Why don’t Americans Know what’s going on in Israel/Palestine?
The answer is unclear at this point, but some disturbing patterns are beginning to emerge. They implicate some of our major news media, and, perhaps most of all, the Associated Press, the oldest and largest wire service in the world. Most American editors and journalists have no idea what is occurring under their watch. To date, there is little indication that they care.
Before dawn on January 15th, an Israeli special forces unit killed a Palestinian mother and her 24-year-old son in their home. The mother had three bullets in her; the son 15. The Israeli soldiers also shot and wounded the woman’s husband and four other family members: young women were shot in the pelvis and chest, young men in the foot, chest, torso, liver. The firing lasted over an hour. Then the Israeli squad shot at an arriving ambulance and prevented it for 45 minutes from tending to the dying, bleeding family.
It was all the result of a “misunderstanding,” as the Israeli press put it.
The Israeli special forces commandos, invading a Palestinian village, had mistakenly taken a man standing guard in his home against vandalism for a resistance fighter. At first the Israeli military claimed that the now-dead man had shot at them, but before long the soldiers admitted that they had fired first. They saw the man cock his gun, they explain. The soldiers say, and at least some witnesses concur, that after they killed the man, someone from inside the house returned their fire. The soldiers claim that they then continued to shoot, but that their firing was “precise and limited.” The husband says that even when he yelled at them to stop, that his wife and son were dead, the onslaught continued for at least an hour. None of the Israeli soldiers were killed or wounded.
According to the Israeli military, none of those they killed or injured had been wanted by Israel. It was simply an error. The 4,000 villagers of Rojeeb, east of Nablus, declared a state of mourning to honor the dead. Hundreds attended the funeral.
That day and since, the US press has carried long news stories on Israel/Palestine. Yet, almost none of the reports have mentioned the above incident. The Boston Globe seems to have missed it entirely, as did the Chicago Tribune, the Atlanta Constitution, the Baltimore Sun, the San Francisco Chronicle, the San Jose Mercury News, a multitude of other papers across the country, and, it appears, every mainstream American television and radio network.
The LA Times mentioned it in two sentences in the next to the last paragraph of a 20-paragraph story titled “Israel Eases Curbs on Palestinian Election” (and got the facts wrong); the New York Times reported it in the last two paragraphs of a 24 paragraph story. The Washington Post and Newsday reported it in their briefs columns. Not one reported the raid correctly.
Every one of the above newspapers had considerable coverage on the Israeli-Palestinian issue during this period. The LA Times had a headline on an Israeli soldier who had been slightly wounded by Jewish settlers in the West Bank (the 150 to 200 rampaging settlers had also torched a Palestinian family home and destroyed numerous Palestinian shops, but the Israeli soldier’s injury was the headline).
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, who apparently had no space for a report on Israeli soldiers killing Palestinians, carried a headline story about “Anti-Jewish acts” on the rise, and included a report of a person “hit on the head with a plastic bottle.” The victim “suffered a cut and a black eye.” The article mentions that some incidents had been perpetrated by people “who hold a specific grudge against Israel.” Why anyone should hold such a grudge remained a mystery for its readers.
The New York Times had a long news report entitled “Anger in the West Bank Helps Hamas Win Hearts,” but nowhere in this extensive article does the Times mention the Israeli killing of a mother and son the day before, an incident that might conceivably contribute to anger at Israel. A few days later the Times ran another long story from Nablus. This one again leaves out any mention of the killings. In approximately a dozen stories about Israel-Palestine, many of them lengthy, the killing of a mother and son were given a total of three sentences at the very end of an extremely long report on something else.
How did AP cover the killings?
For almost all American newspapers, the Associated Press is the primary source for international news. AP supplies 24-hour news feeds to 1,700 U.S. daily, weekly, non-English and college newspapers; 5,000 radio/TV outlets; and 1000 radio stations.
A Lexis-Nexis search of its coverage of this incident, and others, is revealing. The Associated Press has several wires that distribute the news.
On the “Associated Press Worldstream” wire, AP sent out a story headlined “Israeli troops kill Palestinian mother and son in apparent mistake, Palestinians say.” This Worldstream wire is distributed throughout Europe, Asia, South America, and the UK. Only a smattering, at most, of US papers appear to receive it.
On the “Associated Press Online” wire, AP distributed a report headlined “Israeli Army Kills 2 in West Bank Village.” Stories on this wire appear to be sent in an automatic feed to newspaper websites, where such stories are typically filed under the “additional AP stories” link. Most readers don’t come across them if they’re not featured in the print version of the paper.
On the “Associated Press” wire, the wire from which almost all US newspapers draw the news that they print in their newspapers, it carried a report headlined “Disgruntled policemen block main roads in Gaza Strip; Israeli army kills two in West Bank.”
As with the Online and Worldstream wires, the US wire also included some information on the incident near the end of some of their other stories. This information was minimal; sometimes incorrect. None of the above stories told that the soldiers were part of an Israeli special forces unit, the kind that is sent to assassinate resistance fighters; none reported that an ambulance had been fired on and prevented from attending the wounded; almost none, in fact, even mentioned that there were wounded. Most emphasized the false report given by Israel that its soldiers had been fired upon first.
Perhaps most troubling of all is the differential in headlines. It is hard to understand why the American wire carried such a different headline from the other wires, and one that so underplayed the deaths, since all three stories were so similar. In all three versions the killings were described in the first three paragraphs of the story, followed by the traffic protest. It is standard news practice to draw the headline from the first paragraph or two of a story. Yet the AP wire for American papers highlighted the second part of the story for its lead headline, instead of the first.
There are indications that screening out, or sanitizing, the stories about Israel/Palestine sent to American papers, as compared to those sent on the Worldstream wire, is not rare.
For example, a quick Lexis-Nexis scan of recent AP coverage reveals a news report on 5,000 Palestinians and international peace activists demonstrating against the Israeli wall being built on Palestinian land in the village of Bilin. There have been hundreds of such nonviolent protests in Bilin and elsewhere in the Palestinian Territories over the years, almost always met by Israeli military violence, yet these activities have been almost completely missing from the US media coverage of the area. The fact that the AP story was only sent out on the Worldstream wire, and that no report on this nonviolent demonstration went out on the American wire, may help explain at least one of the causes of such unacceptable omission.
In yet another case, a story on a human rights report that described hundreds of Palestinian youths being imprisoned and physically abused by Israel was similarly sent only over the Worldstream wire. US newspaper editors never saw it.
Such a pattern is particularly perplexing, given that the US is widely held to have a “special relationship” with Israel, and that American taxpayers give Israel over $10 million per day. One would expect that news about Israeli actions would be more significant to Americans than to citizens of other countries, not less.
Without an opportunity to examine AP’s internal dynamics it is impossible to know what is going on. The major problem may simply be that there appears to be no meaningful oversight. AP is a cooperative owned by its member newspapers. Yet, none of the editors I spoke with for this article appeared aware that the news they were receiving was being inappropriately screened.
Who is the person who oversees AP coverage on this region? What kind of checks and balances are in place to prevent bias from intruding? Is AP committed to providing full coverage of Israel-Palestine, or are its members satisfied with receiving Israeli-centric, partial reporting?
In the days since the killings in Rojeeb, the Israeli military has staged 146 more raids, killing and injuring still more people almost all of them, as in Rojeeb, civilians.
Today the Palestinian news agency International Middle East Media Center (IMEMC) is reporting that late yesterday Israeli soldiers fired at children in another West Bank village, killing a nine-year old child, and injuring another.
AP has filed one 65-word report on it. Once again, the story gives the Israeli version of events (which, quite likely, will again prove to be false), states that “the age of the child is unknown,” and makes no mention that another Palestinian youngster was wounded.
The story was only distributed on the Worldstream wire.
ALISON WEIR is Executive Director of If Americans Knew, which has a produced a set of cards exposing media bias on Israel/Palestine that are available to the public.