Biased AP Headlines Mislead Readers

Associated Press editors have been attaching misleading headlines to stories about Israel and the Palestinians. (Although newspapers that carry AP stories may substitute their own headline, the AP version is often reprinted verbatim.) For example, according to an AP report filed today, July 1, some Hamas operatives in the process of planting a roadside bomb were interrupted by Israeli troops, and in the resulting gun battle two of the Hamas members were killed. The AP report itself was balanced, as was the original headline, which read “Two Palestinians killed by soldiers as they try to plant roadside bomb.”

But as the story was sent out by AP multiple times the rest of the day, a different headline was used, which was neither fair nor balanced. The new headline read “Israeli Troops Kill 2 Palestinians,” giving no indication to readers that the Palestinians were armed and in the process of preparing a violent attack when they were caught. Someone who read only the headline, as many people do, might assume Israeli soldiers gratuitously shot two innocent Palestinians. This, of course, was not the case – it was the Palestinians who were in the process of trying to kill innocent people. Why did AP editors replace an accurate headline that included essential context with a misleading one?

By way of comparison, AP also reported the same day on violence not involving Israel, and these did get clear and accurate headlines. For example, a report about an Iranian government crackdown against drug dealers was headlined “Iran Police Kill 9 Drug Traffickers.” According to the lead, the dealers were killed in shootouts as police raided drug rings. Notice AP did not headline the story with “Iranian Police Kill 9 Citizens,” or “Police in Iran Kill 9,” which might have led readers to believe that innocent people had simply been gunned down.

An AP story from the Philippines reported that in a clash government soldiers killed a Muslim rebel leader. The report was headlined “Muslim Rebel Killed in Philippines,” thereby leading the reader to assume accurately that the killing was not the execution of an innocent civilian. AP editors did not write a deceptive headline such as “Philippine Soldiers Kill Muslim.”

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