Quick: you are a government official and you have to respond to a question on the spot, but you don't know the actual answer. Is it better to (1) make up an answer that fits your world view, or (2) say "We'll unearth the truth and then let you know"?
Lori Lowenthal MarcusLori Lowenthal Marcus is a journalist and recovered lawyer.
The world press in the Middle East has rewarded the morally wrong answer to that question time after time. And the reading and listening public rewards the liars by valuing rapid responses over verifiable truths.
Yasser Arafat has had a starring role as an on-the-spot-and-unabashed-liar for about a dozen years. Rather than diminishing his credibility, Arafat's value as an interviewee remains at peak level. Fast with the quotes, loose with the facts.
Remember the homicide bombing at the Dolphinarium discotheque in Tel Aviv? Arafat publicly condemned the carnage and that condemnation was widely reported. Actually, Arafat privately rewarded the bomber's family financially and effusively. How come you don't already know that?
Most government officials, even if they don't feel morally bound to tell the truth, are constrained by external consciences. Usually the voting public, or the ever-vigilantly dubious press, will out a liar, and will do it with brutal glee.
But not always.
Yasser Arafat repeatedly claims to condemn terrorism. But the recent discovery of an iron-clad smoking gun pointing out of his checkbook unequivocally exposes the claim as a flat-out lie.
Arafat and his Arab Palestinian leadership frequently lie to the press. Those lies are repeated verbatim, with little or no investigation. Then the press moves on to the next story.
Israeli officials, on the other hand, typically respond to queries about important operations or incidents with an equivocal, "The matter is under investigation." No disingenuous denials, no inflamed rhetoric, just a flat statement of intent to investigate.
And amazingly enough, Israelis actually conduct these investigations into questioned incidents involving their own actions and those of their enemies.
One such investigation involved an exhaustive search of reams of documents Israelis took from Arafat's Mukata headquarters. Those documents reveal conclusively that Yasser Arafat financially and enthusiastically rewards Arab terrorism.
I found it ironic that when Israelis broke into Arafat's Mukata during Operation Defensive Shield, they confiscated computer discs. Who else but Jews would pounce upon computer discs as the Holy Grail of an incursion?
But those discs did reveal the equivalent of the Holy Grail: cold, hard evidence proving - not suggesting, not hinting at, but proving - Arafat paid off families of homicide bombers.
Hassan Khutari detonated himself at the entrance to the Dolphinarium discotheque in Tel Aviv on June 1, 2001. That homicide bomb tore 21 people to pieces, most of them teenagers. Yasser Arafat's public condemnation of the bombing was widely reported.
But documents found in Arafat's headquarters reveal he personally sent Khutari's family a $2,000 check, complimenting Hassan's heroic deed. Arafat also wrote a letter to Khutari's father. In handwriting confirmed to be Arafat's, Hassan Khutari was praised for his "heroic martyrdom operation - who turned his body into bombs ? the model of manhood and sacrifice for the sake of Allah and the homeland."
In Arafat's world, sending your child to become an exploding weapon in order to murder as many Israeli kids as possible wins you the Arab equivalent of the Publishers Clearinghouse Sweepstakes.
The existence of this documentary proof was made public by Israel in the middle of September. But this slam-dunk myth-shattering evidence was not pounced upon by Middle East-based reporters. In fact, it wasn't mentioned by even a single mainstream media source: not the New York Times, not the Washington Post, not the Philadelphia Inquirer, not ABC, not CNN, not NPR. Not one. Arutz Sheva was the only media outlet to cover the story. And almost no one picked it up.
Apparently, the truth is insignificant unless uttered the moment a microphone or a reporter's notepad is thrust in your face. Vacuous apologies and utterly baseless allegations fit the ticket just fine, thank you very much. Liars are rewarded with enormous media coverage. News consumers worldwide ingest the media saturation of the Arab lies. This constant brain marinating is an effective, proven weapon for producing anti-Israel views.
We now know that Arafat gave a cash prize to the family of a man who brutally murdered 21 Israelis at a discotheque in Tel Aviv. But that's not news, according to the news professionals.
Journalists usually play the role of external consciences. Middle East journalists, apparently, do not. Maybe that's why a liar like Arafat is still in power.
Arafat may be a brutal master terrorist, but he's never too busy to respond to questions. And isn't that what's important?