Even seemingly universal tableaux of human suffering were fraught with controversy.
An Associated Press photo of a grieving Palestinian man was among the most heart-wrenching. The photo, which ran on the front page of The Washington Post on Nov. 15 and in other newspapers and Web sites, caught the man, a BBC Arabic journalist named Jihad Misharawi, as he cradled the shrouded body of his infant son. The anguish is evident in his eyes and in the heavenward tilt of his head. He stands amid a semicircle of men, one of whom reaches out to console him.
The Post received dozens of complaints about the photo, according to MaryAnne Golon, director of photography. One caller accused The Post of being “Palestinian sympathizers,” part of general pattern of alleged anti-Israel bias in the American media. Others objected to its prominent placement, spanning four columns atop the page.
Further controversial photos — and video — appeared Tuesday, when AP, Reuters and CNN carried gruesome depictions of unidentified Palestinians dragging the body of a man through the streets of Gaza from the back of a motorcycle. All three news organizations said they were told that the dead man was a suspected Israeli spy or collaborator.
Complaints about bias flare with each spike in the struggle, but Hussein Ibish, a senior fellow at the Washington-based American Task Force on Palestine, isn’t convinced that either side dominates the media spin (“the dishonesty is pretty damn even, really,” he said), although he believes Israelis have the advantage of “cultural affinities” with Western journalists — that is, “they speak American” better than Palestinians.
What’s more, the asymmetrical nature of the conflict — pitting Israel’s modern and well-equipped army against irregular fighters — produces its own image imbalance, said Eric Rozenman, Washington director of the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA), a watchdog group that has been critical of news portrayals of Israeli actions.
Israel’s missile-defense system and shelters limit the number of casualties from rocket attacks, which results in fewer photos of Israeli suffering to balance the emotionally charged images of death and injury on the other side, he noted. At the same time, Israel’s modern weaponry produces “a telegenic disproportion” that feeds the Israel-as-aggressor framing. “A big fireball coming up from an F-16 strike on a mosque” makes a more shocking picture than scattered rocket fire from the other side, he said.
Israel’s supporters generally reject any portrayal that depicts the nation as the aggressor, and its military as an indiscriminate force that kills civilians with impunity — a narrative they think is promoted by Arab factions. They say that images of Palestinian suffering don’t convey a larger context: that Israel’s military response is in defense of its citizens, who have been deliberately targeted by militants firing rockets from sites within densely populated Gaza neighborhoods.