Palestinian Deaths Aren’t Headline Material at New York Times

How many Palestinian lives equal one Israeli life, according to the editors of the New York Times?

The main headline on the front page of the New York Times’ April 10 final edition was “At Least 8 Killed In Suicide Bombing On A Bus In Israel.” The late edition, which is available to more readers, had “13 Israeli Troops Killed in Ambush; Bus Bomb Kills 10,” in the 36-point headline size that the paper reserves for what it considers major events.

Six paragraphs into the story, the paper provided this additional information: “More than 100 Palestinians have been killed in Jenin, the Palestinian town that has brought the stiffest resistance to the broad Israeli sweep through the West Bank. Many of the Palestinian dead still lie where they fell.”

By its headline choice, the Times suggested that the deaths of 23 Israelis (or eight, in the final edition) are more important than the deaths of 100 Palestinians.

But even those ratios may understate the greater weight that the editors place on Israeli casualties. Beneath the main headline in the late edition were two subheads: “Worst Army Toll” and “A 14th Soldier Is Killed in Separate Attack at a Refugee Camp.” The Times might have used one of the subheads to acknowledge the deaths of more than a hundred Palestinians, but evidently noting the death of a single additional Israeli soldier was considered more newsworthy.

One might suggest, in the New York Times’ defense, that large numbers of Palestinian deaths have been a constant since Israel’s military invasion of the West Bank began on April 1, whereas the deaths on April 9 were the first time since the offensive began that Israelis– civilians or combatants– had seen casualties on that scale.

But when were the hundreds of Palestinians killed considered to be major, front-page news by the New York Times? A review of the page A1 headlines used by the Times since the March 29 start of the invasion reveals a striking lack of references to the Palestinians killed in the Israeli operations. Generally the headlines were antiseptic: “Israelis Broaden West Bank Raids as Arabs Protest” (4/2/02); “U.S. Envoy Meets Arafat as Israel Steps Up Its Sweep” (4/6/02).

When an April 5 headline used the word “carnage,” it was not a reference to the scores of Palestinians dying in the ongoing Israeli attack, but to a suicide bombing that had killed three (including the bomber) a week earlier.

One April 4 front-page subhead, “Bleeding to Death,” did allude to Israeli killing of Palestinians– under the “balanced” headline, “Arabs’ Grief in Bethlehem, Bombers’ Gloating in Gaza”– but this was an exception to the general trend.

There’s more to news than front-page headlines, of course, and the Times has done some valuable reporting of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on its inside pages. Front-page headlines are, however, a clear indicator of what a paper’s editors consider to be the most important events of the day. In the case of the powerful and prestigious New York Times, these headlines can set news agendas around the world. The Times should not use its front page to send the message that some lives matter more than others.

ACTION: Please tell the New York Times not to suggest through its headline choices that the lives of Palestinians and Israelis should be valued differently.

CONTACT: New York Times 229 West 43rd St. New York, NY 10036-3959 Toll free comment line: 1-888-NYT-NEWS

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