- The numbers will have risen by the time you read this,
but more than 300 Israelis and 1,200 Palestinians have been killed since
the current Intifada began in September 2000 (Boston Globe, 3/31/02). Thousands
more people have been injured.
- U.S. media coverage of the conflict has been intense
in recent weeks, as the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) mounted a large-scale
invasion of the West Bank and Palestinian militants carried out several
major suicide bombings. Amnesty International (4/3/02) has condemned the
targeting of civilians by both sides, voicing concern over "flagrant
human rights abuses" by the IDF, including looting, mass detentions,
the targeting of medical personnel and possible extrajudicial executions.
Israel has tried to exclude the press from the entire area where the abuses
are occurring; the Committee to Protect Journalists has expressed alarm
(4/2/02) over the apparent targeting of reporters in "ongoing incidents
in which IDF forces have opened fire on, or in the direction of, journalists
attempting to cover events in the West Bank."
- With thousands of lives at stake and reporters risking
their own lives, it's increasingly difficult-- but perhaps more urgent
than ever-- to step back and examine how U.S. media have framed the story.
To this end, FAIR has surveyed how the language of "retaliation"
has been used on the nightly news shows on ABC, CBS and NBC.
- From the start of the Intifada in September 2000 through
March 17, 2002, the three major networks' nightly news shows used some
variation of the word "retaliation" (retaliated, will retaliate,
etc.) 150 times to describe attacks in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.
About 79 percent of those references were to Israeli "retaliation"
against Palestinians. Only 9 percent referred to Palestinian "retaliation"
against Israelis. (Approximately 12 percent were ambiguous or referred
to both sides simultaneously.) [Full data below.]
- Both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict routinely
present their attacks as being retaliation for previous attacks or actions.
Both sides portray their struggle as essentially defensive. Whether one
regards these justifications as credible explanations or self-serving rhetoric,
the fact is that reporters make choices about whether to report them. The
network news shows have characterized Israeli violence as "retaliation"
almost nine times more often than Palestinian violence.
- This disparity is meaningful. The term "retaliation"
suggests a defensive stance undertaken in response to someone else's aggression.
It also lays responsibility for the cycle of violence at the doorstep of
the party being "retaliated" against, since they presumably initiated
- Among the three major networks, ABC's World News Tonight
was the closest to being balanced, with 64 percent of its uses of "retaliation"
referring to Israeli actions and 21 percent to Palestinian actions-- a
three-to-one ratio. CBS Evening News came next, with 79 percent of its
uses of "retaliation" referring to Israeli actions and 7 percent
to Palestinian actions. NBC Nightly News was the most imbalanced, never
once referring to Palestinian retaliation.
- The devastating human toll of such "retaliations"
makes these imbalances all the more striking. According to the latest estimates
from the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem, 897 of the Palestinians killed
from September 29, 2000 though March 30, 2002 have been civilians. Israeli
security forces killed 823 of those 897 people, including 192 children.
B'Tselem records that 253 Israeli civilians were killed by Palestinians
in the same period, including 48 children. At least 16 of those 253 people
were killed by Palestinian National Authority security forces or persons
reportedly linked to them. B'Tselem notes that these figures include neither
suicide bombers nor Palestinians who "died after medical treatment
was delayed" by Israeli forces. (See .)
- Figures like these, highlighting the targeting of non-combatants
and even children, make clear that it is simply inaccurate to cast either
side as acting purely defensively.
- The language of retaliation is only one factor in reporting,
of course, but FAIR's findings-- 79 percent to 9 percent-- are striking
and indicate a tendency to define Israel's role as defensive, and the Palestinian
role as aggressive. By doing so, ABC, CBS and NBC have oversimplified this
complicated conflict and done a disservice to viewers.
- ACTION: Please urge the networks to examine why they
apply the word "retaliation" almost exclusively to one side in
the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
- ABC World News Tonight with Peter Jennings
- Phone: 212-456-4040
- Fax: 212-456-2795
- CBS Evening News with Dan Rather
- Phone: 212-975-3691
- Fax: 212-975-1893
- NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw
- Phone: 212-664-4971
- Fax: 202-362-2009 <mailto:email@example.com@msnbc.com
- As always, please remember that your comments are taken
more seriously if
- you maintain a polite tone. Please cc firstname.lastname@example.org with
- SURVEY DATA:
- Based on a Nexis database search of ABC World News Tonight,
- News and NBC Nightly News from September 28, 2000 through
March 17, 2002.
- Some percentages don't add up to 100 because of rounding.
- By Category:
- * Israeli retaliation: 118 mentions, of which 2 occurred
in soundbites (79%)
- (ABC: 27 mentions; CBS: 53 mentions; NBC: 38 mentions)
- * Palestinian retaliation: 14 mentions, of which 5 occurred
in soundbites (9%)
- (ABC: 9 mentions; CBS: 5 mentions; NBC: Zero mentions)
- * Ambiguous/both: 18 mentions (12%)
- (ABC: 6 mentions; CBS: 9 mentions; NBC: 3 mentions)
- By Network:
- * ABC total: 42 references (Israeli retaliation 64%,
- Ambiguous 14%) * CBS total: 67 references (Israeli retaliation
- Palestinian 7%, Ambiguous 13%) * NBC total: 41 references
- retaliation 93%, Palestinian 0%, Ambiguous 7%)