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Media Analyses





As Cease-fire Fails, Some Headlines Fail to Explain Why


Fighting continues in Gaza and Israel today, despite attempts to put into place a cease-fire. Here are the facts, which are known to every journalist covering the conflict: Egypt proposed a cease-fire yesterday that called for an end to "all hostilities" between Hamas and Israel. Israel's security cabinet formally accepted the cease-fire at 9 AM this morning in Jerusalem, and completely halted its military operation. Hamas, on the other hand, continued to fire nearly 50 rockets at Israel during this hiatus, while its officials Sami Abu Zuhri and Fawzi Barhum and the terror group's armed Al Qassam Brigades announced they rejected calls to stop the attacks. After six hours of continued attacks against its population centers, Israel announced that it would be resuming its military operation, and hit Hamas-affiliated targets in the Gaza Strip.

It was a straightforward series of events that made up the building blocks of the story this morning. But not every headline writer could figure out how to convey the news to readers. Here we'll look at some examples of headlines that range from clear and informative to opaque and unhelpful.

Headlines that Have it All

In a headline that captured all the key points of the sequence including its chronology, NBC News announced, that "Israel Abandons Cease-Fire After Barrage of Rockets from Gaza."

Los Angeles Times headline writers were also on top of the story as it developed, informing readers that "Hamas keeps up rocket attacks after Israel agrees to cease-fire."

(A headline to a story published hours later did much worse. "Israel resumes airstrikes on Gaza hours after cease-fire attempt," the newspaper announced before eventually changing that title to  to "Netanyahu vows to use 'great force' against Hamas after truce fails." Fortunately, the effective headline remained on the homepage of the LA Times world section, allowing readers to know at a glace that Israel did, and Hamas did not, halt attacks.)

Close, But Not Quite

A USA Today headline had temporarily summed up some of the key points of the story, noting that "Israel accepts, Hamas rejects cease-fire plan." But it didn't share that continued Hamas rocket-fire prompted a resumption in Israeli strikes. Worse yet, the lead paragraph had completely obscured this reality, stating that "it remains unclear whether any truce would hold amid an apparent resumption of strikes from both sides." The headline and lead were later changed after an Israeli was killed by Hamas rocket fire.
 
Newsweek's headline wasn't half bad, stating that "Israel Resumes Strikes on Gaza After Hamas Rejects Cease-fire." On the other hand, it was only half good. While it implied that Hamas, by rejecting the cease fire, continued its attacks, only Israel was explicitly described as taking military action. 

To Newsweek's credit, the lead paragraph did quickly and completely summarize the news for readers: "A cease-fire between Israel and Hamas has failed a mere six hours after Hamas rejected the terms as a ‘surrender,' and continued to fire rockets. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had accepted the Egypt-brokered cease-fire but with no let-up from Hamas, Israeli Defense Forces resumed their attacks on Gaza."

Washington Post headline likewise noted that Hamas rejected a truce, but likewise explicitly mentioned Israeli attacks while only implying Hamas violence. It read, "Israel resumes attacks after Hamas rejects cease-fire plan."

Headlines That Mislead

Several headlines gave the false impression that the cease-fire failed because neither side accepted a cease-fire, and neither side stopped attacking.

Reuters announced that "Israel, Palestinians battle as Egyptian-proposed Gaza ceasefire collapses." The headline writer clearly could have done better at capturing the crux of the story, which was explained well by the Reuters lead, "Israel resumed air strikes in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday after agreeing to an Egyptian-proposed ceasefire deal that failed to get Hamas militants to halt rocket attacks."

CNN, too, led readers astray with its headline, "Cease-fire effort collapses as rockets, airstrikes continue." (And this misleading headline was  an improvement over the network's first try, where the headline inverted the facts to blame Israel -- "Cease-fire attempt ends as Israeli airstrikes resume."  For chronology of the CNN headlines, see http://www.rationalistjudaism.com/2014/07/letter-to-cnn.html.
 
Similarly, the Chicago Tribune announced: "Fighting resumes as Israel-Hamas cease-fire collapses"

Worst of the Worst

The worst headlines turned reality upside down, as CNN's headline originally did, by suggesting that a cease-fire would have held were it not for Israeli aggression.

"Israeli airstrikes resume as Gaza cease-fire attempt fails," Al Jazeera America stated.

At NPR, a headline suggested that Israel's "resumption" of strikes came in a vacuum, and thus was responsible for the failure of a cease-fire chance: "Israel Resumes Airstrikes On Gaza, As Cease-Fire Chance Slips Away." (The web address of NPR's piece — ceasefire-proposal-gets-israel-s-ok-rocket-strikes-persist — suggests that they may have initially gotten the headline right.)

ABC's headline was as partisan as it was pithy: "Israel Resumes Gaza Bombing Campaign."

And an Irish Times headline suggested that while the Jewish state had agreed to a truce, it reneged on its promise, perhaps never intending to keep it.  The newspaper slyly manipulated the facts, declaring "Israel resumes air strikes on Gaza after agreeing truce." 

Simply Bizarre

It is certainly bad when media outlets imply Israel was the first to break a cease-fire, never mind the reality that Hamas never stopped attacking Israeli cities. But The Guardian perhaps belongs in its own category. The British newspaper, even when acknowledging Hamas fired rockets, still blames Israel's eventual retaliation for causing the collapse of the cease-fire.
 
The headlines described in this piece were live at the time of publication, but may have changed as the day progressed and stories were updated.

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