‘Post’ Notes Israel Error

How ombudsman claimed WaPo 'authenticated' controversial photo remains unclear

March 13, 2013

The Washington Post Wednesday morning issued an "editor’s note" explaining why it erroneously blamed Israel for the death of a Gaza-based BBC reporter’s 11-month-old son.

The correction was issued several days after a United Nations report independently confirmed that Hamas, not Israel, was to blame for the child’s death, which occurred last year during Israel’s military operation in Gaza.

A photo of the crying reporter cradling his dead child was prominently featured on the Post’s front page with the following caption:

"Jihad Masharawi weeps as he holds the body of his 11-month-old son, Ahmad, at al-Shifa hospital after an Israeli airstrike in Gaza City."

Following the U.N. report’s release and the ensuing backlash from supporters of Israel, the Post waited to correct the story.

Post spokeswoman Kristine Coratti told the Washington Free Beacon on Monday that she did not have a comment on the new report and could not say if the Post would be running a correction in the coming days.

The uncertainty continued as the Free Beacon followed up with Coratti late Monday and Tuesday.

A two paragraph "editor’s note" appeared on page A2 of the paper Wednesday morning beneath the controversial photo:

"The photograph above was published on the front page of the Nov. 15 editions with a caption that said, based on information from the Associated Press, that the weeping man, Jihad Masharawi, was holding the body of his 11-month-old son ‘after an Israeli airstrike in Gaza City,’" the note reads. "The image has been used to symbolize what Palestinians say was Israeli aggression during fighting in the Hamas-rule Gaza Strip."

"A report published by the United Nations has now cast doubt on that interpretation," the statement continues. "The report, from the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, says the baby depicted in the photograph was ‘killed by what appeared to be a Palestinian rocket that fell short of Israel.’

"The Post published an Associated Press item about those findings Tuesday and is reprinting the photo now to provide readers with the updated information," the statement concludes.

Originally, the Post claimed that it independently verified the AP photo. The editor’s note does not address this discrepancy.

Former Post ombudsman Patrick Pexton previously defended the paper’s actions, saying the photo "moves the viewer toward a larger truth."

Pexton said at the time that "the bomb was dropped by Israelis" and claimed the Post conducted its own investigation into the incident.

"Post staff then authenticated and verified the facts behind the Associated Press photo," he wrote. "The dead baby was real. The bombing was real."

Coratti said that the paper wanted to verify the new information before printing a correction.

"Photos like this are incredibly sensitive, and because of that we wanted to ensure we could verify the corrected information," she said via email. "As for the original photo, we, like many papers, run AP content whole and credit it to them. Our story on the conflict did not mention the incident depicted in the photo."

The Associated Press corrected its erroneous caption on Tuesday afternoon to explain that an errant Hamas rocket likely killed the child.