Dumb headlines kill common sense

Dumb headlines kill common sense

Israelis are facing a wave of almost daily attacks, including stabbings, car rammings, and shooting sprees. Literally adding insult to injury are global media that often downplay the attacks. Worse, when the violence is reported, headlines and articles often distort the incidents by confusing victims and perpetrators, criminals and law enforcement.

In the latest and perhaps most egregious example, a headline on the web page of CBS News — “3 Palestinians killed as daily violence grinds on” — reversed cause and effect and turned the attackers into victims. In fact, the three Palestinians were killed while carrying out a shooting and stabbing spree in Jerusalem. They killed one police officer — a 19-year-old woman — and wounded another before being shot dead by police.

While Israel’s outraged Foreign Ministry contacted CBS, Twitter erupted with objections. A few hours later, CBS changed the headline to read “Israeli police kill 3 alleged Palestinian attackers,” and then again: “Palestinians kill Israeli officer, wound another before being killed.”

Similarly, last October, the BBC ran a story with a headline reading “Palestinian shot dead after Jerusalem attack kills two.” That “Palestinian” was an Islamic Jihad member who stabbed to death two Israeli men, critically wounded one of their wives, and injured her two-year-old son. 

In the wake of such incidents, Nitzan Chen, the head of Israel’s Government Press Office, said it would consider revoking media credentials for news outlets that feature distorted headlines. His frustration is understandable, although his approach is misguided. Israel is already facing criticism from human rights and free-speech advocates, and such a move would only add fuel to the fire. 

The better approach is the one that shamed CBS: Lodge official protests with the editors, and rely on social media users to let news outlets know that the world is watching. The Internet turns every headline into ammunition in the war on common sense; the best defense is an army of engaged readers demanding fairness and accuracy.

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