Giving viewers a quick sense of context and history is important in any story, but especially in the Israel/Palestine conflict. Doing a bad job of it is perhaps worse than not doing it at all.
CBS Evening News anchor Scott Pelley gave this summary on November 19:
We wanted to remind you tonight of what Gaza is and how it came to be. The Gaza Strip was laid out in 1949 after the war that created Israel. It’s home to Palestinians displaced in that war and to the generations that followed. Only 25 miles long, roughly ten miles wide, Gaza’s population is 1.7 million, most of them living in poverty. Israel captured Gaza in 1967 and occupied it until 2005. One year later, the Hamas political party won the election there. The U.S. says the Hamas military wing is a terrorist organization.
Rocket attacks from Gaza have been frequent for years. Israel says the goal of this military operation is to destroy those rockets, missiles, and their launchers.
To summarize: Gaza is a poor place run by terrorists who frequently fire rockets at Israel.
The following night, nearly the same story (11/20/12):
Now, we want to remind you what Gaza is and how it came to be. The Gaza Strip was laid out in 1949 after the war that created Israel. It’s home to Palestinians displaced in that war. 25 miles long and roughly ten miles wide, Gaza’s population is 1.7 million. Israel occupied it until 2005. A year later the Hamas political party won the election there. The U.S. says the Hamas military wing is a terrorist organization.
All of this started when Israel retaliated after weeks of rocket attacks from Gaza.
So basically the same again, only this time we’re told Israel’s attack is in retaliation for weeks of rockets. (This is, to put it mildly, misleading.)
What’s missing from both these brief histories? The previous Israeli military attack on Gaza, 2008-09’s Operation Cast Lead, which killed about 1,400 Palestinians, including 344 children, and did extensive damage to the Gaza’s civilian infrastructure. The assault was the subject of widespread international condemnation.
Most people in Gaza living under the current Israeli bombardment are probably thinking about Cast Lead, wondering if this round of violence will be as bad. But to CBS Evening News, when they tell viewers they want to “remind you what Gaza is,” this history is not worth mentioning.