Dying to Make the News: Selective Reporting in The NY Times

Two groups of protesters took to the streets yesterday in the occupied Palestinian territories and both gatherings found themselves under attack by local security forces. In short order each group was assaulted and dispersed.

The New York Times has seen fit to inform us of one of these protests but has said nothing of the other. A small demonstration in Gaza, broken up by “men who appeared to be Hamas security officials,” made the pages of the newspaper. A different protest, violently quelled in the West Bank town of al-Tur, received no mention.

The Gaza protest drew a crowd of up to 200 people and was held as a call for “political change and freedom,” the Times said. Some of the participants were beaten with sticks; some were detained; but no injuries were reported.

Meanwhile, dozens of residents, joined by international supporters, held a sit-in on the main street of al-Tur, an East Jerusalem village. They were protesting the Israeli authorities’ closure of their main street earlier this week, after villagers had demonstrated against the killing of a 17-year-old boy at a nearby checkpoint.

Israeli police attacked the al-Tur protesters, launched stun grenades into the crowd and detained two demonstrators. Two people were injured by shrapnel, and witnesses said the police continued to fire grenades at residents even after the protest was dispersed.

West Bank protests are frequent events, and they often involve injuries from tear gas canisters, rubber bullets and live ammunition, but only when someone dies are these confrontations likely to make the pages of the Times.

In such cases, when the Times sees fit to run stories about the deaths of Palestinian demonstrators, the Israeli police and army invariably have their say (see here, for example), but the paper apparently saw no reason to get a response from Hamas when it reported the recent protest in Gaza. Readers find no comments from Hamas officials and no mention of any attempt to contact them.

It is true that protests against Hamas are rare events and West Bank demonstrations protesting the Israeli occupation are common, but this is not enough to account for the Times blackout on nearly all Palestinian demonstrations. There is more at work here, and the omission fits a pattern of selective reporting on Gaza and the West Bank.

This week, for instance, reports surfaced that Hamas is offering Israel a long-term ceasefire agreement, using Turkey and Qatar as intermediaries. It is asking for open borders, an end to the blockade and the construction of a Gaza harbor in return for five to 10 years of peace. You can find this news elsewhere (here and here) but not in the Times.

Other news missing from the Times include Israel’s frequent breaches of the August 2014 ceasefire. During the first three months of this year, Israel made six incursions into the Gaza strip and its forces fired on Gaza residents 67 times, but readers rarely find news of these events, even though they are routinely reported by monitoring groups.

One of the shootings took place during a demonstration in Gaza City, the site of the anti-Hamas protest that made the pages of the Times. In this case, however, residents were protesting the slow pace of reconstruction and Israel’s blockade of Gaza, and even though the protest was broken up by live fire, the paper did not find it newsworthy.

The Times sets the bar high when it is considering demonstrations against the Israeli occupation as fodder for its pages. But when protesters take on Hamas, it is a different matter. That scenario conveniently fits the newspaper’s (and Israel’s) determination to demonize the party and thus it becomes news fit to print.

Barbara Erickson

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