Headlines are meant to capture the readers attention
and often determine whether people choose to read an article at all. In many
instances, they are the only information readers derive about a story.
Moreover, since the headline precedes other details, it greatly influences the
readers interpretation of information that follows in the text. For these
reasons, it is especially important that newspaper headlines be consistent,
accurate and specific.
The Chicago Tribune, one of Americas most
prominent newspapers, has a significant headline problem. In looking at seven
months of coverage of the Arab-Israeli conflict, CAMERA found notable
differences in the nearly 200 headlines for stories reporting Israeli versus
The analysis considered all Chicago Tribune
headlines that related to Israelis or Palestinians taking, or threatening to
take (often violent), action against the other party during the period of June
1, 2002 to Dec. 31, 2002. Each headline was assigned to one (sometimes two) of
four categories: Israelis identified taking action, Israelis taking action but
not identified, Palestinians identified taking action, Palestinians taking
action but not identified. The study considered Arafat,
Fatah and Hamas as Palestinian.
Sharon and West Bank settlers were classified as
Israel. The analysis included only news events that involved both
Arabs and Israelis.
The results were dramatic.
When Israel was acting against Palestinians, Israel was
named in the headline 78 percent of the time. In contrast, when reporting
Palestinian belligerency the Tribune identified Palestinians by name in
only 19 percent of the headlines.
During a seven month span in which nearly 50 suicide bombers
and gunmen blew up or shot to death nearly 200 Israelis, the Chicago
Tribune never used the terms Palestinian suicide bomber or
Palestinian kills and only once used Palestinian
gunman in headlines.
When the Tribune reported Palestinian attacks
against Israel, the newspaper only indentified Palestinians by name
in three headlines. It should be noted that the Tribune regularly
employed Palestinian to identify the target or victim of Israeli
actions, underscoring that the length of the word did not preclude its use.
One Week in August
For example, a reader of the paper who only skimmed the headlines for the first
week of August would extract the following information:
7 die in Israeli campus attack (Aug. 1)
Israel hits Nablus in wake of deadly campus bombing (Aug. 3)
Israel says deadly attack was mistake (Aug. 3)
Israeli army raids Nablus; dozens held (Aug. 3)
Israel presses searches in Nablus (Aug. 4)
Israelis comb Nablus for suspects (Aug. 4)
Bomb explodes on bus in Israel (Aug. 4)
Wave of attacks stuns Israel (Aug. 5)
Israel cracks down in wake of attacks (Aug. 6)
Israeli forces hit houses in Gaza (Aug. 7)
In just one week, Israel was identified to have
participated in seven aggressive actions. Israel was specifically named as it
hit houses, crack[ed] down, search[ed],
raid[ed] and hit its adversaryand as it committed
a deadly attack that was a mistake.
In contrast, the Tribune completely omitt ed direct
mention of Palestinian participation in violence. Palestinians were not
identified even once as perpetrators of violence although that week they were
responsible for a suicide bombing that killed nine, a bomb planted in Hebrew
Universitys cafeteria that also killed nine, and lethal shootings that
targeted civilians and killed both parents of three young children.
The Chicago Tribune printed more than twice as many
headlines in this first week of August that described the Israeli response to
the terrorist attacks than the paper printed on the assaults themselves. One
might assume the Tribune ran such a disproportionate number of stories about
the Israeli response because Israel engaged in more separate reportable actions
than the Palestinians. However, there were many events the Chicago
Tribune chose to omit.
For example, Israel foiled 10 suicide bombings in just that
week, including preventing a 17-year-old girl from carryi ng out a suicide
mission. No headline alerted readers to this. Yet the foiled attack was
arguably as newsworthy as the demolition of terrorists homes, which was
reported. The same week, Palestinian terrorists pulled up next to the car of a
young family and shot to death the parents driving with their now orphaned
children. There was no headline here either.
Seven Month Period
It is also revealing to compare the headlines of those events that entailed a
high casualty count during the seven month analysis. Mass deaths were more
frequently inflicted on Israelis but even in these cases the Palestinian
perpetrators were rarely identified. In the many fewer events in which
Israel caused a comparably large Palestinian death toll, Israel was invariably
Israeli strike kills at least 12 in Gaza; Targeted
Hamas chief among dead (July 23) was the headline for the story about an
air strike that killed terrorist leader Salah Shehade h along with 14
civilians. Other titles for stories involving multiple Palestinian casualties
read: 5 killed as Israeli troops sweep town (Nov. 20); 9
Palestinians die as Israel hits Gaza (Sept. 24); 5 killed in
Israeli Helicopter strike; (Sept. 1);Israeli tank fire kills 4 in
Jenin; 3 children among the fatalities in curfew disaster
Such headlines in which Israel is clearly identified as a
perpetrator sharply contrast with the portrayal of Palestinian actions that
kill and wound a large number of Israeli civilians. 20 die in blast,
Israel vows to retake West Bank lands (June 19) was the headline for a
story about a Palestinian suicide bomber who detonated himself on a crowded
Jewish school raid ends with 6 deaths; Israeli army
holds car-bomb suspect (Dec. 28) was the grossly misleading headline for
an attack in which Palestinian terrorists infiltrated a school where students
were celebrating the Sabbath meal.
Car bomb near Israeli bus kills at least 14
(June 5) was the title for the story about a Palestinian suicide terrorist who
exploded a van packed with explosives alongside an Israeli bus.
The headline that read Wave of attacks stuns
Israel (Aug. 5) was a report about a one-day total of six attacks that
killed more than a dozen and wounded nearly 100 Israelis. If the newspaper
followed the style of headlines applied to Israeli actions, the story would
have read Six Palestinian attacks kill 13 and wound dozens.
Although every one of these attacks was committed by
Palestinians, the attackers were never named.
The Chicago Tribune is also more likely to identify
in headlines young Palestinian victims. While it specified in seven
headlines that Palestinian children were killed, not once did the newspaper
report in the headline that Israelis murdered were children.
The repeated identification of Israelis alone as perpetr
ators reinforces their allegedly aggressive or belligerent participation in the
conflict whereas the almost total omission of Palestinian in the
headlines obscures Palestinian involvement in aggression. Furthermore, the
disproportionate number of headlines emphasizing Israeli actions misleadingly
implicates Israel as the primary initiator in the conflict and violence. One
can only speculate at the cumulative effect on readers, many of whom may not
read the text that follows, of headlines that continually characterize Israel
as the aggressor while omitting identification of Palestinians as perpetrators.
For a complete list of Chicago Tribune headlines
about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict,