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An occasional column in which we invite...

SALAM AL-MARAYATI is executive director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council. EDINA LEKOVIC is the council's communications director.

An occasional column in which we invite outside critics to take their best shot at the Los Angeles Times.

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THE TIMES has a daunting task in covering an unexpected and brutal war such as the one spiraling out of control in Israel and Lebanon. By and large, its news pages have fairly and accurately reported the conflict -- Israel’s claims for and execution of its military assault, the rising toll of Lebanese civilian casualties and the destruction of Lebanon’s newly rebuilt infrastructure.

The problem is what’s not reported, particularly when it comes to Hezbollah. True, the group is on the State Department’s list of terrorist organizations. But there is scant mention in The Times that the Muslim world does not equate Al Qaeda with Hezbollah, which was founded in 1982 when Israel last invaded Lebanon. Nor is there much mention of growing Muslim opposition to the U.S. because of its perceived blanket endorsement of Israel’s policies.

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And Muslims are outraged as anyone by the targeting of civilian lives by Hezbollah and Israel. But you wouldn’t know that from reading The Times either.

What The Times’ Megan Stack, who has been stationed in southern Lebanon, recently told the Columbia Journalism Review Daily just doesn’t come through in the newspaper’s daily coverage. “The thing about Hezbollah that I think is often misunderstood is that it’s not just an army, it’s a massive political party and it’s a massive social welfare network. So when you think about Hezbollah, you kind of think of them on different planes.... “

Also, headlines and stories sometimes collide, to misleading effect. On Aug. 3, the headline on the story reporting the paper’s poll results on the Lebanese-Israeli war read: “Most Back Israel, Split on U.S. Role.” But the article suggested anything but strong support: Respondents who thought Israel’s actions were either unjustified or excessively harsh edged out those who described them as justified and not harsh.

In general, Israel’s motives for and justifications of its handling of the war -- including its claim that Hezbollah fighters are hiding among civilians -- have gone undisputed by reputable authorities. Nowhere is this more obvious than on The Times’ Op-Ed page, where for every 10 articles supporting Israel, one criticized the country’s military operations and Washington’s unflinching support for them.

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However, Human Rights Watch recently issued a report, titled “Fatal Strikes,” that disputed Israel’s claim that Hezbollah uses human shields. Of the several dozen cases it studied, there was no evidence that supported Israel’s claims. The Times has yet to mention this report in any story, nor has it investigated the claim itself.

The paper’s feature stories on the war also reveal bias. A recent profile gave flattering treatment to American Jews who have joined the Israeli Defense Forces to fight in Lebanon and the Palestinian Territories. Yet Muslim Americans are often stereotyped as anti-American in reports on their relief efforts for Lebanese and Palestinian civilians because many of their charities have been shut down by the U.S. government over allegations that they finance terrorists.

It seems that everything in U.S. politics has two sides except our policies in the Middle East. Regrettably, The Times’ reporting and analyses too often reflect that one-sidedness. It needs to give more attention to the other side to foster a healthier civil discourse on this important issue.


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