The ABC’s of Media Spin: The NYT and A Terror Attack

A Palestinian terrorist attack at a Jerusalem light rail train stop that killed a 3-month-old infant and injured eight other Israelis was the subject of a Page 6 news story in the Oct. 23rd edition of The New York Times. But instead of presenting the rather clear-cut events in an objective, straightforward manner, reporter Isabel Kershner quickly redirected readers away from the facts of Palestinian violence to focus instead on Israel’s alleged misdeeds. It is just this sort of journalistic manipulation — cherry-picking what facts to share with readers and how to frame them — that is endemic to The New York Times’ biased treatment of Israel.

The Headline

When a violent crime is committed against Israelis by Palestinians, New York Times headlines are at pains to obscure basic facts about the incident by hiding the identities of the perpetrators, and often the victims, and/or presenting the event as mere claims by Israelis. The online and print headlines adhered to this pattern.

Print: “Driver Plows Into Group in Jerusalem, Killing Baby”

Online: “Driver Plows Into Group at Jerusalem Train Station, Killing Baby, Police Say”

Driver? Who is the driver? What baby? Who are the victims? Was the act a deliberate attack or an accident? The headline carefully avoids revealing any of this information, although it was known immediately a Palestinian Arab had veered across the rail tracks to slam into waiting and disembarking passenger, killing a Jewish baby and injuring others. Contrast the evasive treatment of Palestinians as aggressors to recent headlines involving Israelis as perpetrators. In these headlines, there’s no hesitation to directly point out the nationalities of the actors. For example:

“6 Israelis Held Over the Killing of a Palestinian” (July 7, 2014)

“Killing of Palestinian Youth Puts An Israeli Focus on Extremism” (July 11, 2014)

Why is The New York Times afraid to candidly identify Palestinians as aggressors, terrorists, drive-by killers or as perpetrators of any other act of violence committed?

The Article

When it comes to Palestinian attacks on Israelis, the newspaper tends to qualify such violence as a claim by Israelis. This is the case here as well.

The initial paragraphs describing the incident are all carefully couched as reports and claims. The reporter begins by presenting a he said-she said scenario, with Israel saying this was an act of terrorism and Palestinians claiming it was a traffic accident. When, later in the story, the reporter cites Palestinian comparisons of this attack to an incident several days earlier in which an Israeli motorist turned himself over to police shortly after his car hit and killed a Palestinian child, she neglects to share with readers that a police investigation found that incident to have been an unfortunate but inadvertent car accident.

Nor does the reporter provide readers with any details of the Palestinian perpetrator’s long history of violence against Israelis, including hurling firebombs, aggravated assault, and rioting. Instead she qualifies as an Israeli claim that he had “served time in an Israeli prison for security offenses.” Similarly, the perpetrator’s easily verifiable familial relationship to a top Hamas commander is qualified as second-hand information, while information regarding his Facebook messages, pictures, and videos about Hamas terrorist attacks, as well as the links he provided to Hamas websites go completely unmentioned.

But what is even more disturbing than these initial few paragraphs that omit some of the most incriminating details about the perpetrator while qualifying others is the alacrity with which the reporter turns the story away from the Palestinian attack on Israeli civilians into one of supposed Israeli wrong-doing. Thus, the residency of the Palestinian perpetrator in Silwan becomes a launching point for one of the newspaper’s favorite topic, an indictment of Israelis purchasing property in eastern Jerusalem. And here, by contrast, the reporter apparently feels no need to qualify her statements:

Mr. Shaloudy was a resident of Silwan, a predominantly Palestinian neighborhood in territory that Israel captured from Jordan in the 1967 war and later annexed, a step that has not been recognized internationally. An influx of right-wing Jewish settlers who have acquired property in the area in recent years have made the neighborhood a flash point in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Why does the reporter use as a starting point Israel’s “capture” and annexation of the territory from “Jordan” in a move not recognized internationally, rather than Jordan’s capture and annexation of the same territory in 1948 in a move considered illegal by the international community? Predictably, The Times prefers to frame its narrative from a starting point in which Israel can be indicted.

Why does the newspaper cherry-pick the facts about Silwan, erasing Israel’s past when, in fact, Jews lived in Shiloach/ Siloam/Silwan, not only during the period of the Temples, but more recently, from the early 1880’s until 1939, when British mandatory authorities forced the Yemenite Jews of Silwan out because of violent anti-Jewish riots by Arabs. Jordan made sure to keep the area Judenrein until Israel regained the area in 1967. But the newspaper prefers to conceal this information from readers.

Why does the reporter, who so carefully qualifies every statement about the terrorist attack as a debatable claim by Israel, suspend such qualifications when she categorically labels Israelis who legally purchase homes in the Silwan neighborhood of Jerusalem as “right-wing Jewish settlers”?

Why does she cast Jewish residency in a predominantly Arab neighborhood as wrong and provocative but does not portray opposition to Jews living throughout Jerusalem as discriminatory? Why does she write that Jews “acquire properties,” with its nefarious connotation, instead of directly and clearly stating that they “purchased homes”. Would the newspaper similarly present Arabs who move into a predominantly Jewish neighborhood in western Jerusalem as “right-wing” and provocative? Would it mention an “influx of right-wing” black people into a white neighborhood? The answer to both is clearly not, as neither fits the newspaper’s preconceived world view in which Israeli actions are cast as illegitimate and measured by a standard different than that applied to others.

Similarly, the reporter does not appear to feel any constraint to qualify her words when she perjoratively brands Jews who assert their right to visit their holiest site on the Temple Mount as “hard-right Israelis.”

Why does the reporter portray Jews visiting their holiest site as the provocateurs while she presents Arabs violently preventing them from doing so as the victims? Indeed, since its re-unification of Jerusalem, Israel has pledged to allow all faiths freedom to worship at their holy sites. This is in contrast to Jordan, which denied Jews access to their holy sites and Israeli Arabs access to the Al Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Roc
k, in direct contravention of the 1949 armistice agreements. The New York Times, however, seems to reserve its righteous fury for Israel.

Accordingly, when Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ falsely characterized Jews visiting Judaism’s holiest site as “cattle herds of Jewish settlers” that “desecrates” Islam’s holy sites, the reporter did not brand this “right-wing” or provocative. When the Palestinian leader echoed the historic calls of Haj Amin al Husseini in the 1920’s and by other Arab leaders subsequently to “defend Islam’s holy sites” — calls that have successfully triggered anti-Jewish massacres, riots and jihad — she did not label this as inflammatory or malevolent. Instead, she inverted the picture, by portraying Abbas’ incitement as an accusation by the Israeli Prime Minister and justifying it by suggesting “it followed a series of violent confrontations in the mosque compound between Muslim worhipers, protesters and the police.”

In fact, these “violent confrontations” were initiated by Palestinian rioters who, on one occasion, barricaded themselves inside the Al Aqsa Mosque, hurling rocks and firebombs and injuring Israeli security forces, and on another occasion, setting up barricades, amassing rocks, and firebombs to attack police and Jewish visitors to the Temple Mount. On that occasion, Israeli police locked them into the Al Aqsa Mosque. In other words, Palestinian rioters were trying to prevent Jews from visiting their holy site and were stopped by police. But according to The New York Times, the source of the unrest are the “hard-right Israelis who are increasingly demanding the right to pray” at their holiest site.

And when the reporter invokes an event where “Jewish extremists murdered a local Palestinian teenager,” as the starting point for tensions in Jerusalem, she places this action above all preceding violence as the trigger for everything that follows. It is telling that it is only the Jewish perpetrators who are labelled “extremists” while less explicit language is reserved for the Hamas terrorists who abducted and shot dead three Israeli boys. They are simply called “Palestinian militants affiliated with Hamas.”

In Summary

The following steps are routinely used in New York Times articles, either individually or in combination, to create a skewed, misrepresentative version of events.

A. Diminish Palestinian culpability for adverse events by casting their incitement, hate rhetoric, violence and terrorism as debatable claims by Israel.

B. Use pejorative labels for Israelis who assert their legal rights to visit their holy sites or reside in areas of Jerusalem that were under Jordanian occupation between 1948-67. Unlike violence by Palestinians, do not present these Jewish actions as debatable. Cast them as clearly illegitimate and unjust actions.

C. Omit the details that most incriminate Palestinian actions. Instead, reduce the story to distribute equal culpability to both sides, or better yet, greater culpability to Israeli Jews.

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