Playing the “disproportionate” card
Clearly there were more Palestinians killed in this latest conflict than Israelis. Noticeably, much of the media did very little to identify how many of these Palestinians were combatants. In any event, the ratio of deaths to some 1,500 Israeli air strikes is astonishingly low from a military perspective. Of course, Israel does everything in its power to avoid civilian casualties but during Operation Pillar of Defense, the IDF had clearly improved its intelligence and accuracy since the last major confrontation in Gaza.
Every civilian casualty is obviously a tragedy and is regarded by Israel as an unintended mistake. Nonetheless, many media outlets attempted to portray Israel’s actions as disproportionate based solely on the higher number of Palestinian casualties to Israeli casualties.
For example, the Jerusalem Post’s Gil Hoffman was virtually ambushed on this question during an aggressive interview conducted by the BBC that says much about its despicable attitude towards Israel.
The issue was summed up extremely well by The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg who responded to this line in a New York Times editorial:
Israel has a vastly more capable military than Hamas, and its air campaign has resulted in a lopsided casualty count: three Israelis have been killed.
Whenever I read a statement like this, I wonder if the person writing it believes that there is a large moral difference between attempted murder and successfully completed murder. The casualty count is lopsided, but why? A couple of reasons: Hamas rockets are inaccurate; Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system is working well. But the Israeli body count isn’t low because Hamas is trying to minimize Israeli casualties. Quite the opposite: Hamas’s intention is to kill as many Israelis as possible. Without vigilance, and luck, and without active attempts by the Israeli Air Force to destroy rocket launchers before they can be used, the Israeli body count would be much higher. The U.S. judges the threat from al Qaeda based on the group’s intentions and plans, not merely on the number of Americans it has killed over the past 10 years. This is the correct approach to dealing with such a threat.
Access for the journalists
During Operation Cast Lead, Israel prevented journalists from entering Gaza (it was still possible to enter from the Egyptian side). Journalists camped out on a hill near Sderot overlooking Gaza took much of their frustration out on Israel through their negative reports. There was even anecdotal evidence that some journalists wished to “punish” Israel for limiting their access.
During Operation Pillar of Defense, however, journalists were able to gain access to and report from Gaza without any Israeli restrictions. Previously, media organizations were taking much of their raw footage from Palestinian stringers working for Al-Jazeera. Images of dead and injured children dominated the airwaves and the cameramen were only too happy to collude with Hamas to produce the most dramatic pictures to feed an anti-Israel narrative.
This time, the images coming out of Gaza, while still making for unpleasant viewing, were not as skewed or damaging towards Israel. While footage such as Reuters’ Pallywood scene was aired by both the BBC and CNN, this appeared to be an exception rather than the rule. Having been caught out by this and previous Hamas deceptions, journalists may well have been more circumspect in their reporting.
No key incident
In any conflict, things can change in an instant. In any military operation, mistakes are bound to occur. In the past, just one errant missile or even a staged event leading to a mass civilian casualty event has been enough to cause immense damage to Israel in the eyes of the world and consequently leading to increased pressure to bring operations to a swift end before an objective may have been achieved.
Operation Pillar of Defense was not without tragic mistakes. There was, however, no one incident that could be seen as a real turning point that caused Israel to lose the PR war in an instant. Of course, this was all in the absence of a ground war.
A CNN poll found that a majority of Americans (57%) said that Israel’s operation in Gaza was justified as opposed to 25% who were against. Clearly, in the US at least, Israel came out on top in this respect.
In conclusion, while HonestReporting and others identified many examples of media bias, overall the media coverage was more balanced than we have seen in the past. Some of the usual suspects such as the BBC and The Guardian did not disappoint when it came to one-sided content and it remains to be seen whether balanced coverage will be part of a longer-term trend.
While the military action may be over for now, the media war will continue.