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Friday, February 09, 2007

Media Bias Doesn't Take the Weekend Off

Let's consider this opening paragraph from the Associated Press describing today's incident at the Temple Mount.

"JERUSALEM - Israeli police stormed the grounds of Islam's third-holiest shrine Friday, firing stun grenades and tear gas to disperse thousands of Muslim worshippers who hurled stones, bottles and trash in an eruption of outrage over Israeli renovation nearby."

The story leads with Israel police storming an holy Islamic shrine. Only in the second half of the sentence do we hear anything at all about Muslim violence. More subtly the structure of the sentence treats the stone throwing as a response to Israeli police, never mentioning the fact that the police entered the grounds, in response to the stone throwing.

The distorted opening sentence makes it seem like the "worshippers" were defending themselves, when they were in fact the attackers.

"Riot police with their helmet visors pulled down scuffled with worshippers, some of them middle-aged or elderly. Medics tended several injured people lying on the stone pavement. Jewish worshippers were evacuated from the Western Wall plaza at the foot of the compound."

Only in the final sentence is there any reference to the fact that Muslim stone throwing from that height poses a severe risk to the people below. Of course the article does not actually mention this, it mentions the evacuation but in a paragraph about the actions of the Israeli police, thus making it seem the evacuation was caused by the actions of the police, rather than the stone throwers.

"About 200 police streamed on to the hilltop compound known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as the Temple Mount, to try to quell Muslims rioting over the repair work on a centuries-old ramp, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said."

The piece mentions the Muslim name for it first and the Jewish name second. While the article emphasizes that it is Islam's third holiest site, it does not mention that it is the holiest site for Jews.

The complex, home to the golden-capped Dome of the Rock shrine and Al Aqsa mosque, is sacred for Muslims, who believe that it is where the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven.

The compound is venerated by Jews as the site of their biblical temples.

Can you see the difference in the two sentences? The Muslim section describing their attachment to the area is given three times the space for the Jewish section. The Muslim section gives details and descriptions intended to project a glorious vision. The Jewish section is curt and dismissive and treats it as a matter of history.

The language also sets them apart. It's described as "sacred for Muslims" but "venerated by Jews." Venerating something is not anywhere as emotionally powerful as holding it sacred. Where the Muslim attachment is treated as explicitly religious, the Jewish one appears to be purely historical.

The article has two quotes from the Jewish side, the tangled quote by the police spokesman which is not placed into quotation marks and appears to be mixed with the reporter's own commentary and two word excerpts from the Foreign Minister's statement. None of them have entire sentences quoted.

The article however quotes four Arab Muslim figures, three of them in quotation marks and gives their exact words extensive space. Two of them repeat the same thing. The content of their quotes have less to do with the mosque and more with threatening Israel.

The reporter who the article, Dalia Nammari, is of course an Arab


  1. Ah, it seems they used an arab stringer. You'd think the AP would have learned something about the hazards of that by now. Guess they haven't...or just don't care.

    Many times, the way I lead my story is based on the photo that will accompany it. In this case, we see masked arab muslims throwing stones. MASKED. That they are masked clearly implies criminality, yet the entire opening paragraph and remainder of the article gives an entirely different impression. That is, that the muslims are protecting their sacred site.

    The AP reporter definitely went out of his or her way to describe what the Temple Mount means to muslims (nothing wrong with using correct terminology, and obviously the reporter was familiar with the correct arab terms) but a simple and quick Internet search would have provided the corect Beit HaMikdash and a little background on why it is sacred to us and what it means to our future.

    Sacred versus venerated? Yup. Definitely marginalizes what it means to us.

    My overall impression as conveyed by the reporter was that the arabs/muslims were protecting the temple mount from the Israelis.

    From what I've read elsewhere, the real reason the muslims are protesting the repair of the ramp is that they don't want Jews to have any access at all.

    BTW, didn't they also throw stones at Sharon when he visited there years ago? I don't recall the exact circumstances, only that the muslims hurled stones at him.

    It's information I would have used in this current article as it demonstrates a pattern of bad acts and total intolerance to any Jewish presence on the temple mount.

  2. As for the very limited use of quotes from Jewish sources--the AP as many wire services--have a formula for reporting. They typically will choose a given side or angle, Bolster it with facts and quotes but to appear "balanced" will throw in a quote or two with an opposing opinion. It's for appearances only.

    I'm pretty sure if you check online with some of the journalism mags and watch dog mags like Columbia Journalism Review you'll be able to confirm this.

    Covering a story of an event that is currently happening shouldn't be all that difficult. In fact, it should be easy. Basic principals apply: never use single source articles; don't use first person narrative when covering an event, especially a controversial one. Quote as many sources with various opinions as possible. Use quotation marks, don't inject personal opinion in a news story. EVER.

  3. Nice going. Would be nice if you parse more news articles when they appear.

  4. Anonymous9/2/07

    You do realize that the Saudi Prince Ibn Al-Tawid has a controlling interest in the Associated Press?

  5. Wow, the AP is biased! Gee, I never knew that!!!!

  6. Money and politics influences all media outlets. Don't believe for a second any media outlet that claims to be fair and balanced. There's no such thing.



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