Media Psychology 101 – What’s Wrong With This Metaphor? Israel and the Cycle of Violence

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Over the years, HonestReporting has analyzed and critiqued hundreds of articles, editorials and opinion pieces. But what goes through the minds of the journalists and writers that influence them to treat Israel in a certain way?

Here we present our Media Psychology 101 series – taking an academic examination into the minds of the media and how news consumers are influenced by the media’s reporting.

This is the second part of a guest post by Cherryl Smith, PhD, a Professor of English in Rhetoric and Composition at California State University, Sacramento.  She is currently writing a book on media framing of Israel.

Recently, the media used their usual terms, “cycle of violence” and “tit for tat” to tell us about events in Israel and Gaza.  As always, these terms obscured more than they illuminated. For while they may seem to be descriptions, “cycle of violence” and “tit for tat” are only metaphors.

The more frequently a particular metaphor is used, the less metaphoric it will seem. It can begin to appear that media are actually reporting on a “cycle of violence” rather than just interpreting events this way.  Unfortunately, once a metaphor takes hold in the press, it is unlikely to be questioned.

This one is well established, so much so that “cycle of violence” is a dominant news frame through which media routinely view conflict involving Israel.  Even without including the words, “cycle” or “tit for tat,” stories are framed around this perspective.

Read the first part of Media Psychology 101 – Framing Israel: Is Fair Coverage Possible?

Nevertheless, it is useful to point out the limits and distortions of this frame.  While some editors and writers may prefer the cycle of violence frame precisely because it distorts reality, some readers may find themselves reflecting critically on mainstream reporting once they see biases exposed.

There are many problems with the cycle of violence frame, not the least of which is that it does not actually describe the situation. Scholars who carefully tracked violence during the Second Intifada, for example, “found little evidence to suggest there is a cycle of violence.” David A. Jaeger and M. Daniele Paserman concluded that “Israel responds predictably and systematically to Palestinian violence” but that “Palestinian violence is not predictable by past Israeli violence.” Their research identifies an imbalanced pattern:  not a cycle so much as a series of attacks on civilians and defensive Israeli responses to such attacks.

Continued on Page 2

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