I also have a piece up at Pajamas Media, on the - probably unintentional - symbolism of a Palestinian using a Caterpillar machine to murder Israelis. You can read it here.
The US media has long enjoyed playing the game of ‘Guess the Party’, wherein the affiliation of Republican politicians accused or convicted of wrongdoing is prominently featured in news reports, while that of misbehaving Democrats is buried in the depths of the story, if it’s mentioned at all.
The BBC appears to have developed a couple of variants on the game – Guess the Nationality of the Victim/Aggressor and Guess the Sex of the Victim – to be played when reporting on deaths in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
This morning the Beeb headlined its report on yesterday’s murders of three Israelis by Palestinian Hussam Dwayat ‘Jerusalem attacker acted alone’. The report began:
A Palestinian who went on a bulldozing rampage in west Jerusalem on Wednesday apparently acted alone, Israeli police say, despite claims by militant groups.
Hussam Dwayat was at work on a building site when he drove his front-loader vehicle into the street and started mowing down cars and ramming buses.
He killed three people and wounded dozens more before security personnel climbed on the vehicle and killed him.
The fact that people died doesn’t make it into the headline or the first two paragraphs. And you have to get all the way to paragraph 12 – after the BBC presents a couple of theories for Dwayat’s actions, which, while not exactly excusing the attacks, suggest that the behaviour of Israelis may have driven him to his wits’ end – to find out that two of the dead were women, and beyond that to realise how close Dwayat came to murdering two babies as well.
The BBC also doesn’t mention that the male victim was 68, and soon to be a grandfather. In fact its reporters fail to get so much of what’s relevant into the crucial opening lines of the story that if this was a test-piece in an exam for entry to journalism school they would probably have flunked it – and this despite the fact that BBC reporter Tim Franks watched the whole thing unfold.
Update: The BBC updated the story while I was writing this post, and the details of the victims have been pushed even farther down the report.
Contrast the story with the BBC’s reporting of incidents in which Palestinians are killed by Israeli troops or airstrikes. A quick search of the BBC’s site reveals a steady stream of headlines such as 'Four children die in Gaza strike', 'Palestinian children die in blast', 'Family killed during raid in Gaza' and 'Outrage over killing of Gaza boys'.
If children aren’t mentioned in the headline, they’re invariably mentioned in the first line of the report, and the facts that they were Palestinians, or lived in Gaza, and were killed by Israelis, are also prominent.
Again, contrast that with a February BBC story headlined ‘Gaza rockets injure two Israelis’, in which you have to get to paragraph five to learn that one of the victims was aged eight.
In the case of yesterday’s story the BBC appears more concerned with reassuring readers that Dwayat was some kind of unhinged loner, and not a terrorist. In the process of doing so they’ve essentially relegated the killings to the status of an industrial accident.
Readers’ perceptions are often framed by a quick glance at the headline, or the first paragraph of a story. Casual readers of the BBC’s website must get the impression that the Israelis deliberately target children and other Palestinian civilians on an almost daily basis, while Israelis are occasionally the victim of some mishap or criminal act.
Clearly the BBC doesn’t want its readers to know that Palestinians kill women and children. After all this would undermine the image, so carefully cultivated by the BBC and other media outlets, of Palestinian terrorists as ‘militants’ engaged in a war against an occupying army – or ‘urban guerrillas’, in the words of BBC Gaza correspondent Alan Johnston, the first kidnap victim to develop Stockholm syndrome before being seized.
The tactic is subtle, but very effective, and it stinks to high heaven. But as we’ve seen, if enough people complain, they’ve been known to withdraw lies and misleading reports. You can complain here.
HonestReporting.com has a rather more scientific analysis of bias in BBC headlines and reports.