July 26th, 2007

A short review course on how to write for the media about Israel and Palestine

Okay, class, I know it’s been said before, including by me. But I promise I’ll be (relatively) brief this time.

Here’s how you write about Israel and Palestine if you’re a journalist today—even, apparently, if you work for the Voice of America.

Oops, my bad. It seems the Voice of America doesn’t write its own copy anymore. Scroll down to the bottom of the article and you’ll see, “Some information for this report was provided by AFP [Agence France-Presse], AP and Reuters.”

‘Nuff said.

Well, not quite enough. The problem begins with the headline, “Israeli airstrike kills three Palestinians.” There so many different ways to properly convey the idea contained in the story, but this really isn’t one of them. The advantage it has, though, is that the person who merely glances at the headline and fails to read the story—a practice that’s not at all unusual—might be left with the impression that it may have involved the killing of innocent civilians. Or even that it probably involved the killing of innocent civilians—perhaps even the wanton and knowing and purposeful killing of innocent civilians.

Those people (what percentage of the whole?) who soldier on to read the entire text discover something different. The dead in this case were actually members of a “militant” group known as “Islamic Jihad,” and include its commander (and please see this for my earlier in-depth discussion of the use of the word “militant” in this and similar contexts).

Wonder what those “militants” promote, and what philosophy might motivate them? Can’t imagine, can we, despite the title they give their group?

Since the article is short, I’ll present the entire text for those who didn’t feel like following my link:

The Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad says an Israeli airstrike in the Gaza strip has killed three of its members, including a top commander.

The Israeli army confirmed the strike on a vehicle carrying the militants Thursday in Gaza City.

Earlier Thursday in the southern Gaza Strip, Palestinian medical officials said Israeli forces killed a Hamas militant during a military operation.

The Israeli army said the operation was aimed at preventing terrorist threats. The area is a source for rocket fire into Israel.

In the occupied West Bank, the Israeli military said a Palestinian man tried to stab a soldier near a Jewish settlement. It said another soldier hit the attacker in the head, seriously injuring him.

Palestinian witnesses say that during a scuffle an Israeli soldier shot the man, who later died of his wounds.

The only use of the word “terrorist” is in the fourth paragraph, preceded by the words “The Israeli army said.” So these guys are just militants—unless we take the Israeli government’s word for it.

In an alternate universe, the article might have been headlined, “Palestinian terrorists killed by Israeli airstrike.” Or perhaps even, “Israeli airstrike kills Islamic Jihad commander and two confederates.” Or…

Fill in the blanks yourself. And don’t be surprised if this post draws trolls; have you ever noticed that anything about Israel nearly always does?

10 Responses to “A short review course on how to write for the media about Israel and Palestine”

  1. Matt Knowles Says:

    “Palestinian terrorists killed in Israeli airstrike”… Oh what a wonderful world it would be if that were the normal headline we’d see…

  2. Public Secrets: from the files of the Irishspy Says:

    If you want to report on the Middle East…

    Neo-neocon has the guide for you. It’s depressing how many people read a headline without thinking critically about it. I’ve been guilty of that too often, myself….

  3. rjm319 Says:

    Well, the sophisticated reader knows that if the Palestinians in question were innocent non-combatants, the AP headline would be sure to indicate this. Hence one could assume that the victims were terrorists…

  4. Cappy Says:

    The media rule is simple. Blame the Jews. I prefer three other words. Deat terrorist, good!

  5. ChrisG Says:

    Another rule is: Don’t forget to photoshop every picture and introduce ‘stock footage’ from years past so as to make Israel look like th aggressor and blame the Jews for everything.

    Also (the AP is great on this): Use ‘unnamed sources’ which claim to be part of the government to promote your bias and sometimes made-up stories. Shug off that the source is eventually found out to be false or a terrorist passing propaganda and instead attack the people doing real “investigative journalism” which disproves your story.

  6. Thomas Says:

    Yeah, I have to say, all things considered, the more jaded of us just start with the assumption they ‘mean’ terrorists but didn’t say it.

    You’re new to hanging out in the conservative scene… those of us who grew up in it have a well trained eye for decoding media speak.. It’s almost unconscious.

    But the AP, man, they really have gone off the deep end the last few years. Someone should compile a list of their worst distortions over the last few years and send it around to newspapers with an explanation of why their circulation is dropping. They’re not credible if they carry the AP. Being a not credible newspaper is sort of counter productive.. its like selling flat tires or moldy food. No real point in anyone buying it.

  7. Ymarsakar Says:

    Neo-neocon has the guide for you. It’s depressing how many people read a headline without thinking critically about it. I’ve been guilty of that too often, myself….

    That is because everyone is vulnerable to propaganda; that is why it is so effective since often people think they are immune and thus think their thoughts are their own.

    It ain’t; it never was.

  8. napeida Says:

    Nazi-zionists will bw crushed !
    LONG LIVE FREE PALESTINE !
    Allah u Akbar !

    [Edit by neo-neocon: why, I do declare, here's a troll! This one originates from Amsterdam. I've left this up rather than deleting it because of the lovely phrase "nazi-zionists." Talk about oxymorons!]

  9. Thomas Says:

    I thought it was parody / a joke.

    The “Allah u Akbar !” seemed to be over the top. :)

  10. Eliyahu Says:

    Living in Israel, I’m in a position to evaluate many of the media distortions about events here. I think that the BBC is the worst, in general. Don’t forget that one of the more dangerous forms of media distortion is to not report a story at all if it doesn’t fit the line. Thus, in about 1980 or 1981, the Assad regime in Syria released about 500 prisoners from a jail at the oasis of Palmyra. It was supposed to be a good will gesture. As the released prisoners were walking away from the jail towards a bus station, helicopter gunships came and slaughtered the whole group. I read about this event in a fairly prominent story in LeFigaro, as I recall. However, I looked for it in the American press [I was living in the USA at the time] and did not find it. I recall that I may have seen it about six or seven months after the event in a concluding paragraph about some other Middle Eastern events. In short, the US press was covering up for the Syrian Assad regime. Meanwhile, the late unlamented Edward Said was complaining that the media were too harsh on Arabs and Muslims and tried to make them look bad. The truth was the opposite.

    As to the bbc, about five years ago, Arab terrorists in the area south or southwest of Behtlehem in Judea-Samaria, shot to death in a drive-by shooting two Jewish women driving in a car. Each woman was a mother. Each woman had five or six children.

    How did the BBC report the murder?? The BBC reported: “Two Israeli settlers have been shot on the West Bank.”
    No mention that the victims were women; no mention that they were mothers of big families. That’s the BBC. Note that here too the main problem is the info that the press/media agency DOES NOT give. Although in this case, at least the incident was reported, unlike the treatment of that massacre at Palmyra in Syria.

    Now, I ask about a recent incident in Gaza. Youtube has the video at the link below. http://youtube.com/watch?v=a_EECgUcZRA
    In this case, the Hamas police, called the Executive Force, raided a wedding celebration of Fatah people, wounding 20 persons, wrecking the chairs and tables set up for the celebration, etc. Was this incident reported on the MSM in the US?

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.
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