Wednesday, November 26, 2014
Distorting the News of Jerusalem Terror
Cherryl Smith, PhD, is professor emerita in rhetoric and composition at California State University, Sacramento. Her blog is Framing Israel.
Inaccurate and distorting one-liners can easily be corrected. After complaints, CNN edited and apologized for both the completely false headline, “Deadly attack on Jerusalem mosque” and the disturbingly misleading, “4 Israelis, Two Palestinians dead in Jerusalem.”
But, the systemic distortions through which media view Israel are much harder to change.
In a moment of impatience and candor, a BBC reporter interrupted Knesset Member Naftali Bennett’s short interview about the horrific slaughter that morning of Rabbis Moshe Twersky, Avrahm Goldberg, Arye Kopinsky, and Kalman Levine while they were praying in their Jerusalem synagogue:
BBC preferred not to “actually see” nor show its viewers a terror victim wrapped in tallit and tefillin lying on a blood splattered floor after two Palestinians had stormed the synagogue, shot people point blank, and hacked at them with axes and knives.
We can’t know what was in the reporter’s mind; we do know from analysis of how Israel is often framed in mainstream American and British media that the reporter most likely was trying to get on with the story.
That is, she did not want or need to see Bennett’s photo since the framework for her story was already in place. The story of the Har Nof terror would be about “tensions boiling” in Jerusalem and “revenge.”
When terrorists murder Israelis, prestigious news outlets often package the terrorism into familiar and fallacious story-lines. Readers’ attention is directed away from the actual violence and toward the features of predictable news frames: in this case into the false analogy of a “cycle of violence” and the image of Israel as the region’s “neighborhood bully.”
In fact, BBC spells out its guiding misinterpretations in a “background” summary: “Synagogue attack: Months of tension and revenge attacks” that among other errors, simply leaves out Hamas’s rocket firing on Israeli civilians as a catalyst for this summer’s war.
In its gallery of photos of the synagogue massacre, the Associated Press does not include a single picture of the devastation itself, though many such photographs were available from Israeli news outlets and across social media. By contrast, BBC and AP did not shy away from graphic imagery during the Gaza war. Indeed, they seemed to seek out casualties, endlessly replaying scenes from Gaza.
These story-lines are built from distortions. No matter how much support terrorists receive from Palestinian leaders, other countries, and from the specific groups that sponsor the killing, the perpetrators appear as isolated individuals up against the powerful State of Israel.
And bizarrely, the murder of Jews praying in a synagogue or Israelis waiting at a bus stop is equalized with the resulting deaths of terrorists themselves. The CNN headline, “4 Israelis, 2 Palestinians dead…” alludes to this pattern.
Here is the New York Times:
The phrase, “in the same time period” suggests that there have been killings on both sides. But the deaths of terrorists – here called “drivers,” – occurred because they were in the act of murdering people at random. The other altercations are included to bolster the cycle story-line.
Like the BBC, the New York Times makes clear its perspective in its own news analysis that includes this unsupported (and unsupportable) claim:
The fifth Israeli killed at Har Nof was Police Master Sergeant Zidan Saif, a member of the Druze community. He died in a shootout with the terrorists while heroically protecting fellow Israelis. Thousands of Druze and Jewish Israelis attended his funeral. An interfaith gathering was held outside the Har Nof synagogue complex in which Jewish, Christian and Muslim clerics denounced terror in Jerusalem.
There are many other stories in Israel than the ones we have become used to seeing in the press.