Wash. Post editorial omitted key facts from Post news report that undermine its attack on Pelosi

In an April 5 editorial, The Washington Post left out the full content of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's (D-CA) statements to Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, as reported by the Post itself, which would have undermined the editorial's attack on Pelosi for telling Assad that Israel was ready to negotiate. Pelosi, the editorial asserted, had “misrepresented Israel's position” when she announced, at an April 4 press conference with Assad, that she had told Assad that “Israel was ready to engage in peace talks” with Syria. “Only one problem,” the editorial asserted: “The Israeli prime minister had entrusted Ms. Pelosi with no such message,” and instead had “quickly issued” a statement that "[w]hat was communicated to [Pelosi] does not contain any change in the policies of Israel" regarding the terms under which it would negotiate with Syria. In fact, in what has become a familiar pattern, the Post editorial's assertion was undermined by reporting in the Post's own news pages.

An April 4 Post article on Pelosi's meeting with Assad reported that when Pelosi said “she conveyed a message” from the Israeli government that it “was ready to resume peace talks,” she also said that she “reiterated U.S. demands that Syria stop the passage of insurgents across Syria into Iraq and stop supporting militant groups.” Also, according to reporter Anthony Shadid, she said she “brought up ... the seizure of Israeli soldiers by Hamas and Hezbollah.” Moreover, according to a statement issued by Pelosi's office in response to the editorial, the speaker also made clear that Israel continued to demand that Syria cut ties with extremist groups, telling Assad that “in order for Israel to engage in talks with Syria, the Syrian government must eliminate its links with extremist elements, including Hamas and Hezbollah.” The Washington Post editorial both left out key facts reported in the paper's news story about what Pelosi said about her meeting with Assad, and as the weblog Think Progress noted, baselessly accused Pelosi of leaving out the conditions set by Israel for negotiating.

The April 4 Post news article elaborated on what “U.S. demands” Pelosi said she conveyed to Assad:

Since [the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik al-Hariri in February 2005], the United States has insisted that Syria end its support for Hamas and Hezbollah, cease what it describes as attempts to destabilize the U.S.-backed government in Lebanon and do more to stop the transit of insurgents to Iraq across its 380 mile-long border. Syria contends that Hamas and Hezbollah are both legitimate political movements and that the United States and the allied government in Iraq have themselves inadequately policed the porous, barren frontier between Syria and Iraq.

Pelosi, who as House speaker stands second in the line of presidential succession, called the meeting with Assad “very productive” and said she brought up those longstanding U.S. demands, as well as the seizure of Israeli soldiers by Hamas and Hezbollah.

Several news outlets besides the Post have also reported that Pelosi and others in the delegation demanded that Assad stop supporting Islamic terrorist groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah. As Think Progress noted, an April 5 New York Times article reported that, according to members of Pelosi's delegation, they had “press[ed] the president [Assad] over Syria's support for militant groups and insist[ed] that his government block militants seeking to cross into Iraq and join insurgents there.” The article also reported that Rep. Tom Lantos (D-CA), chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee and one of the members of Pelosi's delegation, “said he asked Mr. Assad how someone 'of his intelligence and knowledge of the world could have common cause with President Ahmadinejad of Iran, who has denied the Holocaust and calls for the elimination of Israel.' ” Likewise, an April 5 Los Angeles Times article reported that “Pelosi emerged from the meeting with Assad saying in a televised news conference that she had pressed him on Syria's support for the Islamic militant group Hamas and Lebanon's Hezbollah militia, both of which are on the U.S. State Department's list of terrorist groups.”

As Media Matters for America has documented (here, here, and here), the Post editorial page has repeatedly shown a disregard for facts reported in its news pages that undermine or debunk factual assertions in its editorials.

From the April 5 Washington Post editorial titled “Pratfall in Damascus” :

HOUSE SPEAKER Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) offered an excellent demonstration yesterday of why members of Congress should not attempt to supplant the secretary of state when traveling abroad. After a meeting with Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad in Damascus, Ms. Pelosi announced that she had delivered a message from Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that “Israel was ready to engage in peace talks” with Syria. What's more, she added, Mr. Assad was ready to “resume the peace process” as well. Having announced this seeming diplomatic breakthrough, Ms. Pelosi suggested that her Kissingerian shuttle diplomacy was just getting started. “We expressed our interest in using our good offices in promoting peace between Israel and Syria,” she said.

Only one problem: The Israeli prime minister entrusted Ms. Pelosi with no such message. “What was communicated to the U.S. House Speaker does not contain any change in the policies of Israel,” said a statement quickly issued by the prime minister's office. In fact, Mr. Olmert told Ms. Pelosi that “a number of Senate and House members who recently visited Damascus received the impression that despite the declarations of Bashar Assad, there is no change in the position of his country regarding a possible peace process with Israel.” In other words, Ms. Pelosi not only misrepresented Israel's position but was virtually alone in failing to discern that Mr. Assad's words were mere propaganda.