Defining Bias #5: Selective Omission

Part five of an eight-part series explaining The 8 Categories of Media Bias.

Violation #5
Selective Omission

By choosing to report certain events over others, or withholding key details, the media controls access to information.

Carelessly overlooking or excluding key facts is sloppy journalism. Cherry-picking details, at worst, is manipulative.

Watch Haviv Rettig Gur of the Times of Israel, and  Michele Chabin of USA Today and other papers discuss selective omission with HonestReporting.

EXAMPLE: In December, 2014, Palestinian official Ziad Abu Ein died during a West Bank protest march. Press reports suggested he suffocated on tear gas, or was mortally injured in an altercation with Israeli soldiers. Sky News reporter Tom Rayner’s close examination of the available footage showed that it wasn’t clear what exactly caused the Palestinian politician’s death. Most reports omitted one key piece of information that wasn’t overlooked by the Washington Post:

Palestinian officials said an autopsy would be carried out. Abu Ein suffered from diabetes and high blood pressure, his family said.

EXAMPLE: A New York Times dispatch from Gaza during Operation Protective Edge highlighted the lack of bomb shelters in the strip, blaming Israeli restrictions on construction materials.

Omitted from Anne Barnard’s report was the fact that Hamas did have construction material available that could have been used for bomb shelters. It’s just that Hamas preferred to use the concrete to build terror tunnels — a fact the Times was aware of months before the 2014 war broke out.

gaza tunnel


EXAMPLE: A report in the Daily Mail about the tragedy of Mustafa Malaka, who learned that his wife and son died in an Israeli strike on his Gaza house during Operation Protective Edge.

The Daily Mail failed to report, as noted in the Daily Telegraph, that Malaka was a member of the Hamas security services, which is why his home was likely targeted. Nor did the Daily Mail mention whether Israel sent a well-known advance warning phone call or leaflet drop that Malaka’s family might have ignored due to Hamas pressure.

EXAMPLE: A BBC report about hunger striking Palestinian prisoners which omitted any mention of the crimes the inmates were locked up for. Samer Issawi, Tariq Qaadan, Jafar Ezzedine, and Ayman Sharawna were convicted of numerous shooting attacks, planting explosive devices, bomb-making, and being senior operatives for Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine.


Click to learn more about each individual category.

The 8 Violations of Media Objectivity

  1. Misleading definitions: Prejudicing readers through language.
  2. Imbalanced reporting: Distorting news through disproportionate coverage.
  3. Opinions disguised as news: Inappropriately injecting opinion or interpretation into coverage.
  4. Lack of context: Withholding a frame of reference for readers.
  5. Selective omission: Reporting certain events over others, or withholding key details.
  6. Using true facts to draw false conclusions: Infecting news with flawed logic.
  7. Distortion of facts: Getting the facts wrong.
  8. Lack of transparency: Failing to be open and accountable to readers.

See also the introduction to this series and some final thoughts and acknowledgements, wrapping the concepts together and raising awareness for news literacy.


“Red Lines: The Eight Categories of Media Bias,” is available on Amazon for purchase as an e-book.


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