ay you’re a prominent US newspaper with a bureau in Beirut. You decide to run an article based on Israeli army claims that Hezbollah is wantonly militarizing villages in south Lebanon — to the extent that a single village of 4,000 people is said to contain “about 400 military sites and facilities.”
Do you: (a) Take their word for it, and allow Israeli officials to jabber on for eleven paragraphs before tacking on the disclaimer that “the Israeli claims could not be independently verified,” or (b) Send someone to take a look at one or two of the villages in question? (Or at least give Google Earth a whirl.)
If you’re today’s New York Times, the first option is the preferred one.
On May 12, the newspaper’s website ran the following article by Isabel Kershner in Tel Aviv: “Israel Says Hezbollah Positions Put Lebanese at Risk.” Specified at the end of the piece is that “Anne Barnard contributed reporting from Beirut, Lebanon.” Not specified is why Barnard or some lesser colleague couldn’t make the two-hour drive from Beirut to southern Lebanon to assess whether civilian areas are in fact suddenly teeming with military sites.
Of course, even if the Times had undertaken this simple reconnaissance mission, they would still presumably need the Israel Defense Forces to explain to them what they were seeing.
In the intro to Kershner’s article, we learn that the south Lebanese village of Muhaybib — with its ninety or so houses and buildings, mosque, and surrounding fields — may look completely typical when viewed from above.
However, Israel knows better:
[W]hen the Israeli military trains its lens on that hilltop Shiite village close to the border, it sees nine arms depots, five rocket-launching sites, four infantry positions, signs of three underground tunnels, three antitank positions and, in the very center of the village, a Hezbollah command post.
Never mind that Israel has been known to mistake Lebanese milk factories for Hezbollah command posts and elementary schools for arms depots.