|Courtesy Honest Reporting
What is Bias?
With the media playing such an important role in Mideast events, here
are some tools to ensure that you're more than just a passive player in
Since the outbreak of violence in the Middle East on September 29,
2000, much concern has been raised about media bias. And as is becoming
painfully clear, a key aspect to the Mideast struggle today is the
manipulation of media to influence public opinion.
We expect journalists to maintain independence and objectivity -- and
certainly not pledge "cooperation" with one side of an armed struggle.
But when a representative of Italian state television issued an apology
in Arabic over the filming of a brutal lynching of two Israelis in
Ramallah, and promised to cooperate more fully with the Palestinian
Authority in the future, Western sensibilities were shaken.
Why is the media biased? It could be they are intimidated by
Palestinian strongmen into covering only the "positive" side, while
Israeli democracy permits more open coverage of the Israeli position.
Or it could be that it's more exciting to root for the underdog. Or it
could be that the world applies a double-standard of morality to Israel.
Whatever the reason, if truth is to prevail, we can't just "read" the
newspaper. Be discerning and become part of the process. Otherwise,
you're just a passive object of someone else's agenda. As Mark Twain
once said, "If you don't read the newspaper, you are uninformed; if you
do read the newspaper, you are misinformed."
Conrad Black is CEO of Hollinger International, and publisher of The
Spectator (London), The Jerusalem Post, and other publications. He
"The British media habitually apply a
double standard when judging the Israelis and Palestinians. Behind the
spurious defence of merely seeking justice for the Palestinians, most
of the relevant sections of the BBC, Independent, Guardian, Evening
Standard and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office are rabidly
How can readers discern the truth between the lines? Listed here are
common methods employed by the media -- intentionally or not -- to
influence public opinion. By being aware of these methods, we can avoid
becoming a pawn in the media war.
Here are the "7
Violations of Media Objectivity":
See the Code of Ethics of the
Society of Professional Journalists, and additional resource
material on media ethics,- courtesy of Virginia Commonwealth
- Misleading definitions and
- Imbalanced reporting.
- Opinions disguised as news.
- Lack of context.
- Selective omission.
- Using true facts to draw false
- Distortion of facts.
Misleading Definitions and
using terminology and definitions in a way that implies accepted fact,
the media injects bias under the guise of objectivity.
EXAMPLE: In March
2001, two separate acts of terrorism occurred a few days apart,
providing the opportunity to compare the media's selective use of
terminology. The BBC's article on an IRA car
bomb in London carries the headline "BBC bomb prompts terror
warning," and the word "terror" (or its derivatives) is used 5 other
times in the article. The IRA alerted police ahead of time, and one man
was slightly injured in the blast.
But after a Palestinian suicide bomber killed three Israeli civilians
(without prior warning) in Netanya, the BBC purposely avoided the label
"terrorist," and instead
used the far milder term "militants."
EXAMPLE: The New
York Times subtly altered its reference to the Temple Mount, which
unbiased historians have always acknowledged was the site of two Holy
Jewish Temples. In apparent deference to Palestinian leaders who claim
that no Jewish Temple ever stood on the Jerusalem hill toward which
Jews have prayed for millennia, The Times began appending the phrase to
include "which the Arabs call the Haram al Sharif."
Then, a few weeks later, The Times referred to "the Temple Mount, which
Israel claims to have been the site of the First and Second Temple." It
was no longer established historical fact -- but a mere "claim." Then,
in a subsequent article, The Times described Israeli troops as having
"stormed the Haram, holiest Muslim site in Jerusalem, where hundreds of
people were at worship." No mention whatsoever of its status as the
"Temple Mount" or the single holiest Jewish site.
Sharon, the democratically-elected leader of the State of Israel, is
consistently referred to by derogatory monikers like "hard-liner" and
even "war criminal." Curiously, no such appellations are attached to
Media reports frequently
skew the picture by presenting only one side of the story.
February 2001, Deborah Sontag of the New York Times and Suzanne
Goldenberg of the Guardian (UK) both reported on the opening of a new
exhibit in the West Bank town of Ramallah dedicated to the memories of
100 Palestinian "martyrs."
Curiously, both reporters use nearly identical language in their
SONTAG: "Israeli critics
would say that the exhibit, '100 Martyrs - 100 Lives,' glorifies death
and encourages the cult of the shaheed, or martyr."
critics would argue that the exhibit glorifies violent death, and
promotes a cult of martyrdom."
Issues of plagiarism aside, what is most disturbing is the way both
Sontag and Goldenberg assume what Israelis critics "would say" -- had
the reporter bothered to ask. Media watchdog smartertimes.com, wrote
about the Sontag piece: "Israeli critics 'would say' that, if they had
actually been called or quoted by the Times, rather than having their
criticisms assumed. Funny how the Arabs in the article are interviewed
and allowed to speak for themselves, rather than having their views
summarized by a reporter estimating what they 'would say' had the
reporter bothered go to the effort to ask."
EXAMPLE: A related
violation, yet particularly insidious, is where the media presents a
speaker from one side of the conflict who merely ratifies the opposing
viewpoint. For example, under the guise of "balanced reporting," the
media is fond of quoting Michael Lerner, a California rabbi who called
Prime Minister Barak's policies "racist" and "oppressive," refered to
the IDF as "barbarous" and "brutal," and accused Israeli citizens of
perpetrating "classic Russian pogroms on Palestinian civilians."
offers a list of web sites relating to the Middle East. Under the
heading of "General Information Sites," all 12 sites are Arab-related,
including one specific Palestinian site. There are no Jewish or
Israel-related sites listed in this category.
The same CNN page recommends web sites within each Middle Eastern
country. For example, five sites are listed for the tiny
under-developed country Yemen, and five sites are listed for Palestine.
The Israel category lists four sites.
Opinions Disguised as News
An objective reporter should not use adjectives or adverbs, unless they
are part of a quotation. Also, the source for any facts and opinions
should be clear from the report, or alternatively it should be stated
that source is intentionally undisclosed.
Even so-called "opinion pieces" must bear a modicum of objectivity.
James Hill, the managing editor of the Washington Post Writers Group,
"You have to hold columnists to
standard as anyone at the newspaper. If a column writer is making
egregious errors in the process of stating his or her opinion,
eventually it's not the columnist who's doing that, it's the paper
that's doing that."
February 7, 2001, "The Early Show" co-host Bryant Gumbel interviewed
former Middle East envoy Dennis Ross about what Ariel Sharon's election
victory meant for the peace process. Gumbel abdicated his role of
objective journalist by repeatedly asking Ross leading questions,
loaded with venomous descriptions of Sharon. Gumbel said:
"But does he [Arafat] even have
with -- with Sharon, when many objective observers view him as -- as
not only a racist, a terrorist, a murderous war criminal?"
photos are subject to editorializing. A "news" photo from Reuters
depicts Palestinians youths throwing stones. Poetically surreal, the
Palestinian attackers are heroically silhouetted on a mountaintop,
their stones floating triumphantly through the majestic clouds.
EXAMPLE: A Los
Angeles Times editorial cartoon depicted an Orthodox Jew praying at the
Western Wall, with the stones of the wall forming the word "hate." The
caption read: "Worshipping their God."
In defense, L.A. Times artist Michael Ramirez pointed out that that a
second man in the cartoon (who was sprawled on the ground and much less
noticeable) was actually a Moslem praying. Unfortunately, the keffiah
which would identify him as a Moslem is practically invisible.
Furthermore, Ramirez was unable to explain why the chosen venue of
"hate" was the Western Wall, a site sacred only to Jews, which has
never been a place of Moslem prayer. (Following reader protest, the Los
Angeles Times altered its cartoon, deleting the unique Herodian frame
around the Western Wall stones, to make it look more like a generic
Lack of Context
By failing to provide
proper context and full background information, journalists can
dramatically distort the true picture.
EXAMPLE: A BBC
photo depicts two Palestinians, hands tied behind their backs, and
kneeling on the ground. Standing over them is an Israeli soldier with a
rifle pointed at their heads.
There is no context identifying this photo, just the benign caption
"Tension has been high around the Jewish settlements." But who are the
Arabs in this photo? Did they just murder Jews in cold blood? Or were
they innocently buying bread at the local market? BBC does not say. And
why is the soldier pointing the gun? Is he guarding dangerous prisoners
until reinforcements can arrive? Or is he about to blow off their heads
at point-blank range? BBC lets the implication stand for itself.
Following reader complaints, BBC has since changed the caption to:
"Israeli soldiers arrest Palestinian drivers in the West Bank."
February 2001, when a Palestinian killed eight Israelis by ramming his
bus into a crowd, the front page of the Los Angeles Times carried an
Associated Press photo which shows the damaged bus, and the Palestinian
driver still behind the wheel, laid back with a sad face. The caption
"Palestinian bus driver Khalil
35, sits wounded after leading police on a 19-mile chase. Family
members said that he was distraught over financial problem and upset by
The caption and photo sympathetically suggest that this mass murderer
is somehow a victim of "Israeli aggression."
Meanwhile, the Guardian (UK) defended the bus driver as "a sort of
Palestinian everyman who finally snapped because of the combined
pressure of the four-month uprising and Israel's economic blockade."
Despite his having admitted to carefully planning the attack, the
Guardian said the attack was "far from being the calculated aim of a
dedicated terrorist," and claimed that the killer was merely drowsy
October 23 edition of Teen Newsweek, a magazine distributed to middle
school students across America, features is a prominent photo of three
Palestinians, with the man in the middle holding up his blood-covered
hands. The caption reads: "In the West Bank city of Ramallah, bloodied
Palestinian protestors express their rage."
The implication is that the Palestinians are bloody because they are
victims of Israeli aggression. There is no mention whatsoever that
these Palestinians are bloody because they just got finished beating,
stabbing, burning and disemboweling two innocent Israelis. And how does
Teen Newsweek's photo caption refer to these heinous murderers? As
By choosing to report
certain events over others, the media controls access to information
and manipulates public sentiment.
EXAMPLE: Ever since
the violence began, media outlets routinely refer to the Intifada as
being "sparked by Ariel Sharon's provocative visit to the Temple
Mount." This is despite the admission by Palestinian Minister of
Communications Imad el-Falouji that the Palestinian Authority
pre-planned the outbreak of violence. As reported in the
semi-governmental Beirut "Daily Star" (March 3, 2001):
"A Palestinian Cabinet minister
Friday that the five-month-old uprising against Israel had been planned
since the Camp David peace talks failed in July, contradicting past
contentions of a spontaneous outburst from Palestinians on the street.
Imad Faluji, the Palestinian National Authority's Communications
Minister, said during a PLO rally in Ain al-Hilweh refutifada, in which
more than 400 people have been killed, was planned."
However, a search of the entire CNN website for the name of the PA
minister, Imad Falouji, reveals one lone reference, buried in three
short paragraphs near the end of an article. Was the PA minister's
assertion that the Intifada was planned not newsy enough for CNN? And
shouldn't CNN stop referring to Sharon's visit as "sparking the
EXAMPLE: On October
24, 2000, The New York Times referred to a case of Palestinian
"Israelis cite as one egregious
televised sermon that defended the killing of the two [lynched]
soldiers. 'Whether Likud or Labor, Jews are Jews,' proclaimed Sheik
Ahmad Abu Halabaya in a live broadcast from a Gaza city mosque the day
after the killings."
But The Times utterly failed to convey the main message of the
inflammatory sermon. In fact, The Times appears to go out of his way to
choose a one-sentence quotation that could be seen as innocuous when
taken out of context. The salient point of the Gaza mosque sermon,
broadcast live on Palestinian Authority TV, is as follows:
"Even if an agreement for Gaza
we shall not forget Haifa, and Acre, and the Galilee, and Jaffa, and
the Triangle and the Negev, and the rest of our cities and villages. It
is only a matter of time... Have no mercy on the Jews, no matter where
they are, in any country. Fight them, wherever you are. Wherever you
meet them, kill them."
series of photos for "Pictures of the Year 2000," ( including one
entitled "A Death in Gaza," which depicts 12-year-old Mohammed Aldura
huddled behind his father moments before being shot to death. Of the 49
photos up for consideration, most are of nature scenes. The only two
politically-related photos both carry an anti-Israel message: the Gaza
photo, and a photo of a young (presumably Arab) boy in a damaged West
Bank home. A more obvious choice, the photo of the Palestinian's bloody
hands at the Ramallah lynching, was not nominated by MSNBC.
The Gaza photo is used as a demonstration of the cruelty of Israeli
soldiers, but does not provide any context, leading to the false
conclusion that the boy was directly fired upon in full view of Israeli
soldiers. Although Israeli crossfire may have caused the boy's
accidental death, there is serious doubt whether Israeli
soldiers were positioned to do so.
The media fails to bring crucial background information: Palestinian
children are encouraged onto the front lines, used as intentional
sacrifices to garner world sympathy. Furthermore, there is considerable
evidence that the boy was killed by a Palestinian gunman standing near
the Palestinian cameraman -- all staged by Palestinians at the
beginning of the intifada to garner world sympathy (which it did).
Using True Facts To Draw
Media reports frequently
use true facts to draw erroneous conclusions.
February 2001, when Ariel Sharon was elected Israeli Prime Minister,
the Christian Science Monitor tried to delegitimize the voters' choice
by claiming that voter turnout "was an unprecedentedly low 60 percent,"
and claiming that "at least 62 percent of eligible Israeli voters did
not vote for Sharon."
In reality, only despotic countries like North Korea or Syria report 99
percent voter turnout. Truly free elections mean that citizens are also
free not to vote. In the United States, only 51 percent of eligible
voters participated in the 2000 presidential elections. This means that
President George W. Bush received fewer than 25 percent of the eligible
votes; additionally he did not even win the popular vote. To paraphrase
Cobban's calculation, "At least 75 percent of eligible American voters
did not vote for Bush." In years when only congressional elections are
held, American voter turnout drops to 36-38 percent. But no one makes
such charges undermining the American president's authority or
articles report that "hundreds of people have been killed, the vast
majority Palestinians." This is an indisputable fact, yet without
qualifying these figures, the reader is led to the false conclusion
that Israeli soldiers are the aggressors and have used excessive force.
However, if Israeli forces were actually doing what they are accused of
-- shooting indiscriminately into crowds with automatic weapons. If
that were the case, many thousands of Palestinians would be dead. In
reality, the ratio of deaths is less than one per riot.
Newsweek, a magazine distributed to middle school students across
America, published a chart illustrating the number of Palestinian and
Israeli children killed since 1987. The Palestinian numbers,
represented in bright red, many times exceed Israeli losses, shown in a
less visible yellow. There is no explanation of circumstances how these
children died. The implication is that there is equivalency -- even
though the Palestinian children were killed while attempting martyrdom
in the context of violent attacks on Israeli forces, while the Israeli
children were killed while sitting on a public bus or in a cafe, blown
up by a Palestinian suicide bomber.
Distortion of Facts
In today's competitive
media world, reporters frequently do not have the time, inclination or
resources to properly verify information before submitting a story for
reporting on violence of Joseph's Tomb, CNN writes:
Meanwhile, at least 77 people,
Palestinians have died during several fierce clashes at Joseph's Tomb
during the past week. The lone Israeli soldier to die during the
clashes bled to death in the tomb as rescuers tried for hours to reach
CNN's claim that 77 people died in one week of clashes at Joseph's Tomb
is a gross factual inaccuracy. Since one Israeli was killed, 76 were
obviously Palestinian. Yet in truth, six Palestinians and one Israeli
soldier had died during that week of clashes at Joseph's Tomb. In other
words, CNN cited the total number of Palestinian casualties in all
clashes, and juxtaposed that figure with the Israeli casualty of one
EXAMPLE: The New
York Times, Associated Press and other major media outlets published a
photo of a young man -- bloodied and battered -- crouching beneath a
club-wielding Israeli policeman. The caption identified him as a
Palestinian victim of the recent riots -- with the clear implication
that the Israeli soldier is the one who beat him.
In fact, the bloodied "Palestinian" depicted in the photograph was
Tuvia Grossman, a 20-year-old Jewish student from Chicago, studying in
Jerusalem. And the assailants were not Israelis, but members of a
Palestinian mob who beat and stabbed Grossman mercilessly for 10
minutes. And the infuriated Israeli policeman with a baton was
deterring the Palestinians from finishing their lynching.
Media bias assumes that if there's a victim, it must be a Palestinian.
Yet who are the real victims and who are the aggressors? The truth is
often the opposite of how it appears.
By being astute media observers, we can make a difference. In response
to public pressure, The New York Times reprinted Tuvia Grossman's
picture -- this time with the proper caption -- along with a full
article detailing his near-lynching at the hands of Palestinians
Courtesy of Honest