The Bias Boomerang

Highly emotive vocabulary presenting high-tech soldiers as callous killers, accompanied by sensationalist images of armless children, crushed babies, stunned mothers…

Claims from an HonestReporting communique regarding media coverage of Israel? No, actually, this is the tone of mainstream Arab media in its coverage of the American war effort in Iraq.

This week, The New York Times published, “Arab Media Portray War as Killing Field,” identifying efforts to stir up anti-American sentiment throughout the Arab world. Reporter Susan Sachs writes:

“The meaning would be clear to any Arab reader: what is happening in Iraq is part of one continuous brutal assault by America and its allies on defenseless Arabs, wherever they are…

“The rage against the United States is fed by this steady diet of close-up color photographs and television footage of dead and wounded Iraqis, described as victims of American bombs. In recent days, more and more Arabic newspapers have run headlines bluntly accusing soldiers of deliberately killing civilians.”

Read The New York Times article at:
http://www.nytimes.com/2003/04/04/international/worldspecial/04ARAB.html

* * *

HonestReporting asks: Where might the Arab media have learned such irresponsible methods of war coverage? Perhaps Sachs should take a look at her own employer, as in this headline from The New York Times (April 3):

“Israeli Army Strikes at Palestinians; 7 are Shot to Death”
http://nytimes.com/2003/04/04/international/middleeast/04MIDE.html

This misleading headline gives the impression that the Israeli army rounded up 7 Palestinians into a public square and shot them to death! Read the article to discover that all IDF fire was aimed at suspected terrorists.

Below we bring a sampling of more New York Times’ headlines from the past year. Note the suggestion of deliberate Israeli violence against unarmed civilians:

- “Demolishing Gaza Home, Israelis Kill Militant’s Stepmother”
http://query.nytimes.com/search/abstract?res=F50E10FD3C5F0C758CDDAB0894DB404482

No reference here to the IDF warnings that the woman failed to heed.

- “Israeli Raids Kill 17 Palestinians; in Tel Aviv, 3 Die in a Shooting”
http://query.nytimes.com/search/abstract?res=F70613F73C540C768CDDAA0894DA404482

The first part of the headline notes both the victims’ identity (Palestinian) and the perpetrators’ (Israeli); however, the second half of the headline, with roles reversed, omits this information. Also, Palestinians are actively “killed,” while Israelis passively “die.” Further, the Times falsely suggests that Palestinian terrorists parallel the Israelis’ civilian status.

- “Attacks Turn Palestinian Plans into Bent Metal and Piles of Dust”
http://query.nytimes.com/search/abstract?res=F20F13F734590C728DDDAD0894DA404482

The headline suggests that the April 2002 battle of Jenin was an act of deliberate public malice from the IDF.

And when it comes to photography, The Times is of course the ignominious front-page source of “The Photo that Started it All” — the mislabeling of a bloodied and battered Jewish terror victim as a victim of Israeli police brutality.
http://www.honestreporting.com/articles/reports/The_Photo_that_Started_it_All.asp

* * *

In The Times’ analysis of the Arab media, Sachs identifies a particularly troubling distortion — the “Israelization” of the Iraq war: “The meaning would be clear to any Arab reader: what is happening in Iraq is part of one continuous brutal assault by America and its allies on defenseless Arabs, wherever they are.”

HonestReporting asks: Where did the presentation of deliberate military violence against civilians begin, if not in major Western media such as The New York Times?

Through observing biased coverage of Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians, the Arab media learned the power of claiming deliberate military violence against civilians. The Arab media now extend these sensationalist methods to the Iraq war, fomenting Arab hatred against the U.S. at a moment when Americans can least afford it.

Sachs’ article exposes an ironic and dangerous boomerang effect: American journalists, party to years of anti-Israel bias, have inadvertently contributed to the anti-Americanism now raging in the Arab street.

As the American military victory draws nearer, the real success of the Iraqi campaign will depend on the common Arab’s perception of a benevolent America, liberating Arab civilians from dictatorship. Should America fail to win this battle for Arab public opinion, it could signal failure of the Coalition effort, whose ultimate goal is to bring the Arab world to moderation and democracy.

The distortion is out there, and it’s coming back to haunt us.

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