by Michael Berman
Ever since the Gulf War, CNN has been regarded as the nation's -- and the world's -- pre-eminent news organization. Millions of viewers and Internet readers worldwide depend upon CNN and CNN.com to offer the news clearly, accurately, and fairly. But by that standard, CNN coverage of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has failed its audience.
Without question, both the Palestinians and the Israelis have engaged in aggressive acts, acts of warfare, over the past few months. While each side may portray itself as the victim, engaging in defensive action or justifiable frustration, the job of a news organization is simply to describe what happened. Analysis of the respective claims is the job of editorial writers, whom the world has in abundance. Yet CNN has consistently portrayed only one side as the aggressor. The bias of CNN is no longer something for conjecture -- now, it can be proven.
In order to demonstrate an obvious and ongoing pattern, one need merely look back over the last few weeks at CNN.com's news headlines -- which, of course, reach a considerably larger audience than the article contents. All the articles discussed here can be found by finding the latest article on the conflict and then paging back through the "Related Stories" headlines which CNN.com provides at the bottom.
April 15 headline: "Israel launches air strikes in central Lebanon." April 14 headline: "Israel retaliates for Hezbollah attack." Both of these, of course, refer to the same retaliatory strike -- two headlines identifying one aggressive act by Israel. Hezbollah's initial attack on northern Israel, by contrast, never rated a headline at all (or, if it did, that headline was never archived). It was merely alluded to in "Violence flares in Gaza, along Israel-Lebanon border" -- a headline which avoided identifying any aggressor.
The facts: Hezbollah attacked Israel, which defended itself. The CNN headlines: two aggressive strikes by Israel, none by anyone else.
April 16 headline: "Israelis strike Arafat's guard unit's headquarters." Again this was a retaliatory strike, responding to Palestinian mortar fire upon the community of Sderot (inside Green-Line Israel, if that makes a difference). Once again that mortar fire rated no headline.
The facts: Palestinians attacked Israel, which defended itself. The CNN headlines: an aggressive strike by Israel, none by anyone else.
April 18 headline: "Witnesses: Israel shells Gaza town." April 17 headline: "Israeli withdrawal follows harsh U.S. criticism." Once again, the fact that Israel was responding to mortar fire upon Nir Am and Kfar Darom is buried within the articles.
On April 18, a headline makes a connection between Arabs and blasts, but it is neither a reference to recent suicide bombings nor the bombs either detonated or defused in Jerusalem and Netanya. "Arabs blast Israeli moves in Gaza" says the headline, as if Palestinian Arabs were merely responding with words to Israeli aggression. There were three separate bomb attacks on Israeli civilians between Sunday April 22 and Monday the 23rd. The headline for the article describing these multiple acts of terrorism? "Violence intensifies in Mideast." Again, Palestinian aggression is kept off the headline.
The archived CNN headlines on the conflict during the month of April tell a very clear story. Eleven different headlines clearly associate Israel with a verb and/or description marking an aggressive act:
- Israel launches air strikes in central Lebanon
- Israelis strike Arafat's guard unit's headquarters
- Witnesses: Israel shells Gaza town
- Israeli police enter disputed compound
- Israel seals off Gaza, West Bank until Friday
- Israel retaliates for Hezbollah attack
- More than 30 Palestinians wounded in new Israeli attack
- Israel hits Gaza after attack wounds infant
- Islamic Jihad activist killed in Israeli helicopter attack
- Israel arrests 6 from Arafat's elite force
- Israeli, Palestinian children buried; Israel arrests Arafat guards
The count of CNN headlines which similarly identify Palestinian or Arab aggression against Israel, is zero. The closest approximation thereof is the above-mentioned "Israel retaliates for Hezbollah attack," which implies that Hezbollah attacked -- but leaves the verb form, that which stirs the emotions, to Israel. In several cases, the desperation to avoid identifying those initiating the violence is especially apparent, with headlines such as "Bomb kills 2, wounds 39 at bus stop near Tel Aviv" or "Mortars injure five Jewish settlers" -- one could almost wonder if these were Israeli home-made weapons which blew up too early, so devoid are these headlines of the least hint of who was responsible.
No headline -- not one -- directly references the cold-blooded murder of an Israeli infant by a trained Palestinian sniper. "Mideast buries child victims" reports on this carefully aimed homicide alongside the death of an 11-year-old boy who joined armed gunmen in an attack on Israelis. Contrast this with the days of coverage following the accidental killing of Mohammed Al-Dura, who wandered with his father into the crossfire when Palestinian gunmen assaulted IDF soldiers.
While it is possible, it is unlikely that a single page on the CNN site identifies a greater number of acts of Palestinian aggression against Israelis, between the article itself and the "related stories" at the bottom, than vice-versa. This writer's search could not turn up even one exception to the rule: CNN headlines are reserved exclusively for Israeli aggression and criticism thereof.
This is not, of course, the behavior of an unbiased news source.
In much of the Jewish community, CNN has acquired the nickname PNN, as in "Palestinian News Network." CNN content and headlines prove the network worthy of the name.
Michael Berman is a Baltimore-based dot-com CEO and media critic.