Media’s Confused Headlines: Equating Terrorists With Victims

It’s been two months since the current wave of terror began, and the media outlets are still confused about victims and terrorists.

On Sunday, three Palestinian terrorists attempted to stab Israelis in unrelated attacks, killing one woman. The terrorists were killed in self-defense. The New York Times initial headline (since changed): 1 Israeli and 3 Palestinians Killed in Attacks in West Bank. 

That headline implies that the violence was of equal moral value, that it was all just “attacks,” – Palestinians attacked Israelis, and Israelis attacked Palestinians. In fact, the headline implies that the Israeli attacks were worse because more Palestinians were killed.

The moral failure, however, does not belong exclusively to the New York Times. Other newspapers also provided obtuse headlines that equated the victims and the terrorists. The Irish Times offered this whopper of a misleading headline:

Irish Times (1)

Reading that, one would not even know that terrorist attacks took place. An “incident” could be a car accident or even an avalanche. Interestingly, the coverage was provided by Reuters, which had a different headline – Israeli fatally stabbed, three Palestinian attackers killed in West Bank: police – that would have provided more accurate information. That means the Irish Times actively changed the headline to the one above.

Not to be outdone, the Sydney Morning Herald published this muddle of a headline:

Sydney Morning Herald

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The New York Times, at least, changed the headline. But the coverage beneath remains equally tilted towards sympathy for the terrorists over the victims. Take, for example, the first two paragraphs of the article:

Three Palestinians who each attacked Israeli Jews in separate episodes across the occupied West Bank on Sunday, were shot dead by Israeli civilians and soldiers, officials and witnesses said. One Israeli woman was killed in the attacks.

 

The father of one of the Palestinian attackers, a 16-year-old girl, said she had been preparing for martyrdom and asked him to donate her organs.

The fate of the attackers is mentioned prominently, along with a list of those involved in their deaths. The real victim of the violence – the Israeli woman – is tucked at the end with no real information. That should come in the second paragraph, but no. Instead, the reader gets a quote from the father of a terrorist about her desire to donate organs. That’s the way one talks about a humanitarian and a victim, not a terrorist.

Contrast that with the opening paragraphs of coverage from the Associated Press:

A young Israeli woman was stabbed to death by a Palestinian who was among three assailants to be shot dead following separate attacks Sunday, Israeli security forces said, with the latest flare-up of violence coming ahead of a visit to the region by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

 

The 21-year-old Israeli woman was seriously wounded when a Palestinian attacked her with a knife in the West Bank Sunday afternoon before being shot and killed by soldiers nearby, the military said.

The AP prioritizes the victim and offers details of the crime committed against her. There is no emotional quote from the terrorists’ families, and no sense that the Israeli action was anything other than self-defense. That’s called getting the story right, and it’s an element the New York Times should consider adding to its coverage of Israel and the Palestinians.

These headlines and the coverage from the New York Times simply misrepresent the reality. They make it impossible for readers to make sense of what’s taking place in the Middle East. When terrorists are treated with equal or even greater deference than their victims, reporters need to check their moral compasses.

Image: CC BY-SA HonestReporting.com, Elena via flickr

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