In a key period in late March and early April, as Israel
suffered a wave of unprecedented Palestinian terrorism prompting the Israel
Defense Forces to respond with incursions into areas under Palestinian
Authority control, the New York Times presented a decidedly skewed
picture of events. Reporting focused heavily on Palestinian suffering while
continually minimizing the personal toll on Israelis. The number and prominence
(judged by placement and size) of news stories and photographs regularly cast
Palestinians as blameless victims of Israeli aggression. Israeli victims were
rarely even named, much less profiled. Guest Op-Eds were overwhelmingly
tilted toward condemnation of Israel.
The Times distorted presentation of events is
especially troubling given the papers influence on its readership, policy
makers and other members of the media. The analysis below covers the period
from March 28-April 11.
1. Prominence of Articles, Photographs, and Headlines
Only 3 of 10 terrorist attacks that targeted
Israelisthe Passover Massacre of March 27, the Tel Aviv café
bombing of March 30, and the Haifa restaurant suicide bombing of March
31received headlined, front-page coverage.
News stories of other terrorist attacks were either absent
( the stabbing deaths of two elderly men on their way to synagogue in
Netzarim on March 29; a suicide bombing that killed a border policeman who
stopped a terrorist on March 30), summarized in one paragraph or less
within other articles (the infiltration into and killing of a family in
Eilon Moreh on March 29; the suicide bombing outside an emergency medical
center in Efrat on March 31; the killing of guard in Har Homa on April 1; the
suicide bombing in Jerusalem that killed the policeman who stopped the car
carrying the terrorists on April 1), or relegated to the middle of the
International section (the supermarket suicide bombing that killed 2 and
wounded over 30 in Jerusalem on March 29, p.A6; the Haifa bus bombing that
killed 8 and wounded 22 on April 10, p.A12).
By contrast, 14 news stories about Israels
Operation Defensive Shield (not including American or Arab reaction or news
analysis) were carried on the front page.
Only 2 photographs of Palestinian terrorist attacks
(Passover Massacre, on March 28 and Haifa restaurant suicide bombing, on April
2) made it to the front page, compared to 11 front page photographs of
the Israeli Operation Defensive Shield.
Example: A specific example of the de-emphasis of
Palestinian attacks against Israelis is the coverage of the Haifa bus bombing
of April 10, the first major suicide attack after Israeli forces started to
pull back from some of the areas entered during Operation Defensive Shield. The
Haifa bombing was briefly mentioned within an article about Israels
military actions and was covered in a headlined article on one eighth of page
A12 with no accompanying photographs (April 11: Joel Greenberg,
New Suicide Raid Casts Doubt on Israeli Strategy). The
front page of that issue carried three two-page articles focused primarily on
Israels actions or Palestinian victimhood:
- James Bennet, In New Rebuff to U.S., Sharon Pushes Military Sweep
- Serge Schmemann, Attacks Turn Palestinian Plans Into Bent Metal and
Piles of Dust
- Todd S. Purdum, Europeans Press Demands on Israel, accompanied by a
large color photograph of Palestinian children looking at rubble in Nablus.
2. Human Interest Stories
During the period of our study, Palestinian terrorist
attacks were responsible for scores of deaths and hundreds of wounded Israeli
non-combatants, but aside from initial news stories which may have quoted
eyewitnesses, there were only 2 stories about victims of Palestinian terrorist
attacks and no stories about relatives of the victims or survivors of the
For example, there was no mention of the Gavish family in
Eilon Moreh who had gathered to celebrate the Passover holiday and were shot to
death by a Palestinian terrorist who broke into in their home on March 28. A
father, mother, grandfather, and son were all killed leaving behind seven
orphaned children. A pregnant daughter-in-law and her toddler managed to hide
under a table and thus escape the marauding terrorist. The only coverage the
Times provided, however, was the following sentence buried in an article
about Arafat :
Even as Mr. Arafat
made his pledge, a Palestinian gunmen shot and killed four Israelis in a Jewish
settlement near the West Bank city of Nablus.
Similarly, it might have interested Times readers to
learn how two little girls, ages 3 and 7, orphaned by a Palestinian
suicide bomber were faring in the aftermath of a March 21 terrorist
attack. Both parents were blown apart as they left a doctors
appointment where they had just discovered they were expecting twins.
However, no such story was forthcoming and indeed no mention was ever made
of the two young survivors. While the list of possible stories humanizing
the victims was long (Israeli victims of terrorist attacks during the
period of our study and the week preceding it numbered 73 dead and
hundreds wounded), the Times, for the most part, ignored these
Even the horrific Passover attack which killed 28 Israelis
and wounded 130 did not prompt even one follow-up story; there was no
mention of the Holocaust survivors who were slain nor of the children who
lost both parents at once.
It is impossible to ignore the blatant imbalance in human
interest stories presented. There were 5 human interest stories
exclusively about Israeli suffering of which only 2 focused on victims of
terror attacks. By contrast, there were 14 human interest stories
focused solely on Palestinian suffering or on terrorists and their families.
Human Interest Stories about Israelis
- April 1: Serge Schmemann, In Jerusalem, Bare Streets and Concern for
- April 5: Joel Greenberg, 2 Girls, Divided by War, Joined in Carnage
- April 6: Serge Schmemann, On Border With Lebanon, This Family is Never
- April 8: Joel Greenberg, 6 Israelis Mix Confusion, Fear and
- April 11: Barbara Crossette, Niece of Israeli U.N. Ambassador
Human Interest Stories about Palestinians
- March 31: Neil MacFarquhar, Grimly, Palestinians Stay Tuned to News
- March 31: Joel Greenberg, Daughter Concealed Angry Soul of a Martyr
- April 1: Joel Brinkley, Relatives and Neighbors Proud of Suicide
- April 1: John Kifner, Residents Cower in Vibrant Ramallah, Now A Ghost
Town Occupied by Israelis
- April 3: Joel Brinkley, Gazans Await Israeli Attack Despite Lack of a
- April 3: John Kifner, In West Bank, Burials Reflect Politics and
- April 4: James Bennet, Bleeding to Death
- April 4: Joel Brinkley, Hamas Spirits Soar
- April 5: John Kifner, Under Siege, Without Power or Water
- April 6: James Bennet, Many Wounds and a Wish to Die for the Homeland
- April 10: Joel Greenberg, Freed Palestinians Tell of Roundup in Grim
- April 10: David Rohde, Palestinians Say Israelis Sow Hatred in the
- April 11: Joel Brinkley, The Assault is Over, the Casbah Is in Ruins
- April 11: Serge Schmemann, Attacks Turn Palestinian Plans Into Bent
Metal and Piles of Dust
3. Terrorist and Victim in Balanced
A human interest story about the Israeli teenaged victim of
a supermarket suicide bombing was run one week after the terrorist attack, but
was paired with a profile of her killer (April 5: Joel Greenberg, 2
Girls, Divided by War, Joined in Carnage).
Not only was this first and only report providing any
details about Rachel Levy blurred into an equating of young lives lost on both
sides of the conflict, it was the third one giving details and
photographs of the terrorist.
The first story about the attack focused more on the
Palestinian suicide bomber than on her victims (March 30: Serge Schmemann,
Suicide Bomber, 18, Kills Two Israelis and Herself). This was
followed the next day by an article about the suicide bombers family
(March 31: Joel Greenberg, Daughter Concealed Angry Soul of a
Martyr). Together, the two articles presented information about the
terrorists name, sex, age, occupation, motivations, brothers, father, as
well as a large full length photo of her and another of her mourning father.
The only information provided about the victims of this terrorist attack was
that a man and woman were killed, and that at least 30 were
wounded. No names, no descriptions, no occupations, no ages, no mourning
families and no photographs. While the female victim of the bombing was named
one week later, the male victim of the bombing was apparently deemed
un-newsworthy, his name never mentioned. He was Haim Smadar, temporarily
working as a security guard at the supermarket during the Passover holidays.
4. Emphasis on and Mislabeling of pro-Palestinian
There were at least four stories which quoted Adam Shapiro,
an American Jew who entered Ramallah to protect and assist Yasir Arafat. Two
articles were devoted exclusively to him or his words.
On March 30, Shapiro was quoted in three paragraphs of a
news story about the Israeli armys encirclement of Arafats compound
(James Bennet, Israelis Besieging Defiant Arafat). Another story
that day was comprised entirely of Shapiros quotes (Joel Greenberg,
American Describes Arafats Post Under Siege). On March 31, an
additional story was devoted to Shapiros phone call to his family
(Susan Saulny, For American A Long Night Inside Arafats
Subsequent reported threats against Shapiros family
were covered not only in the metropolitan news section, which is
understandable, but were deemed worthy of an editorial directed at
irresponsible local supporters of Israel. With all the urgent
issues facing people around the world, this was indeed a puzzling editorial
judgement, especially since there was no proof that these calls, if they
actually occurred, came from supporters of Israel.
It is also notable that in the April 3 story (Saulny,
Threatened, Couple Flee Apartment in Brooklyn), Adam Shapiro is
consistently referred to as a humanitarian worker, a curious
designation in light of Shapiros open support for armed
resistance and a Palestinian violent movement. Nowhere in its
extensive and quite sympathetic coverage of Shapiro did the Times see
fit to quote from Shapiros January 29 article in Palestine
Chronicle, in which he explained his support for nonviolence as merely
tactical, as a means to manipulate the media. Writing with his
fiancée, Shapiro explained that:
While we do not
advocate adopting the methods of Gandhi or Martin Luther King, Jr., we do
believe that learning from their experience and informing a Palestinian
movement with this knowledge can be quite valuable and of great utility. ...
[T]he use of nonviolence is about control and power
those who maintain nonviolence and exploit the use of violence by the
oppressor maintain control and power, which is something that can be
manipulated to present a story, a case or an image.
... we accept that the Palestinians have a right to
resist with arms, as they are an occupied people ... Palestinian resistance
must take on a variety of characteristics both nonviolent and
Shapiro and his fiancée also wrote that
Palestinians killed in nonviolent protests will have died in a manner:
... no less noble
that carrying out a suicide operation. And we are certain that if these men
were killed during such an action, they would be considered shaheed
It is nothing short of astounding that the Times
would characterize as a humanitarian worker someone who holds such
views, and who could write that a suicide operation is
noble. And it was not just Adam Shapiro who benefitted from such
mischaracterizations by the paper. The Times ran several large
photographs and articles about pro-Palestinian supporters demonstrating for
Arafat, and photo captions, headlines, and articles invariably labeled them as
pacifists, peace advocates, or peace
activists, thus adopting the terminology of partisan players while
ignoring the fact that these so-called peace-lovers limited themselves to
5. Photographic Bias
Photographic images of unfolding events in the Middle East
help shape the perceptions of those dependent on the New York Times as
their major or only source of information. Unfortunately, the images and
captions displayed on the pages of the Times reveal a total lack of
During the period of the analysis, the Times
presented a total of 18 photographs of Israelis (not including those of
Israeli leaders). Of these, 7 presented the aftermath of suicide
bombings and only 2 appeared on the front page.
In sharp contrast, there were 45 photographs
portraying Palestinians as victims, Israelis as aggressors, or Palestinian
suicide bombers and their families, 11 of which appeared on the front
page (not including photographs of Palestinian leaders).
In addition, there were 19 mostly large photographs
of pro-Palestinian demonstrators versus only 1 small photograph of an
Israeli solidarity demonstration in New York, despite the fact that numerous
pro-Israel demonstrations had been staged across America. In addition, there
was a large photograph of Israelis demonstrating against Israeli
Aside from the lack of balance in size, number, and
placement of photographs, the captions attached to them were often distorted or
misleading, including the use of editorializing, lack of context, or selective
information added to the photograph. For example:
March 30: Under large front-page photograph:
Israeli troops stormed through a hole into the
Palestinian Authority compound in Ramallah yesterday.
Since it is not obvious that Israelis are
storming anything, this is editorial comment.
Misleading and/or Insufficient Context
April 3: Under large front-page photograph:
Israeli soldiers ordered a Palestinian to raise
his shirt during a search yesterday at a checkpoint near Ramallah.
No context is provided for the soldiers request. The
caption implies that Israelis are gratuitously humiliating the Palestinian. A
less prejudicial caption might have read:
Israeli soldiers checked a Palestinian for
concealed weapons at a checkpoint near Ramallah.
April 4: Under large front-page photograph:
Israeli guards at a border checkpoint beat a
peace activist yesterday during a demonstration in Jerusalem.
The caption again provides no context. The photograph shows
an Israeli policeman who appears to be subduing, not beating, a man by pinning
him to the ground with one knee. No information is given for what this
peace activist was doing before being subdued. Likewise, the
terminology peace activist prejudges the motives and activities of
these anti-Israel demonstrators.
April 6: Under large front-page photograph:
Palestinian girls were followed by Israeli
soldiers in Bethlehem yesterday during a break in the citys
The caption implies that Israeli soldiers are harassing two
young girls. The photo shows two girls walking on a street. Israeli soldiers
are a distance behind them and do not appear to be looking at the children.
Again, no context is given.
Addition of Selective Information
April 4: Under a photograph of Israeli soldiers
patrolling a street in Bethlehem:
Israeli soldiers patrolling Bethlehem yesterday.
Shops were closed and few residents ventured out. Some ambulances could not
reach the wounded.
The caption might have read:
Israeli soldiers patrolling Bethlehem yesterday.
Palestinian gunmen, some dressed as Israeli soldiers, battled with Israeli
troops in and around Bethlehems Manger Square. The troops drove back
gunmen until about 200 shot their way into the Church of the
April 8: Under photograph of Palestinians gazing out
from an arcade:
Palestinian fighters watched yesterday from an
arcade in the Nablus casbah as Israeli tanks tightened their grip on the city.
Earlier, in a narrow street in the Old City, an Israeli sniper found a clear
line of fire and killed Ahmed Tabouk, a leader of previous uprisings against
The caption might have read:
Fighting in Nablus was focused on the casbah
yesterday, as troops moved house-to-house. The army found three weapons
factories in Nablus today, where an Israeli sniper killed Ahmed Tabouk, Fatah
military wing leader.
In addition to selective information, the caption adopts
Arab terminology uprising against Israeli occupation.
In the two weeks following the Passover Massacre (March
28-April 11), the Times op-ed page carried seven guest op-eds that
concentrated on the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in addition to those
by their regular columnists.
Of the invited guest op-eds, four were by people
generally known to espouse a Palestinian perspective who criticized
Israels policies and/or discussed Palestinian victimhood. The other three
op-eds included one by a far-left opponent of the Israeli government,
another by a member of the left-wing Labor-Meimad wing of Knesset, both of
which opposed Sharons policies, and the third by a former U.S. security
adviser critical of Sharon. The Times guest op-eds at such a
critical time were limited to a left-wing, anti-Sharon perspective, with
no one included to present the mainstream Israeli perspective.
The op-eds included:
March 30: Yossi Beilin, More War Is Not the Route
to Israeli Security
Yossi Beilin, well-known as one of the architects of Oslo
and an opponent of the current Israeli government, predictibly blames Sharon
for the current crisis.
April 2: Raja Shehadeh, The Path From Oslo
Raja Shehadeh, author of a book on Coming of Age in
Occupied Palestine condemns Israeli government policies and defends
Arafat as a moderate.
April 4: Shibley Telhami, Why Suicide
Terrorism Takes Root
Shibley Telhami, professor of politics at the University of
Maryland, grew up in a Christian Palestinian family in a Druze Arab village in
Israel. Telhami clearly and forcefully condemns suicide terrorism, but suggests
that Israels occupation is at the root of Palestinian suicide
bombers who, he says, have adopted this method because they think it is
effective in making occupation unbearable to Israel.
April 5: Shlomo Ben-Ami, Bushs Mideast
Shlomo Ben-Ami, a leader of the peace camp,
foreign minister in former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Baraks government,
and one of the principal negotiators in the Camp David and Taba talks with the
Palestinians, is a member of Knesset who opposes Sharons policies. In
this article, he urges abandoning interim agreements, imposing an international
solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and employing a multinational
peacekeeping force views rejected by the Israeli Cabinet and a vast
majority of the Israeli electorate.
April 6: Daoud Kuttab, Forced Off the Air in
Daoud Kuttab, a Palestinian journalist who heads the
Institute of Modern Media at Al Quds University, writes frequently about life
under what he calls Israeli occupation. In this article, Kuttab
writes emotionally about Israeli soldiers destroying a radio station in
Ramallah during military actions there.
April 7: Zbigniew Brzezinski, Moral Duty, National
Zbigniew Brzezinski, who served as national security adviser
under President Jimmy Carter, has been regarded by many Israelis as less than
an evenhanded broker. In this article, Brzezinski forcefully states that
...the 4.8 million Jewish Israelis cannot permanently sustain the
subjugation of 4.5 million Palestinians (1.2 million of whom are second-class
Israeli citizens)... The term subjugation would doubtless be
disputed by most Israelis, as would the claim that Israeli Arabs live as
April 10: Allegra Pacheco, Life Under
Allegra Pacheco, a Jewish lawyer who represents Palestinians
in the West Bank, is a fierce anti-Israel activist who condemns Israel as
apartheid and calls for its dismantlement as a Jewish state.
In this article, Pacheco accuses Israel of being in defiance of the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights and presents Palestinians as blameless victims.