- News Media’s ‘Both Sides’ Framing Distorts Events in Israel’s Favor
by Greg Shupak, https://mondoweiss.net/
News media coverage routinely frames Palestine-Israel as a story of two sides deserving more or less equal portions of blame for the absence of peace and of Israelis and Palestinians experiencing comparable pain as a result. I call this approach the “both sides” narrative and argue that it is untenable. In the following excerpt from my book, The Wrong Story: Palestine, Israel, and the Media, I examine the use of the “both sides” frame in New York Times editorials on Israel’s 2014 attack on Gaza, Operation Protective Edge. Both sides-ism distorts events in Israel’s favour—and thus also in favour of its patron, the United States, for whom Israel is a crucial proxy—by grossly inflating Palestinian wrongs while understating Israel’s.
As I contend in my book, the “both sides” narrative is not the only frame through which media outlets misrepresent Palestine-Israel in ways that are advantageous to Israel. This tendency has persisted in mainstream news media accounts of Palestine in the years since 2014. For example, in the fall of 2015, Israelis killed 43 Palestinians and injured 5,100 while Palestinians killed seven Israelis and injured 70 and major US papers obscured the larger context in which Palestinian attacks occur and focused on Israel’s “right to defend its citizens” without concerning themselves with Palestinians’ right to self-defence. During the Palestinians’ Great Return March, news outlets have partaken in linguistic gymnastics to avoid stating the simple fact that Israel is shooting hundreds of demonstrators with live ammunition. When Israel killed 62 Palestinians on May 14th 2018, media sources de-humanized Palestinians and victim-blamed. Throughout the demonstrations, news outlets have suggested that “violent” Palestinian protests are at fault for Israel shooting thousands of unarmed Palestinians and presented Palestine-Israel as though it were a civil war, or a “he said, she said” story where the reality of what’s happening—ethnic cleansing, apartheid, and resistance to these—is impossible to unravel. Such deeply flawed reporting persists because the institutional structure of the media remains in tact: the Western ruling class both controls the media and is deeply invested in Israeli settler-colonial capitalism but has no comparable interests in Palestinian liberation.
The first Times editorial on Protective Edge was on July 7th 2014 and, in assessing responsibility for the violence, it deploys the “both sides” frame. The article discusses the kidnapping and killing of three Israeli teenagers by Palestinians in the West Bank and the subsequent kidnapping and killing of a Palestinian teenager by Israelis. The editors write that these incidents could lead to a full-blown war and that “It is the responsibility of leaders on both sides” to stop that from happening. The editors then assert that the “hostilities and recriminations began with the kidnapping and murder” of the three Israeli teenagers. The claim that this round of antagonisms “began” with the abduction of the Israeli youth is dubious even if one sets aside the broader context of Israeli colonialism in which these events played out.