Seven-Month Headlines Study Reveals Severe Imbalance

A recent seven-month CAMERA study of the Los Angeles Times‘ headlines concerning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict reveals a striking difference in the way the paper describes Israeli actions as opposed to Palestinian actions.

The study, covering the period June 1, 2002 to Dec. 31, 2002, looked at headlines for all news stories–including briefs, wire stories and features–in which one side acted, or threatened to act, against the other. Each relevant story was assigned to one or more categories: Palestinians taking specific action and being explicitly identified; Palestinians taking specific action but not being explicitly identified; Israelis taking action and being explicitly identified; and Israelis taking specific action but not being explicitly identified.

Remarkably, when Israelis acted against Palestinians they were named almost twice as often as when Palestinians acted against Israelis. Thus, out of 144 cases in which Israelis acted against Palestinians, they were explicitly identified 97 times, or 67.4 percent of the time. In contrast, out of 86 cases in which Palestinians acted against Israelis, they were named just 33 times, or 38.4 percent of the time.

In November, CAMERA contacted the Los Angeles Times with similar concerns about headlines which ran at the time. A representative of the paper responded that “the purpose of headlines is to fit in as much information as possible. Headlines are notoriously finite and naturally favor shorter over long.” However, most of the paper’s headlines concerning the Mideast conflict are long and rather detailed. Moreover, when Palestinians are the victims of Israeli-perpetrated action, there appears to be little space problem–they are usually named. Out of 144 headlines in which Israel is acting against Palestinians, the word “Palestinian(s)” is used to identify the victims more than half the time (54.2 percent). (It should be noted that this statistic does not include cases in which the victims are identified as “Hamas,” “Arafat,” and other terms referring to the Palestinian category.)

Because Los Angeles Times headlines tend to be long (the study gave equal weight to headlines and sub-headlines), many of them described more than one action. In some cases, one side perpetrated multiple actions, and in other examples each side committed one or more acts. Because of the length and complexity of some headlines, there were cases requiring judgment calls as to whether they qualified in the named or unnamed categories. Nevertheless, such instances were relatively few and an unambiguous disparity is apparent in the Times’ treatment of actions on the two sides.

In considering what constituted named actions, “Jewish settlers” are counted as identified Israelis. Similarly, “Hamas” and “Islamic Jihad” are considered identified Palestinians. Plain “settlers,” however, is not counted as named Israelis. Also, “Gunmen,” “militant,” “troops,” “soldier,” and “army” are included in the unnamed categories. Named leaders on each side, such as “Sharon” and “Arafat,” are included in the named categories.

The study included cases in which Israel restricted the activities of foreign supporters of the Palestinians, or of international organizations such as the United Nations assisting Palestinians. The study did not include cases in which there is not enough information to determine who is responsible for the action. Usually, examples of this situation include Palestinians killed under disputed circumstances. The study also discounted historical violence between the two sides, such as Abu Nidal terrorist attacks from the 1970s and the Black September attack against the Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics.

! One particularly striking finding was that even though nearly 30 headlines address Palestinian suicide bombings targeting Israelis, only once does the phrase vPalestinian suicide bomber” appear. In this lone case, the bomber was the perceived victim. That July 11 headline reads: “In Israeli Lab, Some of Dead Get No Rest: What to do about the remains of Palestinian suicide bombers poses a vexing problem as bodies go unclaimed by relatives.”

! Almost always, headlines about Palestinian suicide bombings are elliptical as to who perpetrated the mass murder. Examples of these typical euphemisms are “Bus Blast Kills 14,” “Bus Explosion Kills 10,” “Bombing Aboard Bus Kills,” and “Suicide Blast Injures 5.” Specifically, CAMERA examined all headlines in which multiple casualties (injuries and/or deaths) were inflicted by one side against the other. When Palestinians inflicted mass (three or more) casualties among Israelis, they were identified only six times out of a total of 27 cases, or 22.2 percent of the time. In contrast, when Israelis inflicted mass casualties among Palestinians, they were identified 54.5 percent of the time, or 12 out of 22 cases.

! The most egregious headline which failed to identify the Palestinian perpetrator was “14 Killed in Israeli Bus Attack: More than 55 people are injured when a vehicle explodes, creating a wall of flames. The suicide assault is the deadliest in four months.” Not only does this headline fail to identify the perpetrator as Palestinian, it also suggests Israel was the perpetrator of the attack against its own people!

! In contrast to the muting of “Palestinian” action, Israel was routinely said to “Crack down,” “Attack,” “Advance,” “Thrust,” “Launch,” “Shut Out,” “Threaten,” “Raid,” “Capture,” “Hunt” and so on.

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