Readers of the New York Times may mistakenly get the impression that the Obama administration has confirmed Benjamin Netanyahu’s assertion that Wednesday’s attack on Israeli tourists was conducted by Hezbollah.
American officials on Thursday identified the suicide bomber responsible for a deadly attack on Israeli vacationers here as a member of a Hezbollah cell that was operating in Bulgaria and looking for such targets, corroborating Israel’s assertions and making the bombing a new source of tension with Iran.
That’s what I’d call a slimy piece of journalism. The key word in this sentence is “identified” and the Times reporters and editors are I believe quite consciously using this word in a way that is intended to deceive readers.
In a further indication that deception is the name of the game here, the Times uses two headlines — one online the other in print: “Hezbollah Is Blamed for Attack on Israeli Tourists in Bulgaria” and “Bus Bombing Is Attributed To Hezbollah.” Note that neither headline indicates who is doing the blaming or attribution.
Suppose someone goes missing and there are suspicions that they might have been abducted and perhaps murdered. A few days later a body is found. News reports say that the body has been “identified” and it is indeed the missing person. Everyone understands that “identified” is unequivocal. It’s not the same as the police saying that this appears to be the missing person and they are continuing their investigation in order to establish whether that is the case. If the body has been identified, then the identity is no longer in question.
Consider, for instance, today’s news of the shooting in Colorado. Early reports said that a gunman had opened fire in a movie theater killing twelve people. The gunman has now been identified. His name is James Eagan Holmes and he is 24 years old. Imagine the reaction of press reporters if a police spokesman had said: “We’ve identified the gunman. We’re now trying to find out his name.”
So, back to the report on the Bulgaria bombing. Citing an unnamed American official we are told about the “current American intelligence assessment” of the bombing. “Current intelligence assessment” is a fancy way of saying, this is currently our best guess about who did it and why, based on the limited amount of information we now have.
Readers need to get all the way to paragraph eight before they are told that the bomber’s name and nationality are unknown. Neither can any information be provided revealing what types of intelligence led analysts to conclude that the bomber was a member of Hezbollah.
In other words, a report which began by saying that the bomber had been identified does not in the end establish whether the current American intelligence assessment is based on any hard evidence whatsoever!
While the New York Times claims that the bomber has been identified as belonging to Hezbollah, what they should be reporting is that unnamed U.S. officials claim that this is the case but have yet to provide any information backing up this claim.
At this time, the Bulgaria bomber’s identity remains unknown. For as long as that is the case it is probably premature for anyone to assert what his motive was or what organization, if any, he might have been affiliated with.