Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Comparing news coverage of Iraq and Israel

I noticed that wire service coverage of the recent bloody events in Baghdad almost invariably use the word "insurgents" or "assailants" or "gunmen" or "attackers" or "militants" to describe the Al Qaeda terrorists.

Almost never are the terrorists referred to as "extremists," although a few background pieces refer to Al Qaeda as being an extremist group.

When the word "extremist" is used in the Middle East to refer to an actual person, more often than not it refers to Jews who are alleged to have harassed Palestinian Arabs.

The word "extremist" has a far more pejorative connotation that "insurgent" or any of the other terms used to describe terrorists in Iraq. "Insurgent" or "gunmen" or "militants" are value-neutral words. "Extremist" is far more pejorative, as it carries with it a judgment of the character of the person who did the act. Such judgment is absent when AFP or AP or the New York Times or CNN report about attacks that are orders of magnitude worse, by every conceivable measure, that the worst thing that Israeli settlers have ever done or been accused of doing. 

So why do they consistently use a word that connotes something far worse when referring to Jews in the West Bank than they do to refer to mass-murdering Muslim terrorists in Iraq?

The cumulative effect of years of such biased reporting is that news readers, subconsciously, start to believe that the actions of Israelis are objectively worse than the actions of real terrorists who kill thousands of people. Years of such subtle bias have a huge effect on a large number of people who rely on the mainstream media to form their opinions.

 To the mainstream news media, the word "terrorist" is unsuitable to refer to people who blow themselves up in a church, but the word "extremist" is perfectly acceptable to refer to people who are accused of cutting down trees. 

This is one reason why it is difficult to believe that the media is unbiased when it comes to reporting from Israel.