Sunday, May 16, 2021

The Headliners

Here is a current headline up on NBC News: "Despite cease-fire pressure as dozens die in Israeli strikes, Netanyahu pledges 'full force'".

I have no particular problem with this headline. It certainly sets a tone of Israeli aggression in the face of pleas for peace, but that's not necessarily inappropriate in this context. Certainly, it's within the bounds of fair presentation. There is cease-fire pressure, dozens have died in Israeli strikes, and Bibi has nonetheless so far been implacable in continuing the attack.

Why do I mention it? Well, one sees a lot of commentary on social media picking apart western media headlines and claiming proof that they're always biased in a pro-Israel (or anti-Israel) direction. While anyone can play journalism critic, one inherent problem with this genre is that any headline will necessarily be incomplete and fail to paint a comprehensive picture, and so by picking one or two out of the void one can "illustrate" virtually any trend one wants.

On top of that, this genre of commentary has yielded what I think is one of the more obnoxious social media trends I've seen in recent weeks. One sees a headline that says something like this:

Israeli strikes kill six in Gaza as conflict continues.

Followed by someone smarmily saying "let me correct that for you" with this:

Israeli Apartheid Isra-hell strikes massacres kill slaughter six innocent babies in besieged Gaza as conflict genocide continues.

And the thing is -- they're 90% earnest! It's not that there aren't cases where one can't pick at choices of words or framing, but there are folks who think that if a newspaper fails to run the below headline, they're reflecting a pro-Israel bias.

In slightly more modest fashion, one sees this from quite serious people. Consider a tweet from NYU journalism professor, objecting to headlines in the coverage of Israel's strike which destroyed a media building in Gaza. Here's what he says is "the most obvious and clear headline": 

"Israel Destroys Gaza Media Tower"

But here's the Washington Post headline he finds woefully insufficient: 

"Israeli Strike Hits Gaza Media Tower as Violence Intensifies"

That's essentially the same thing! The only substantial difference is "strike" versus "destroy", but in the subheading the first sentence begins "The airstrike destroyed a tower ..." Sure, one can squint and twist to find small differences in connotation between the two, but they're all within the bounds of legitimate journalistic presentation (same as with the NBC headline above). To pull this out as an example of flagrant media bias is baffling to me.

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