Western media bias makes Israeli war on Palestinians possible
While US and Western mainstream and corporate media remain biased in favor of Israel, they often behave as if they are a third, neutral party. This is simply not the case.
Take The New York Times coverage of the latest Israeli war on Gaza as an example. The newspaper’s article on Aug. 6, “Israel-Gaza Fighting Flares for a Second Day,” is typical of mainstream Western reporting on Israel and Palestine, but with a distinct NYT flavor.
For the uninformed reader, the article succeeds in finding a balanced language between two equal sides. This misleading moral equivalence is one of the biggest intellectual blind spots for Western journalists. If they do not outwardly champion Israel’s discourse on “security” and “right to defend itself,” they create false parallels between Palestinians and Israelis, as if a military occupier and an occupied nation have comparable rights and responsibilities.
Obviously, this logic does not apply to the Russia-Ukraine war. For the NYT and all mainstream Western media, there is no question regarding who the good and bad guys are in that fight.
“Palestinian militants” and “terrorists” have always been the West’s bad guys. As per the logic of their media coverage, Israel does not launch unprovoked wars on Palestinians, and is not an unrepentant military occupier or racist apartheid regime. This language can be used only by marginal “radical” and “leftist” media, never the mainstream.
The brief introduction of the NYT article speaks about the rising death toll, but does not initially mention that the 20 Palestinians who died in the fighting included children, emphasizing, instead, that Israeli attacks killed a “militant leader.”
When the six children killed by Israel are revealed in the second paragraph, the article immediately, and without starting a new sentence, clarifies that “Israel said some civilian deaths were the result of militants stashing weapons in residential areas,” and that others were killed by “misfired’ Palestinian rockets.
On Aug. 16, the Israeli military finally admitted that it was behind the strikes that killed five young Palestinian boys in the Jabaliya refugee camp. Whether the NYT reported on that or not matters little. The damage has been done, and that was Israel’s plan from the start.
The headline of the BBC story of Aug. 16, “Gaza’s children are used to the death and bombing,” does not immediately name those responsible for the “death and bombing.” Even Israeli military spokesmen, as we will discover later, would agree to such a statement, though they always lay the blame squarely on “Palestinian terrorists.”
When the story finally reveals that a young girl, Layan, was killed in an Israeli strike, the language is carefully crafted to lessen the blame on her Israeli murderers. The girl, we are told, was on her way to the beach with her family when their tuk-tuk “passed by a military camp run by the militant group Palestinian Islamic Jihad,” which, “at the exact moment was targeted by Israeli fire.” The journalist says nothing about how she reached the conclusion that the family was not the target.
One can easily glean from the story that Israel’s intention was not to kill Layan — and, logically, none of the 17 other children murdered during the three-day war on Gaza. Besides, according to the BBC, Israel tried to help the girl; alas, “a week of treatment in an Israeli hospital couldn’t save her life.”
Though Israeli politicians have spoken openly about killing Palestinian children — and, in the case of former Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, “the Palestinian mothers who give birth to ‘little snakes’” — the BBC article and other reports on the recent attacks fail to mention this. Instead, the BBC quotes Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid, who reportedly said that “the death of innocent civilians, especially children, is heartbreaking.” Incidentally, Lapid ordered the latest strikes on Gaza, which killed a total of 49 Palestinians.
Even a human interest story about a murdered Palestinian child somehow avoids language that could fault Israel for her gruesome killing. Furthermore, the BBC also made every effort to present Israel in a positive light, even quoting the occupying army’s statement that it was “devastated by (Layan’s) death and that of any civilians.”
The NYT and BBC have been selected here not because they are the worst examples of Western media bias, but because they are often cited as “liberal,” if not “progressive,” media. Their reporting, however, highlights a crisis in Western journalism, especially relating to Palestine.
Faced with the unchanging pro-Israel narratives in Western media, desperate pro-Palestine human rights advocates often argue that there are greater margins within Israel’s own mainstream media than in the US, for example. This, too, is inaccurate.
The misnomer of the supposedly more balanced Israeli media is a direct outcome of the failure to influence Western media coverage on Palestine and Israel. The erroneous notion is often buoyed by the fact that an Israeli newspaper, such as Haaretz, gives marginal space to critical voices, like those of Israeli journalists Gideon Levy and Amira Hass.
Additionally, Haaretz is often cited as an example of relatively fair journalism, simply because the alternatives — The Times of Israel, The Jerusalem Post and other right-wing Israeli media — are exemplary in their callousness, biased language and misconstruing of facts.
The pro-Israel prejudices in Western media often spill over to media sympathetic to Palestine throughout the Middle East and the rest of the world, especially those reporting in English and French.
Since many newspapers and online platforms utilize Western news agencies, they often inadvertently adopt the same language used in Western news sources, thus depicting Palestinian resisters or fighters as “militants,” the Israeli occupation army as “Israeli Defense Forces” and Israel’s war on Gaza as “flare-ups” of violence.
The deadly Israeli wars on Gaza are made possible not only by Western weapons and political support, but also through an endless stream of media misinformation.
In its totality, this language misinterprets the Palestinian struggle for freedom as random acts of violence within a protracted “conflict” in which innocent civilians, such as Layan, are “caught in the crossfire.”
The deadly Israeli wars on Gaza are made possible not only by Western weapons and political support, but also through an endless stream of media misinformation and misrepresentation. Though Israel has killed thousands of Palestinian civilians in recent years, Western media outlets remain committed to defending Israel as if nothing has changed.
- Ramzy Baroud has been writing about the Middle East for more than 20 years. He is an internationally syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author of several books, and the founder of PalestineChronicle.com. Twitter: @RamzyBaroud