On February 14, this is how Sontag opened her front-page piece on the Arab bus driver who the day before rammed his vehicle into a bus stop, killing eight Israelis:
“After years of shuttling Gazan laborers into Israel without incident, a Palestinian bus driver who passed a strict Israeli security clearance just two weeks ago veered wildly off course today with deadly consequences.”
Read that sentence again, slowly this time, and make note of how Sontag takes pains to paint the driver in the most benign of lights, almost as if she were an attorney offering a defense brief. Before she even deigns to mention the number of dead and injured, she tells us of her client’s – oops, the driver’s – exemplary past performance and his clean bill of health from Israeli security.
And the manner in which Sontag conveyed the cause of the deadly incident – the driver “veered wildly off course” – makes it appear as if the poor soul might simply have lost control of the steering wheel. Yasir Arafat, whose initial reaction to the incident was to shrug it off as just another “road accident,” couldn’t have put it better.
Now, contrast Sontag’s unprofessional drivel with the lead paragraphs turned in by real reporters. Vivienne Walt of The Boston Globe (a newspaper owned by The New York Times Company) wrote, “A Palestinian driver slammed a bus into a crowd of young Israeli soldiers outside Tel Aviv yesterday, killing eight people. It was the deadliest attack on Israelis since 1997.”
Here was the Washington Post’s Lee Hockstader: “A Palestinian driver steered into a throng of young Israeli soldiers and civilians at a crowded bus stop near Tel Aviv this morning, killing eight of them, injuring nearly 20 and transforming rush hour into a tableau of carnage.”
Tracy Wilkinson of the Los Angeles Times filed this online dispatch the day after the attack: “Authorities tightened Israel’s blockade of Palestinian territories Wednesday and vowed tough punishment after a Palestinian driver mowed through a crowd of Israeli soldiers and commuters at a bus stop, killing eight people and injuring more than 20.”
Phil Reeves, writing in Britain’s Independent, described “a Palestinian bus driver who saw no need for bombs or bullets but used his own vehicle as his weapon, crashing it into a crowd waiting at a bus stop and popular hitchhiking post.”
Even Suzanne Goldenberg, the correspondent for London’s left-wing Guardian, reported the incident for what it was: “Morning rush hour brought raw horror to the heart of Israel yesterday when a Palestinian driver turned his bus into a killing machine, mowing down eight commuters at a crowded stop and injuring 20 others.”
The contrast could not be more telling: Walt, Hockstader, Wilkinson, Goldenberg and Reeves offered their readers reporting that was concise and straight to the point, without any preliminary apologetics on behalf of the Arab driver, while Sontag put her pro-Palestinian spin to work immediately in her opening paragraph.
But then, not much better can be expected from a woman who last month labeled incoming Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon an “unreconstructed Zionist” – a phrase that seems to suggest that unadulterated Zionism is something enlightened individuals are expected to disassociate themselves from, or at the very least grow out of. You know, enlightened individuals like the ones at The New York Times.