The American media reporting on Ariel Sharon in the last few days has been, predictably, awful. He is portrayed as a man of peace, someone who has done little wrong and had been on track to lead the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to a happy settlement. ("settlement"? hmm, no pun intended).
I think the media's problem can be seperated into two main parts.
The first is a basic failure to acknowledge Sharon's full history. The blockbuster events reporters might want to consider include Sharon's role in the 1982 massacre at Sabra and Shatila; an Israeli inquiry later said that Sharon was indirectly responsible for allowing the massacre to happen. They also include his deadly military incurssions in the West Bank and Gaza in recent years (most notably in the spring of 2002), and his architecture of Israel's settlements in the West Bank -- viewed in almost all of the world except for Israel and the U.S. as both illegal and as one of the primary barriers to peace.
To the extent that these issues have even been acknowledged in the American press in the last three days, they've almost been placed as just the Arab side of the story. In the Times, for example, of the above three issues only the massacre has received more than a brief note, and this was in an inside article that was specifically about what Arabs think
. In other words, these parts of Sharon's history aren't treated as, well, history, but rather as one side's view of the story.
The second part of the media problem is the one that I find even more unfortunate -- it is the media's portrayal of Sharon's unilateral actions in the past couple years or so, most notably demonstrated in the Gaza 'withdrawal'. This is simply written up as Sharon giving Palestinians a state and making peace (even the U.S. doesn't formally support Israel acting unilaterally, even if in practice we do). What's absent in the news is any notion that what Sharon is doing is simply formally annexing 8-10% of the West Bank, leaving a quasi-sovereign Palestinian state that will be no state at all. It would include Gaza, a part of Eastern Jerusalem, and a West Bank section that would be nearly seperated into two pieces -- probably connected by a sliver of land that Israel might effectively control. And then there's water, air, and border rights..
This part of the media problem is exemplified in the Times op-ed page on Friday giving space to Benny Morris
to write, among other things, that Israel's barrier is "more or less along the 1967 Green Line." In other words, what Sharon was doing was basically fine and good.
If and when Sharon dies, it looks to the media to be simply a question of how Kadima can fulfill his wonderful legacy of peace.