Israel launched its much-anticipated invasion of Gaza on Saturday. For over a week, U.S. media had provided largely one-sided coverage of the conflict, with little editorializing or commentary arguing against broader Israeli actions.
Most notably, after more than eight days of Israeli bombing and Hamas rocket launching in Gaza, most notably, The New York Times had produced exactly one editorial, not a single commentary by any of its columnists, and only two op-eds (one of them already published elsewhere). The editorial, several days ago, did argue against the wisdom of a ground invasion - - but even though that invasion had become ever more likely all week the paper did not return to this subject.
Amazingly, the paper has kept that silence going in Sunday's and even Monday's paper, with no editorial or columnist comment on the Israeli invasion -- beyond a hawkish pro-invasion contribution by William Kristol. It's as if the Times is waiting for the invasion to be over and adapt its position to the outocme.
The Washington Post did manage to work up an editorial for Sunday which, in the usual contortionist manner, found the invasion "justified" but also highly "risky."
The invasion, to no one's surprise, did begin on Saturday -- so any further criticism will now come too late. As in the past, U.S. media coverage and commentary has overwhelmingly backed the Israeli actions (as it did in the Lebanon war in 2006, which turned into a fiasco).
CNN and MSNBC have provided some helpful balance, starting late Saturday, but on the Sunday morning talk shows Democratic leaders said little, or nothing, critical of Israel.
Of course, most on-the-scene coverage of civilian casualties in Gaza has been hindered, to say the least, by Israel barring foreign journalists from entering.
On Friday, Amnesty International condemned the U.S. response to the "disproportionate" Israeli bombing of Gaza -- with largely U.S. weapons. Some of it amounts to U.S.-backed "human rights abuses," it charged.
The group recalled that the U.S. supplied most of the millions of cluster bomblets dropped by Israel in the Lebanon war in 2006.
"Amnesty International USA is particularly dismayed at the lopsided response by the U.S. government to the recent violence and its lackadaisical efforts to ameliorate the humanitarian crisis in Gaza," the group told Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in the letter, which was released to the media.
Ethan Bronner, in a NYT news report, observed,
"The scope of the assault, and the days of buildup at the border, hint at an unstated but profound question: can the rockets really be stopped for any length of time while Hamas remains in power in Gaza? And if the answer is determined to be no, then is the real aim of the operation to remove Hamas entirely, no matter the cost?"
Meanwhile, a columnist for the Spectator in London argued for the arrest of Western journalists who have criticized Israel's actions. Israel starting adding artillery fire to the bombing, even before the invasion. One nighttime airstrike hit the offices of the Hamas weekly newspaper Al Resala in Gaza City, wounding 16 civilians who live nearby, Hamas and residents said.
And Amir Oren, in a column at Haaretz, concluded with a call to get done with Gaza:
"[T]he IDF must move quickly to disengage, in order to free its attention for the paramount task of preparing a military blow to Iran, if diplomacy and deterrence fail. As long as the great threat of Iranian power is hovering, the smaller threats of Hezbollah and Hamas that derive from it will not be dispelled."
Israel, meanwhile, maintained its ban on foreign journalists entering the Gaza Strip Friday despite a recent Supreme Court order to allow a limited number of reporters to enter the territory.
UPDATE: The Jerusalem daily Haaretz has just put up an editorial critical of Israel's actions -- and the boosterism of President Bush. Excerpt:
The need to present an achievement has compelled the civilian leadership to add a ground campaign to the aerial onslaught.... Those who back the operation are already imagining Hamas collapsing, its leadership fleeing or killed, and house-to-house searches for weapons to be destroyed. After the operation, Gaza would be returned to Palestinian Authority control, purged of terrorism -- the Lebanon dream realized in Gaza. This is what these people believe.
It would be best to cut this dream short before it turns into a dragged-out nightmare, and to limit the ground operation to more modest goals.
And Gideon Levy writes in a column at Haaretz:
Everything is permitted, legitimate and just. The moral voice of restraint, if it ever existed, has been left behind....Nobody is coming to the rescue -- of Gaza or even of the remnants of humanity and Israeli democracy. The statesmen, the jurists, the poets, the authors, academe, and the news media -- pitch black over the abyss.
Finally, from a NYT report late Sunday from Shifa Hospital in Gaza City:
The scene on Sunday at the hospital, a singular and grisly reflection of the violence around it, was both harrowing and puzzling. A week ago, when Israel began its air assault, hundreds of Hamas militants were taken to the hospital. Yet on Sunday, the day Israeli troops flooded Gaza and ground battles with Hamas began, there appeared not to be a single one.
"The casualties at Shifa on Sunday -- 18 dead, hospital officials said, among a reported 30 around Gaza -- were women, children and men who had been with children. One surgeon said that he had performed five amputations.'I don't know what kind of weapons Israel is using,' said a nurse, Ziad Abd al Jawwad, 41, who had been working 24 hours without a break. 'There is so much amputation. It's so hard when you do it to women,' he said, adding grimly that even the devastating 1967 war here was over in six days.'
Greg Mitchell is editor of Editor & Publisher. His recent book on Iraq and the media is "So Wrong for So Long."