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April 11, 2022 11:37 am

Worse Than Wrong: The Danger of Misleading Headlines About Terror Wave in Israel

avatar by Gidon Ben-Zvi


Israeli security and medical personnel secure the scene of an attack in which people were killed by a gunman on a main street in Bnei Brak, near Tel Aviv, Israel, March 29, 2022. Photo: Reuters/Nir Elias

Battling media bias begins at the top: the headline.

A shooting on Dizengoff Street in central Tel Aviv on April 7 by a Palestinian assailant that left three people dead and 15 wounded, was the latest attack to roil Israel as part of a terror wave. Thursday night’s was the fourth deadly occurrence in less than three weeks.

Together, 14 people have been killed.

But while Israel tries to defend itself from an onslaught — which is a direct result of incitement by radical Islamist and terrorist elements urging Palestinian youths to murder Jews — news headlines around the world are misleading readers about what’s really going on.

The problem with ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​these headlines is that they do not convey the true picture, even if they aren’t outright false.

As a result, readers are left unable to fully conceptualize actual events, and may instead be left with inaccurate “impressions.”

Enter our organization, which tackles such “stealth” bias on a daily basis.

For example, an otherwise well-researched and well-written April 6 article published by The Daily Express, originally had this misleading title: “Israel’s Naftali Bennet seeks control of social media to prevent ‘new wave of terrorism.’”

While the piece notes that social media platforms are being used to incite violence against Israelis, the assertion that Jerusalem is seeking to clamp down on all social media use is incorrect.

One can make the case that the headline implied that Israel is sliding towards authoritarianism.

This implication, however, is belied by data.

Israel was recently ranked above Italy, Spain, and the United States in a respected global index of democratic values. The latest edition of the annual Democracy Index from the prestigious Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) gave Israel 7.97 points out of a maximum of ten, just behind France (7.99 points) and Britain (8.1 points).

Even while Israel is being forced to contend with a wave of terrorism, the country remains a modern, Western-orientated, liberal democracy.

After we contacted editors at The Daily Express to clarify this point, the original headline was amended to:

Relatedly, the UK Board of Deputies announced that it was filing a formal complaint against The Guardian over its headline about the Tel Aviv terror attack. Additionally, the Israeli Foreign Ministry and others on social media came together to shine a spotlight on the breach on Thursday night of journalistic ethics by many news organizations.

By publishing ambiguous headlines — that is, failing to make clear that Thursday’s incident in Tel Aviv was an act of terror — media outlets are effectively framing developments in accordance with certain narratives, not actual events.

Yet, it is the role of the media to report just the facts, wherever they may lead. Otherwise, news organizations risk influencing or even fully shaping a reader’s views about a certain topic or issue.

This is not news. It is editorializing, and there is a time and place for that.

At a time when roughly 8 in 10 Americans get their news from digital devices, headlines are often the first and last thing people read regardless of the story.

A study focusing on mobile phone app updates, or “pushes” as they are often called in the industry, found that “people click on the alert about half the time.”

Given the way in which news is consumed, some 8 out of 10 people read an article’s headline and get no further.

Headlines are also the part of a news item that tends to be shared most on social media.

Accordingly, by failing to adequately convey the facts about Israel’s latest battle against terror — especially in headlines —  news organizations are warping the real situation and, as a corollary, diminishing the threat and consequences of terrorism not only to the Jewish state, but to every nation across the globe.

The author is a contributor to HonestReporting, a Jerusalem-based media watchdog with a focus on antisemitism and anti-Israel bias — where a version of this article first appeared.

The opinions presented by Algemeiner bloggers are solely theirs and do not represent those of The Algemeiner, its publishers or editors. If you would like to share your views with a blog post on The Algemeiner, please be in touch through our Contact page.

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