Wednesday, February 07, 2007

# Posted 8:08 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

DOES THE US MEDIA FAVOR ISRAEL? A SYSTEMATIC LOOK AT THE EVIDENCE: No debate about Israel and the Palestinians can go for long without arriving at the subject of media bias.

A very important question that advocates of the Palestinian cause often ask is why American public opinion tends to favor Israel so strongly even though the evidence clearly demonstrates (in their eyes) that Israel is the principal author of violence and suffering in this conflict. The question of American public opinion is so important because it is this pro-Israel sentiment that ensures American support for Israel, regardless of whether a Democrat or a Republican is in the White House.

One answer I've come across on several occasions is that the US media pays far greater attention to the suffering of Israelis and the misbehavior of the Palestinians than to Palestinian suffering and Israeli human rights violations. It is often followed by the argument that the US media favors Israel because the Jewish lobby and its allies punish any and every public figure who questions the consensus about Israel.

This answer came up again during a discussion about the conflict that I've been having with a colleague of mine. I registered my disagreement with her answer to the ever present question, but admitted that I was not familiar with any systematic investigations of the evidence. As such, I would do my best to keep an open mind about the subject if my colleague would recommend a study of the subject with which she was familiar. (As OxBlog readers know, I never dismiss out of hand accusations of media bias.)

As a result of my request, I found myself directed to "The Illusion of Balance", a study by FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting) of how much attention NPR pays to the deaths of Palestinians as opposed to Israelis. The study took a close look at six months worth of transcripts for all of NPR's four main news programs. The six months in question were January through June 2001 -- the first six months of the Bush presidency, three months before 9/11, and the early months of the Al Aqsa (Second) Intifada.

In short, the study delivered a devastating indictment of NPR's coverage:
During the six-month period studied, NPR reported the deaths of 62 Israelis and 51 Palestinians. While on the surface that may not appear to be hugely lopsided, during the same time period 77 Israelis and 148 Palestinians were killed in the conflict. That means there was an 81 percent likelihood that an Israeli death would be reported on NPR, but only a 34 percent likelihood that a Palestinian death would be.

Of the 30 Palestinian civilians under the age of 18 that were killed, six were reported on NPR--only 20 percent. By contrast, the network reported on 17 of the 19 Israeli minors who were killed, or 89 percent. While 61 percent of the young people killed in the region during the period studied were Palestinian, only 26 percent of those reported by NPR were. Apparently being a minor makes your death more newsworthy to NPR if you are Israeli, but less newsworthy if you are Palestinian.

An Israeli civilian victim was more likely to have his or her death reported on NPR (84 percent were covered) than a member of the Israeli security forces (69 percent). But Palestinians were far more likely to have their deaths reported if they were security personnel (72 percent) than if they were civilians (22 percent). Of the 112 Palestinian civilians killed in the Occupied Territories during the period studied, just 26 were reported on NPR. Of the 28 Israeli civilians killed in the Territories--mostly settlers--21 were reported on NPR.
To the credit of FAIR, it posted a spreadsheet online that included all of the relevant data. Yet this same data is the study's undoing.

Let's start with the fact that NPR reported the death of 17 out of 19 Israeli minors, but only 6 out of 30 Palestinians. Who were those 17 Israeli minors? 11 of them were killed in a massive suicide bombing in Tel Aviv on June 1, 2001. 2 of them were beaten and stoned to death together in a wadi on May 8. Two more were killed in a suicide bombing on March 28. The final two were infants, one killed by a stone on June 11, one killed by a sniper (!) on March 26.

Who were the 30 Palestinian minors? One was an infant, killed on May 7 by Israeli military gunfire. His death was reported by NPR. Six were between the ages of 9 and 13, all killed in separate incidents, five by Israeli gunfire and one by shelling. Two of their six deaths were reported. The remaining 23 minors were young men between the ages of 14 and 17, all killed by Israeli gunfire in separate incidents. Three of their deaths were reported.

What do we know about these 23 young men? Some of them may have been innocent victims. Yet in guerrilla conflicts across the globe, young men take up arms to fight for causes in which they passionately believe, including many Palestinians. How many of these 23 young men armed and engaged in combat with Israeli soldiers? How many were unarmed but playing a supporting role in a combat situation?

I have no idea. The FAIR study says absolutely nothing about what these young men were doing when they were shot. Nor does it raise the possibility that they were combantants. Yet amazingly, it unequivocally describes these young men as civilians without any evidence to confirm that status.

While we are on the subject of civilians, let us take a look at the assertion that NPR only reported 22% of Palestinians civilian deaths, as opposed to 84% of Israelis. Let's look at the Israeli side first. 61 of the 77 Israelis killed in the first six months of 2001 were civilians. (It is worth noting, however, that 7 of the soldiers killed during that period were victims of a Palestinian man who used a bus to ram a group of soldiers hitching rides by the side of a road. An additional soldier was killed by the same suicide bombing in Tel Aviv that killed so many teenagers.)

35 of the 61 Israeli civilians were killed in incidents that resulted in the death of more than one Israeli civilian. This distinction is important because there is an old saying in journalism that "If it bleeds, it leads." Gore makes the front page. Ever obedient to that rule, NPR reported the death of all 35 Israeli civilians who died in twos or more. Moreover, at least 33 of those 35 died as victims of suicide bombings or other attacks in which the attackers very purpose was to slaughter civilians. That addendum is essential, because it indicates there was no moral ambiguity, only terrorists and victims.

In the case of the Palestinians, there was considerable ambiguity. As noted above, FAIR has a very unusual approach to determining who is a civilian. Only those Palestinians serving in the official PA security services are listed as non-civilians. 36 of them lost their lives in the first 6 months of 2001. Since a total of 148 Palestinians were killed, that leaves 112 listed by FAIR as civilians. 30 of those were the minors mentioned above, leaving 82 adults.

Although FAIR provides no evidence to support its assertion that these 82 were non-combatants, the age and gender of the fallen tell a very interesting story. Only a handful of the 82 were women. More than 50 were men between the ages of 18 and 30. Another 20 or so were between 30 and 50, along with a handful who were older.

In short, this is the demographic profile of a fighting force. If the Israelis killed indiscriminately, the casualties should not be overwhelming young and male. Again, it bears repeating that I don't know how these men died. Everything I know comes from the spreadsheet provided by FAIR. In fact, it is entirely possible that Israeli soldiers used disproportionate force to dispel rock-throwing crowds or even peaceful protesters and that many of the Palestinian deaths were unnecessary.

But the problem here isn't what I don't know. It is what FAIR argues without the evidence to back it up. In addition to suggesting that NPR discounts the value of young Palestinian lives, FAIR suggests that NPR intentionally balances the number of Israeli and Palestinian deaths it covers so that "NPR can claim it is simply 'reporting both sides'." Finally, FAIR suggests that NPR does so because of its "fear of appearing anti-Israel."

But the data tell a different story. What NPR covered most was terrorism -- the intentional murder of civilians, especially when more than one was killed at a time. One might argue that a focus on terrorism is not the best way to cover the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but that is very different from arguing that the US media devalue Palestinian life and fear the retribution of the Jewish lobby.

Now, the exposure of this one study doesn't put to rest the issue of media bias. This is just one sample of the evidence and how it is (mis)intepreted. But it serves as a good illustration of how media criticism may expose the bias of the critic more than that of the media.

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(15) opinions -- Add your opinion

Your argument is that FAIR offers no evidence that the Palestinian men and boys who were killed during the first several months of the Second Intifada, who happened to constitute "the demographic profile of a fighting force," did not in fact constitute a fighting force.

Then you assert, without any evidence whatsoever, that "This is just one sample of the evidence and how it is (mis)intepreted."

Nice. Way to fight a lack of evidence with an absence of evidence. Dershowitz would be proud.

Anyway, to cut that evanescent little Gordian knot, here's your evidence, direct from respected Israeli human rights group B'Tselem:


Scroll down to the bottom of the list and read off the first several child casualties of the Intifada. Hell, read all of them. Virtually none of the teenaged boys killed during the first several months of the Intifada (never mind the 12-and-unders) were participating in hostilities, much less threatening the lives of Israeli civilians or soldiers, when they were killed.

Furthermore, out of approximately 813 kids killed by Israeli security forces during the Second Intifada, more than 25% were killed by a shot to the head. A Palestinian guy that I know was shot in the back by an Israeli soldier when he was 15 in the presence of UN personnel. The soldier was never punished or disciplined.


This kind of story was repeated ad nauseum during my two years of reporting on casualties in the Palestinian Territories, and I made it a point to confirm my stories whenever possible (which was most of the time) with Israeli and international sources.

More on the IDF's targeting of Palestinian children and culture of impunity:




Scroll down to the bottom of this list to read about the Palestinian adults killed:


It tells a very similar story. The Palestinian casualties of the first six months of the Intifada were overwhelmingly innocent civilians. The first suicide bombing in Israel didn't take place until March 2001. By then, hundreds of Palestinian civilians had been killed, including dozens of children. (I am not justifying and would never justify suicide bombings. But it is disingenuous to ignore, deny, or downplay Israel's documented intransigence during the same time periods in question.)

Here's B'Tselem's full casualties listing, including all Israeli and Palestinian victims, for your own edification and use in future analyses:


For a more personal and anecdotal view from the other side of the Wall, check out:


Bottom line: People are people, and all deserve basic human rights and equal protection under the law. As it happens, this position is not only morally satisfying, it is also much better for our own security (IMHO). I.e. violent, repressive, disproportionate collective punishment is not only illegal and immoral, it is also ineffective.

Shalom and good luck.
I'm inclined to agree with part of Pamela's criticism. The casualties fit the demographic profile of a fighting force, but so do the Palestinians as a whole, right? It's a young group of people. It's my impression that their women tend to stay inside unless they have the opportunity to celebrate the achievement of one of their children in murdering Israelis, something Palestinians rejoice in openly even if their defenders in the West won't cop to it.

That btselem list has a somewhat different idea of 'participating in hostilities' than I do. Out of the most recent dozen or so, I saw one 'Did not participate in hostilities when killed. Additional information: Killed while throwing stones at soldiers,' and one 'Did not participate in hostilities when killed. Additional information: Killed while standing next to Qassam launchers.' Gee, what's the world coming to when a kid can't play around rockets being fired at a neighboring country, in peace?

Pamela, if you have so much respect for B'Tselem, I'd think you would mention their disclaimer "that the listing of a person as a civilian, or having not participated in the fighting, or the inclusion of any other details regarding the cause of death, does not indicate that the person or entity that killed the individual violated the law, or that the deceased was innocent, or that any other legal or moral conclusion can be drawn from the facts."

And as to your Guardian articles, the Israeli military does sound like it needs to be reformed, and I hope they can investigate more of the complaints and create a culture that avoids targeting children. Do you have any articles about the parallel reform efforts on the other side?
B'Tselem has a very sensible disclaimer. At least one Palestinian child has been killed in a legitimate Israeli military action. Therefore the preponderance of evidence in front of your eyes instantly dissolves. All 813 kids, wiped from your calculus. Absence of certainty = certainty of absence. Evidence be damned.

I'm not sure what to say to people whose views are effectively impervious to facts and information. I guess that's what they call an "irrational actor."

As for your racist and disgusting comments about Palestinian women, they are simply beneath contempt. Do you even know any Palestinian women?

White Southerners also used to say that African American women didn't care about their children the way "we" do. Those racist "gentlemen" are in the dustbin of history, and so, I can only hope, shall you be.

I see the mothers of Palestinians killed while attempting, and some times succeeeding, suicide bombings on television saying that they wish all their children could do the same.

I wonder how many would continue to love their children this way if the money for death payments stopped coming in.
I could tell you many things I've personally seen Israeli settlers do. But seeing the actions of a few Israeli crazies would not give me license to make broad and demeaning generalizations about Israelis (much less Jews) as a people.

Most Palestinians, in my long experience, are lovely, reasonable people. But saying that to you sounds as absurd to me as it would no doubt sound to you if you were to say to an anti-Semite, "Most Jews I know are lovely, reasonable people." It's insulting even to have to say it.

People are people, my friend. And racist invectives and mindlessly repeated stereotypes are rarely good ways forward. Try not to be the mirror image of that which you profess to hate.
you might want to take a look at Honest Reporting and CAMERA, both of which substantiate in considerable detail the anti-Israel bias that is characteristic of much of the media coverage of Israel, including the U.S. media's coverage.
Wonderful comments Pamela. We need more of your voice in this country to counter the misguided bgates and davods of this world.
Pamela, I apologize for saying that Palestinian women stay indoors unless they are sending their children to murder Israelis. Of course, they also have time to run for parliament. And win.

But that's just one woman. Well, two. But I'm sure they are in no way representative of Palestinians as a whole, besides being, er, elected to serve as representatives.

I repeat what I said in my last post, "the Israeli military does sound like it needs to be reformed, and I hope they can investigate more of the complaints and create a culture that avoids targeting children." (Pam, that was two paragraphs above where you say my 'views are effectively impervious to facts and information,' if you're having trouble finding it.)

Now, if you could point out the PA attempts to institute procedures to minimize civilian casualties, that would be super.
I think bgates is just another soldier in the legion of hacks willing to defend the IDF at all costs. I love the comment about,

"Additional information: Killed while throwing stones at soldiers,'"

That's great. Because when children throw stones at police in America, they too would be shot on sight. In other words, when children throw stones at tanks and are shot in the head, "They had it coming." Bgates'line of reasoning is pretty indicative of a person full of indoctrinated ideas. I too was once an apologist for Israel "no matter what," constantly making excuses for their barberism. All it really takes for an honest person to see the truth is to visit sites like B'Tselem, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty, etc. The Israelis are not making any friends and I believe that they are, like America, their own worst enemy. They should know better than anyone about reaping what you sow...

Oh, and as far as anonymous directing us to CAMERA and Honest Reporting, they are just part of the pro-Israel lobby which ignores the hard facts and tries to muddy the waters with fear. We've seen it before. It's an orwellian tactic to assert the opposite instead of the facts.
I agree. Adesnik tries to be balanced. Bgates is just a hack.
Ah, trolls. Can't argue with them, they can't read. Can't throw stones at them, they don't consider that a hostile act.

Nonetheless, I will soldier on in my hateful, indoctrinated, hackish defense of Israel by repeating for the third time that "the Israeli military does sound like it needs to be reformed, and I hope they can investigate more of the complaints and create a culture that avoids targeting children."
just out of curiosity bgates, what separates you from a troll? all you do is post aggressive, predictably partisan, anonymous comments? sounds like a troll to me?
I'll take the last one first. My comments are not anonymous. I use my first initial and full last name. All the comments by 'bgates' that I've ever seen on this blog or any other I comment on were written by me. Otherwise it would make no sense to label me 'predictably partisan,' as you would have no reason to expect every comment signed bgates came from one person, as I have no reason to expect every comment that is unsigned came from one person.

Second, what is 'predictably partisan' about stating that "the Israeli military does sound like it needs to be reformed, and I hope they can investigate more of the complaints and create a culture that avoids targeting children."? I had not realized the extent of Palestinian civilian casualties until I learned it from Pamela's link. If I had also learned that Israel considered civilian deaths a goal to be celebrated rather than a tragedy to be avoided, I would drop my support of Israel; but instead Pamela's link said that there is an organization in Israel trying to reduce the incidence of Palestinian deaths. I asked if there was a parallel effort among Palestinians to minimize Israeli deaths. What is wrong with that?

My first post on this thread started with an agreement with Pamela's criticism of David. Palestinian society is young. Whether Israel targeted combatants precisely or killed randomly, the age profile of those killed should be similar, because the society as a whole has the age profile of a fighting force.

So, I post under my own name, and offer disagreements people on more than one side; aggressive? Guilty as charged. You got me. But by your own standards, I'm less a troll than, say, Atrios. Or you.
Hi bgates,

I appreciate that you're willing to consider new evidence, and I apologize for being unduly harsh. Your veiled accusations against Palestinians as a people offended me, that's all. But I'm sure that wasn't your intent.

There are many fantastic and brave Israeli organizations working hard for peace and justice and health and the rule of law, and they have my undying respect. I have worked with them in the past and continue to be in touch with them. They are truly a light unto all the nations and represent a great hope for peace in our lifetime. They include B'Tselem, HaMoked, Physicians for Human Rights, Rabbis for Human Rights, the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, and many others.

For a partial list of the many Palestinians also working tirelessly for peace and justice and health and the rule of law, please see my comments on this Oxblog page:


If you're interested in hearing more personal stories from the Palestinian Territories, I kept a blog during my time in the West Bank:


Cheers and all the best.
-- The US-based non-profit group "ProCon.org" has posted a varied collection of .pdf documents that aid in knowing the number of Palestinian and Israeli deaths during the Intifada:

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