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How the Media Frames It

July 12, 2023

by: Ilse Strauss, News Bureau Chief

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Masked man holding a gun with a phone pointed at his face by a media outlet

In September 2000, the New York Times published an Associated Press picture to give readers a peak at the horrors of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. They chose well. The picture spoke the proverbial thousand words.

The image portrayed a dark-haired youth—rivulets of blood from multiple head wounds staining his white shirt crimson; his face a mask of fear and horror—cowering in front of a baton-wielding Israeli police officer. The caption identified the petrified young man as a Palestinian. And the Israeli police officer? The caption didn’t say. The implication was clear though. The Israeli was obviously responsible for the youth’s wounds, and the picture was undoubtedly taken as he crouched in pain and terror, awaiting the next blow. What else could the reader possibly infer?

In truth, the picture was not of a Palestinian but of Tuvia Grossman, a Jewish American studying in Jerusalem. It was taken after a Palestinian mob pulled Grossman from a taxi, severely beating and stabbing him. And the Israeli police officer? Turns out he was protecting Grossman, wielding his baton as he warned the mob to stay back.

Although the incident sparked largescale outrage among the Jewish community in the US and in Israel, nobody was overly surprised. It wasn’t the first incident of anti-Israel bias in the mainstream media and it definitely wasn’t the last. In fact, the Associated Press picture in the New York Times was but one example of a chilling phenomenon that now virtually stands as a hallmark of the way Israel is portrayed in the media.

Objectivity is often hailed as the holy grail of journalism. Correspondents and news anchors are urged to pick up their pens or take their place in front of the camera to present the facts free from opinion, influence, belief or persuasion. It is then up to the audience to interpret those facts, identify the bad guy and assign blame.

Yet when it comes to Israel and the Palestinians, it seems that the majority of international news outlets have abandoned the mandate of impartial observers reporting on what they witness. Instead, they have morphed into active participants with a preferred side that now wage an information war on their chosen side’s behalf, touting an ideology instead of relaying facts.

It’s All About Semantics

Some outlets are overtly anti-Israel. They make no attempt to sugarcoat their stance and season their prose with phrases like “illegal outposts,” “occupied territories” and even “occupied Jerusalem.” Instead of the Israel Defense Forces, they use “occupation army,” and refer to Israel as a “settler colonial project.”

Yet this glaring bias and open hostility actually render such outlets the lesser of two evils. Once a source openly shuns objectivity, audiences view the “news” it produces with suspicion, as opinion and ideology rather than fact. The result? These are the resources that those with a similar opinion and ideology consume to affirm their opinion and avow their ideology, not the outlets the ordinary reader turns to for information.

Far more destructive are sources that attempt to conceal their seeming anti-Israel bias. Claiming objectivity, they steer clear of openly hostile terms and instead use techniques like selection, omission, leading and framing to shape the perception of its audience—and in this particular case, paint a picture about Israel that is far more damaging and far more dangerous than any openly hostile source.

Sadly, examples abound. In October 2015, a BBC headline announced “Palestinian Shot Dead after Jerusalem Attack Kills Two.” Reporting on the same attack, Al Jazeera headlined its article, “Palestinian shot dead after fatal stabbing in Jerusalem; 2 Israeli victims also killed.”

Technically, both headlines were correct. A Palestinian had been shot to death in Israel’s capital. Yet what the headlines failed to mention was that said Palestinian was the perpetrator of the Jerusalem attack in which he murdered two Israelis.

Through a nifty choice of information to select and omit, the BBC and Al Jazeera led with the details they deemed important and framed the events to victimize the terrorist—and by unspoken implication, vilified or at least dismissed Israel.

Two years later, the BBC was at it again with a headline announcing, “Three Palestinians Killed After Deadly Stabbing in Jerusalem.” Again, nobody could fault the technical accuracy. Yet what the headline again failed to mention was that the three Palestinians committed a combined terror attack in which a 19-year-old Israeli Border Policewoman was murdered.

Then there was the Associated Press informing its readers that “Israeli Police Shoot Man in East Jerusalem,” conveniently omitting that the man ploughed his car into a crowded bus stop, killing a three-month-old baby and injuring 15 people.

Without stating it explicitly, these headlines communicated a clear message. The fate of the Palestinians matter and is worthy of attention, empathy and outrage. The Israelis are mere afterthoughts, referred to in passive voice, if at all.

Granted, the BBC, Al Jazeera and the AP explained somewhere in the article following the shameful headlines that Israeli police shot the Palestinians for a specific reason: to put a halt to the terror attack, to prevent further loss of life and keep innocent bystanders safe. But that was a little too late.

Studies show that nearly 60% of readers skim the headlines without reading the accompanying article. This means that casual readers with no vested interest in the Israeli–Palestinian conflict base their stance purely on the headlines they scan. The headlines are crucial for the remaining 40% of active readers too. Headlines and the first sentence of a news article apparently set the scene and frame the way stories are read, interpreted and remembered. The take-away? Stating the fact, in this instance, that the Palestinian murdered two civilians—which is why the police shot him—in the second half of the first paragraph matters little. By that time, the die has been cast.

Now What?

If the past is a pretext for the future, the media coverage of Israel will become more biased, more slanted and more focused on communicating a pro-Palestinian victim narrative as opposed to relaying the facts. As Christians who love Israel and the God of Israel, this puts us in a critical position. Isaiah 62:6 calls us the watchmen on the walls of Jerusalem who speak out day and night. And in a “post-truth” society where news outlets have abandoned the mandate of impartial observers and morphed into active participants waging an information war on their chosen side’s behalf, our voices on Israel’s behalf have never been needed more.

Photo Credit: Click on photo for photo credit

Photo License: Arab male soldier and Hand Holding Phone: via Canva.com

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