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

Regardless of the frame’s inaccuracy, the need to fit events into it actually makes confused reporting acceptable. If readers can’t quite tell what happened or when, it is not especially problematic since the main thread of the story is the never-ending cycle. Media coverage most often identifies a “cycle” as beginning with actions taken by Israel, a pattern HonestReporting has called “it all started when Israel fired back.”  The most recent conflict this March was said to have started with Israel’s targeted killing of Zuhir al-Qaisi, the terrorist leader who last August had overseen an attack from Sinai into Israel that killed eight Israelis on a public bus and in a car; al-Qaisi was planning another major attack.  That Israel’s actions begin the cycle is significant. The cycle is not said to have started with al-Qaisi’s terror plan, nor with the previous attack, nor were the 177 rockets that landed in Israeli towns from March 9 to 15 described as an escalation of the 42 rockets that hitIsrael during the previous two months. Each “cycle” is treated as something complete in itself and not as part of a larger context.

Although the frame appears to offer balanced reporting –the cycle presents an equal responsibility for the conflict–it almost always works to disadvantage Israel. Here Reuters neatly matches its tit for tat framed article with photos showing Palestinians but not Israelis impacted by the conflict.  In fact, in some cases, like this report from the International Business Times, the cycle of violence frame gives cover for a mostly anti-Israel story.

But beyond getting the facts confused or wrong, the frame completely obscures the reasons for the violence. The stated goals of the Hamas government to get rid of the Jewish state and the stated goals of the Israeli government to protect its citizens demonstrate the inadequacy of an equal, cycle of violence frame.

Rockets are flying into Israel from launching pads in Gaza, so Israel invests more than a billion dollars to set up the Iron Dome defense shield – pretty much the opposite of a tit-for-tat response. The Iron Dome causes the incoming rocket to dissolve in the air.

But you wouldn’t know that from within the cycle of violence frame. Here’s a Getty Images photo in the Baltimore Sun of the Iron Dome in action and a caption sure to mislead readers.  The headline added by the newspaper? “Tit for Tat.”

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Image: CC BY-SA, flickr/stinging eyes, flickr/lauren michell.