Dishonest Headlines Parrot Hamas Claim

Any journalist worth their salt knows that their work requires describing what has happened, and reporting the whole story. When reporters are unable to determine exactly what happened, standard procedure is to report what the various parties claim, and let the readers make their own judgments.

Those simple standards, however, were repeatedly not met by numerous reporters covering the latest flare-up of violence between Israel and terror organizations Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip.

More than 600 rockets have been fired at Israel since Saturday morning, and Israel is responding by targeting terrorists, as well as Islamic Jihad and Hamas’s facilities. Amid the ongoing exchange of fire, a pregnant woman and her 14-month old daughter were killed in unclear circumstances. Despite the IDF refusing to accept responsibility for the deaths, Palestinian sources were predictably swift to blame Israel, and the British media quickly picked up on the story.

The IDF later put out a statement on Twitter, reading: “Today we can say with certainty, after looking into the event, that they were killed as a result of an explosion of combustible materials during the activation of a Hamas explosive device.” A later tweet went further, accusing journalists of complicity, saying they had “amplified the lie.”

Headline Fails

More than any other part of an article, headlines matter the most. The vast majority of people don’t read any given article, only skimming through newspapers and social media feeds. As such, headlines frame the way people read and remember stories.

Despite the paucity of evidence to back up the claim that the IDF was responsible for the deaths, numerous media services parroted the claims put out by the Hamas-run Gazan Ministry of Health – frequently in the most prominent place – the headline.


Related reading: News Literacy: Why Headlines Matter

Another example came courtesy of Sky News, with a headline published on Sunday afternoon saying only that a “Pregnant Palestinian woman and baby [were] killed in Gaza violence.” The article documents the death of the two within the context of “a fresh round of violence between Israel and militants in Gaza.” Only in the seventh paragraph does the article mention that “the Israeli military insisted the pair died due to a misfiring Palestinian rocket.”

Sky News: Pregnant Palestinian woman and baby killed in Gaza violence
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Sky News: “Pregnant Palestinian woman and baby killed in Gaza violence”

The same issue surfaced in a report on the website of British television channel ITV which claimed that “A baby girl and her pregnant aunt were among six killed by Israeli airstrikes in Gaza.”

ITV baby killed after Israel airstrikes
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ITV claims baby and pregnant aunt were “killed after Israel airstrikes”

Over at The Independent, the massive barrage of over 400 rockets fired from Gaza on Israel was totally omitted from the Middle East section homepage until Sunday morning. When events were eventually covered, the headline framed developments as if terrorists in Gaza had no role in the violence, and insinuated that Israel was responsible for the death of the mother and baby. The original article (archived here) said without qualification that “A pregnant mother and her 14-month-old baby girl have been killed by an Israeli airstrike, as cross-border violence continues near Gaza.”

Indy baby killed as Israel hits
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Independent headline: Mother and baby killed as Israel hits Gaza with airstrikes

Meanwhile at The Daily Mail, the same claim was again quoted in the headline despite the IDF’s protestations that it was not involved in the death of the pregnant Gazan mother.

The Mail’s coverage originally stated that “Gaza’s Health Ministry said a 14-month-old girl, Seba Abu Arar, was killed in an Israeli airstrike that hit their home,” but failed to mention that the claim was disputed by Israel. The article was later update to acknowledge the IDF’s version of events.

As HonestReporting tweeted on Sunday, journalists are responsible for telling the whole story, not just the parts that fit in with their worldview. Anything less is a professional failure.

Source material can be found at this site.

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