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Join the discussion: Is the media too biased on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

Published: Tuesday, July 15 2014 12:05 p.m. MDT

Updated: Wednesday, Aug. 13 2014 2:42 p.m. MDT

Palestinian Suma Abu Mahsen, 7, stands by a damaged wall of a house following an overnight Israeli missile strike to a nearby transition center for newly released convicts, that was not yet operational, in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, Tuesday, July 15, 2014. An Egyptian truce proposal for the conflict in Gaza quickly unraveled Tuesday, after the Islamic militant group Hamas rejected the plan.

Lefteris Pitarakis, Associated Press

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The relationship between the U.S. and Israel has been reintroduced into the public eye in the wake of the recent violence in Israel and the Gaza Strip. As the U.S. reports on the events in the Middle East, some have argued that mainstream media deliver biased news on the conflict.

The graph included here is based on data from a 2013 Gallup poll and shows Americans' sympathies towards the opposing groups over time.

News headlines in particular are delivering leading information, according to some.

“Twenty-seven Palestinians are reported to have died in Gaza — and, mercifully, no Israelis have been killed by Hamas rockets — and yet the BBC opts for the Orwellian ‘Israel under renewed Hamas attack,’ ” wrote Owen Jones of the British publication The Guardian.

These headlines are twisting events and misleading the public, Jones argued, and others agree.

“News and stories about the killing of innocent civilians rightfully deserves front-page coverage,” wrote Aref Assaf, president of the American Arab Forum, in an op-ed on the news site My Central Jersey.com. “Yet it seems that American media outlets lazily adhere to the Israeli version of the tragic and deadly events.”

Assaf went on to argue that the American media only report on the violence when it is directed against Israel, ignoring anything that the Palestinians might be going through.

He also explained what he believed to be the reason behind the phenomena.

“Palestinians do not have easy access and thus permission to present their own narratives; generally aren’t allowed to speak for themselves or to articulate their historical narrative,” he wrote. “Israelis, however, are permitted to speak, to explain the Israeli experience and even to explain about Palestinians. As a result, the Israeli story is known in the U.S. while Palestinians are dehumanized.”

Additionally, he said, as the media cover more and more pro-Israel stories, the public will become more entrenched in anti-Palestinian viewpoints without ever really hearing the other perspective.

Others think the mainstream media have already adjusted for a pro-Israel bias, and may have even overcorrected. A recent article in the New York Times opinion section had several false facts in it, according to Yishai Schwartz of the New Republic, and the New York Times’ failure to catch these errors resulted in a subtle anti-Israel bias for its readers even as it tried to be balanced.

“In an attempt to be even-handed, the authors start stuffing facts into parallel tracks, even when they don’t fit,” wrote Schwartz, arguing that the Times tried so hard not to appear anti-Palestine that it erred in the other direction. “It is both unseemly and irresponsible when the Times plays with the facts in order to play … comparative games in advancing a narrative of precise equivalence.”

Articles such as the New York Times op-ed can mislead readers as easily as pro-Israel articles can, according to Irwin Stelzer of The Weekly Standard.

“(The author of the New York Times piece) is no amateur penning his first op-ed letter,” wrote Stelzer. “Surely anyone with his journalistic experience might have considered whether his reporting might mislead readers not on the alert for the latest example of anti-Israel media bias.”

Regardless of which direction a bias may lead, it is the responsibility of reliable news outlets to eliminate biases of any kind, according to Jones. Jones described news outlets as “duty-bound to provide balanced reports that accurately reflect the reality on the ground,” and called readers to action if they found their news coverage was choosing to follow a bias instead of accurate reporting.

Bethan Owen is a writer for the Deseret News Moneywise and Opinion sections. Twitter: BethanO2

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