on Israel over the last year. Again – interesting take, but Mr. Moubayeb’s positions are rather one-sided.)

“Yes this would encourage them to kidnap more troops. But lets use this argument. If Israel withdraws from the Sheba Farms, and releases all prisoners from its jails who are from Lebanon, would Hizbullah still be able to kidnap Israel troops?

(Self explanatory.Again, Israel’s fault.)

The first step has to be done by Israel. But if Israel does it then of course, Hizbullah cannot but release the two soldiers.”

(Israel must surrender.)

“That question should be presented to Israel. It is the one that is accusing Syria of being behind this entire mess. This, of course, is not true. But if Syria is attacked or provoked, it will be pulled into combat. Of course, its a matter of good faith, honor, and national pride.”

(Israel’s fault, and apparently, Syria has not been aiding Hizbullah with supplies and money, even though Syria has admitted to doing this.)

“Syria would only get involved if Israel attacks. We will not sit back and watch our country being insulted or attacked. In the Middle East nothing is impossible.”

(Hizbullah rockets attacking Israeli civilians? At this juncture, coexistence between Israel and Hizbullah is impossible.)

There are more, but I didn’t want to list every single response at risk of being tedious. I wanted to give readers a flavor of what this purported “journalist and political analyst” had to say about the conflict. After all, the Washington Post decided that this guy was credible enough to moderate online Middle East forums under its name.

In addition, I found another piece by Mr. Moubayed written in June on the Haditha incident. A WaPo blog entry entitled “How Haditha Helps Iran” by Jefferson Morley cited Mr. Moubayeb’s article. In it, Moubayeb convicts the Marines and blames “the entire Bush Administration” for the incident, while providing one-sided speculation and adding fuel to the fire, as it were. This is before the NYT reported that the Sunnis were begging Americans to stay, that the Marine Investigation found no evidence of a “scandal” or cover-up, etc. Here are some excerpts:

What happened in Haditha can best be described as deliberate homicide committed by soldiers of the US Marine Corps, making them in a sense no different from the al-Qaeda insurgents they are combating.

[…]

“The Haditha massacre changes everything in Iraq. It changes the images, loyalties and dreams of the Iraqi people, as well as the honor of the US military. It is a turning point for the Americans, the Iraqis, President George W Bush and new Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.”

[…]

Everybody in the Bush administration is responsible for the massacres in Iraq. The officers in charge on November 19. The soldiers who pulled the triggers then lied about it. The marines who did not conduct an immediate investigation into the case. Rumsfeld for sending men with low morals or dignity to Iraq. And finally, Bush. More than anybody else, he is responsible for Haditha, just as he is responsible for Abu Ghraib, Ishaqi and all the other "mistakes" committed by the Americans since they invaded Iraq in March 2003.”

As you can see from Mr. Mousayeb’s own website and from his “analysis” of the various events in the Middle East, that he is does not fit the traditional definition of a “journalist,” and is as good an example of an “advocate” as you are liable to find in the media sphere. In other words, this is conflict of interests if there ever was one. The Washington Post should look into this advocate’s views if they haven’t already, and should drop the title “journalist” from his description.