Headline Problem Persists at the Los Angeles Times

On Nov. 11, 2002, CAMERA contacted the Los Angeles Times about an ongoing headline problem which was first documented in a CAMERA study on the paper’s coverage of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict from late March to early April. The most troubling finding was a serious imbalance in headlines; when Israelis acted against Palestinians, the perpetrators were clearly identified as Israelis. In contrast, when Palestinians acted against Israelis, the language was usually passive and the perpetrators were not identified.

Unfortunately, the disparity is still a problem. Headlines on November 11 and November 10 provided a stark example. The November10 story about the Israeli killing of an Islamic Jihad leader is clearly headlined, with the perpetrators identified:

“Israeli Forces Kill Senior Members of Islamic Jihad” (November 10, 2002)

When it comes to the Palestinian killing of five Israeli civilians, however, the headline writer does not identify the attacker:

“Gun Attack Kills 5 Israelis at Kibbutz” (November 11, 2002) 

Was the “gun attack”an entity onto itself, deciding when and how to strike?

In response to CAMERA’s concerns, the Los Angeles Times has  noted that the “purpose of headlines is to fit in as much information as possible. Headlines are notoriously finite and naturally favor shorter words over long.” For this reason, according to the Times, Israelis are more often identified than Palestinians in headlines.

If space is truly the problem, the Times can substitute the word “Arab” for “Palestinian” if needed.  While the goal is to fit as much information as possible into the headline, it is also critical to prioritize. The information in a headline should include the most basic facts about the story, such as who is performing what.

The LA Times also responded that headlines do not exist in a vacuum — that they accompany a clarifying article and that the lead sentence of  November 11 story (“Gun Attack Kills 5 Israelis at Kibbutz”) explained:

At least one suspected Palestinian gunman infiltrated a remote Israeli kibbutz just across the border from the West Bank last Sunday. . . .

But, studies have shown that readers only look at the headlines of many stories, without reading the article itself.  For this reason, headlines should be as informative as possible regarding the most important information in the story — who, what and where.

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