False parrallels in Gaza

Last night ABC news ran a piece on the trauma experienced by children on both sides of the Gaza border. It’s an important topic and good for ABC for covering it. But a completely inaccurate and misleading assumption was inherent in the report, which is available on ABC’s website (seen above).

The video package about the children is introduced by anchor Charles Gibson as such: “Youngsters on both sides of the border are being killed, injured and traumatized”. Then the following graphic went up on screen:

ABC listed the United Nations as the source of these statistics , but the network’s news team left one critical word out of their graphic representation: Palestinian. In fact, the UN’s reporting of the figures was actually based on Palestinian medical sources in Gaza. The story about the child deaths was actually first published by the Associated Press, which is clear in its headline that those killed are Palestinian:

But why did ABC decide to drop the word Palestinian from its reporting of the death toll?

At the very least, one would have expected anchor Gibson or the reporter, Jim Sciutto, to have clarified that the dead and injured children were actually Palestinians. But this never happened. Instead, Sciutto introduced his report as such: “Israeli and Palestinian children live such separate lives, but they share the same fear: fear of rockets, fear of air strikes, fear of losing loved ones.”

In his moving report, Sciutto captured the voices of two Palestinians children and two Israeli children.

But in the Associated Press report, around a dozen Palestinian children are profiled and no Israeli children are ever mentioned, let alone reported dead.

In the AP story, there are eight photos of dead, wounded or crying Palestinian children. ABC chose to run a few of the AP photos but also added images of Israeli children. ABC then broadcast the series of photos as a slide show, without identifying the victims as Israeli or Palestinian.

AP’s approach to the story reflected that of many international broadcasters such as Al Jazeera and BBC World. These broadcasters have made a clear distinction between Palestinian injuries and deaths, and have repeatedly established that the hundreds of Palestinian casualties far exceed the dozen or so fatalities–mainly military ones— on the Israeli side. For international broadcasters, the power dynamic on the battlefield is clear.

But ABC and other American broadcasters have taken a different approach. They have often juxtaposed Israeli and Palestinian realities as somehow being similarly difficult. The determination to create such a distinction involves creating a false parallel in the reporting, and this has often been bolstered by a trend of omitting information. For example, reports that have aired on NBC and ABC over the past two days have routinely dropped the Palestinian death toll, as if not newsworthy enough to report.

But now, by using Palestinian figures without identifying them, the desire to frame the story has become so powerful that the news networks have apparently been driven to outright manipulation of the facts. In this case, viewers are mislead into believing that there is no distinction between the casualty numbers of Palestinian and Israeli children.

  1. I live in the UK where we have press freedom and the world renowned BBC. However I have taken to following this conflict on the Al Jazeera website.
    The british press are incredibly bias but sadly it seems that average intelligent people are buying into the war on terror arguments.
    On the BBC there was no mention of comments made by a hezbollah leader until two days later when the rockets were fired and then disregarded as a couple of fanatics.
    Or the fact that many people in muslim countries hold the british and americans equally responsible for the genocide. Whilst at the same time the US refused to support the UN’s call for a ceasfire.
    There are numeous examples but to be brief I agree with you about press bias… Its Blatant

  2. Demonstrating the extremely dangerous degree of media bias that amounts to intentional distortion is vital. Democracy is nothing more than a charade when the media persuade people to believe in a twilight zone version of reality. Media bias is so smooth, so pervasive, so skillful in its omission of critical facts (such as the word “Palestinian”) that the average person seems to have absolutely no concept of what is happening. Good job.

  3. You’re absolutely right; it’s a horribly biased report, as it doesn’t even mention that but for the evil decision of the Hamas dictatorship — freely elected by the residents of Gaza — to try to begin their march toward the murder of all the Jews of Israel (well, no, actually, they don’t limit themselves to that, but let’s move on) by firing rockets at the children across the Green Line, not one of those children would have been killed, injured, or traumatized.

    Bias is an ugly thing; Hamas is a much uglier thing.

  4. Interesting piece, and vital to understand the forces at play. However, the underlining fault with the ABC-story is the lack of in depth reporting and the schewed reporting, and this can also be said of Arab media, which is also essential to raise as an issue to understand, again, the forces at play. An analysis would show, I think, how censored or tailored media in the Arab world continues to justify resistance and attacks on Israel(i civilians). I live in Damascus and have had numerous discussions with friends and realize that an unfree media has, over time, made people believe things that are simply not true or that are grossly exaggerated. That is also an important point to raise when discussing the effects of media on the people.

  5. Thanks everyone, interesting comments. The demonization of both Hamas and Israel will probably require another essay.
    Here I was simply trying to point out a very clear example of how information can be manipulated to fit into the media frame, and how that in turn influences the overall narrative. I absolutely agree with Doc that the media influences beliefs, but I would question how “unfree” media has been defined, especially in comparison to “free” media.
    The Arab media’s reporting of this conflict has clearly been influenced by emotions, stemming from the violent and pathetic imagery captured on the ground. (Last night for example, a child with burnt out eyes was interviewed from his hospital bed on Al Jazeera.)
    The images naturally generate anger and vengence.
    This actually reminds a lot of the reporting in the U.S. during September 11, when many reporters cried on air. Of course the death toll in Gaza is huge when compared as a ratio to Strip’s one million or so inhabitants.
    Like the American media, the Arab media also plays a significant role in shaping public opinion, and manipulations are always present. Noting Arab media manipulations has actually been a hallmark of my writing on this blog, as previous post will show.
    Interestingly though, in this conflict, Israeli spokespersons get plenty of air time on Arab channels, while Hamas and others are rarely if ever given a voice on American TV.

  6. Thanks Habib for pointing out this report. My Global Pulse team noted a similar omission by NBC News late last week in announcing “800 dead on both sides” in the Gaza conflict, without clarifying that over 780 of these were Palestinian (See “Gaza Media War” at http://www.globalpulsetv.org). One of our greatest challenges as Americans in getting our Middle East news is diversifying our news sources (e.g. Al-Jazeera, BBC, TV5, online blogs). Thanks for your help in this.

  7. This article implies that Israel is deliberately targeting Arab children. Aerial bombing, a feature of modern warfare since World War 1, kills random civilians. No state is going to give up its air force. These weapons are too powerful to do without.

    Terrorist attacks, in which a suicide bomber looks his victims in the face, go for “soft” targets. The Palestinian attacks against Sbarro’s in Jerusalem—chosen for the row of prams, parked out front, the mall at Netanya, city buses, airports, synagogues, do in fact select children as prefered targets to be killed.

    Moreover, pro-Palestinian propaganda is full of false parallels. The Nakba is like the Holocaust, only worse. The flight of refugees from wartime Palestine, is like the 1940s European refugee flights, only worse. (There have never been any Jewish refugees, either 1)in Palestine, or 2)from any Arab country.) Israelis practice ethnic cleansing, Arabs do not. Jewish nationalism is racist, imperialist, colonialist. Arab nationalism is virtuous. America should be indifferent between Israeli bourgeois democracy, a long-time US ally, and Arab military dictatorships that invariably ally themselves with the enemies of the US in Nazi Germany, the USSR, and Iran.

    As for media, every day Arab coverage of the Israeli-Arab conflict, edits the part where Arabs, shouting “Allah Akbar,” launch missiles into Israel. The damage caused by Israeli return fire is intercut with whatever atrocity footage comes to the editor’s hand. It’s been so for the past sixty years.

    Complaints about press bias, when they come from Arab sources, invariably mean that the story that is being told in Syrian media, is not reaching America.
    Here’s a secret: the elements of the Palestinian Cause are revanchism, Arab racism, a culture in which all social relations are mediated by violence, entrenched war-profiteer Arab elites, and garden variety European Christian antisemitism. None of these are strong sellers in America, and never will be. And here’s why: it isn’t really about propaganda at all.

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