Watchdogs cry ‘bias’ in coverage of synagogue attack

Watchdogs cry ‘bias’ in coverage of synagogue attack

Conscious choices, or "subconscious prejudices"?

A CNN screen graphic refers to a Jerusalem synagogue, the site of a deadly terrorist attack, as a "mosque."
A CNN screen graphic refers to a Jerusalem synagogue, the site of a deadly terrorist attack, as a "mosque."

Pro-Israel media watchdogs say Western media organizations rushed to downplay the culpability of the Palestinian terrorists in the attack that killed five people, including three American citizens, and wounded at least seven other Jewish worshippers at a Jerusalem synagogue on Nov. 18.

They point to outlets like the U.K.-based newspaper The Guardian, which published a Reuters story about the attack that was originally headlined “Palestinians kill four in Jerusalem synagogue attack,” but changed the headline to “Four worshippers killed in attack on Jerusalem synagogue.” (Both headlines came before the death toll in the attack rose to five when a Druze policeman died of his wounds.)

The Guardian also removed all references to Palestinians from the text of the article, writing only that “two men” had perpetuated the attack. 

A Canadian Broadcasting Corporation article on the attack was headlined “Jerusalem police fatally shoot 2 after apparent synagogue attack,” placing the deaths of the perpetrators – and the culpability of the Israeli police —  ahead of victims.

In what might have been an accidental gaffe, CNN mislabeled its initial TV coverage of the terror attack with the headline, “Deadly attack on Jerusalem mosque.”

“I would say [the CNN 'mosque' error was] predisposed—an honest mistake that was probably not consciously made, but revelatory of subconscious prejudice,”  Eric Rozenman, Washington director for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA), told “ Such mistakes, perhaps honest in individual cases, suggest by their numbers and repeated occurrences a pattern indicating underlying predisposition or bias. Israelis and Jews are filtered through the false history of 'the Palestinian narrative,'”

CNN later issued an apology for a headline that read “4 Israelis, 2 Palestinians Dead in Jerusalem.”

“As CNN updated its reporting on the terrorist attack on the synagogue in Jerusalem earlier today, our coverage did not immediately reflect the fact that the two Palestinians killed were the attackers. We erred and regret the mistake,” CNN said in a statement.

Such factual errors—as well as alterations to the context surrounding terrorist attacks and other violence by Palestinians against Israelis—are frequently documented by CAMERA.  

After a Palestinian driver deliberately ran over pedestrians in Jerusalem last month in an apparent terrorist attack—after which police officers responded by shooting the assailant—the initial Associated Press headline was “Israeli Police shoot man in east Jerusalem,” CAMERA noted. That headline, though later revised, was online for some time and omitted reference to the attack that provided the context for the police shooting.

CAMERA also pointed out what it called “passive language” in the initial New York Times headline on the synagogue attack. The headline had stated, “Four Killed in Jerusalem Synagogue Complex,” without any mention of terrorism.

“The New York Times, too, is displaying its usual skittishness about headlines clearly stating Palestinians carried out violence,” CAMERA said.

The Boston Globe print edition's front page, meanwhile, on Nov. 19 ran the headline “5 dead in Jerusalem Attack” along with the subhead “2 Palestinian assailants also killed in violence at synagogue.” Critics say the headlines obscure that the “violence” was initiated by the Palestinians.

Matti Friedman, a former Associated Press correspondent, wrote a detailed argument in Tablet magazine in August explaining why, in his view, Western media systematically exhibit anti-Israel bias in their reporting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  

Citing Friedman's piece, CAMERA's Rozenman explained that while the media is relegating Israelis and Jews “to their 'proper,' not really newsworthy, status as 'normal' victims,” Palestinian Arabs since 1967 have managed “a double victory—portraying themselves as 'abnormal victims.'”

“This long ago became a default position of those opposed to Israel ideologically, and that has percolated through the media,” Rozenman told

—With reporting by Jacob Kamaras

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