False Balance and Civilian Suffering in Gaza Crisis

People who follow media criticism are likely aware of the term “false balance,” used to describe coverage that presents “both sides” of an issue as if they are equivalent–when they are anything but. Does that label apply to coverage of the current Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip?

Washington Post photo of Gaza destruction

A gallery of photos in the Washington Post, showing dead and wounded Gazans and fearful Israelis, is captioned “civilians on both sides endure suffering.”

A November 15 Washington Post headline read, “Civilians in Gaza, Israel Suffer Amid Conflict.” The piece would appear to want to give readers the sense that comparable suffering is occurring on both sides. But reality tells a different story–one that is not so symmetrical.

The piece begins in a Gaza hospital, where an eight-month-old with a shrapnel wound to the head is being treated.  She does not survive, and becomes at that point the 16th Palestinian to die in the current violence. But the Post nonetheless tries to stick to the formula:

As the Israeli military assault ramped up and militants retaliated with rockets, civilians on both sides faced painful but all-too-familiar scenes.

On the Israeli side, three have died from rockets fired from Gaza. And these deaths, Israeli officials argue, were preventable:

Israel’s minister for civil defense, Avi Dichter, told reporters that the three would not have died had they followed instructions and stayed in a shelter or in the rear of their apartment.

Few in Gaza can hide in bomb shelters or rely on air raid sirens to warn of incoming attacks. But the media desire to make the suffering seem proportional could be seen elsewhere. In the Los Angeles Times (11/17/12), Edmund Sanders reported:

Back-and-forth violence between Israel and Hamas left civilians on both sides digging out of rubble and broken glass Saturday as the conflict entered its fourth day.

At that point, 38 Palestinians had died.  In Israel, meanwhile:

In Israel, three people were injured Saturday by rockets fired into southern Israel.

The military released a photo of one house in Ashdod, where window frames and glass shards blanketed one home’s living room.

No one should minimize the fear of living anywhere where bombs or rockets are falling. But give the one-sided death toll of the attacks on Gaza–three Israeli deaths and over 120 Palestinians–media accounts that try to paint a “balanced” picture do a great disservice to reality.

About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.