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What The Oregonian Left Out on Israel and Palestine

Oregon Peaceworks Article
 link to www.oregonpeaceworks.org

What The Oregonian Left Out on Israel and Palestine

by Diane Adkin and Jennifer Grosvenor

"The Oregonian had greater distortion than any other media we studied around the country in coverage of the deaths of Israelis and Palestinians" according to Alison Weir, freelance journalist and founder of If Americans Knew, when she spoke to a large crowd at St. Francis Church in Portland on February 7th. Weir discussed her studies on national media including her collaboration with Americans United for Palestinian Human Rights (AUPHR) based in Portland, Oregon on their study of the news coverage in The Oregonian.

Weir, founder of the non-profit organization "If Americans Knew," presented documentary evidence on what she believes is a systematic mainstream media failure that keeps the American public ignorant of the basic facts related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. She believes that the American public, given the facts, are likely to act in accordance with morality and justice. "Since our tax dollars are given at a rate of more than $10 million a day to Israel, we deserve to know what is happening there in our name," she says. Weir founded If Americans Knew after she traveled to the Palestine in early 2001 to study the situation alone. Traveling through the West Bank and Gaza strip, she observed devastation and tragedy far beyond what was being reported in the American media.

Collaborating with the local human rights group AUPHR, Weir was part of a six-month study of The Oregonian's news coverage. The study compared how Israeli and Palestinian violent deaths were covered, especially the deaths of children. Deaths were chosen because they are specific, measurable, and not open to interpretation. Using control data from B'tselem, an Israeli human rights group known for their accuracy of tallying the violent deaths in this conflict, the study revealed a shocking disparity in what The Oregonian chose to report.

The study was based on 140 Oregonian news articles related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in a period when 57 Israelis and 505 Palestinians were killed. The study found a disparity in the likelihood of a death receiving headline coverage based on the nationality of the person killed. Israeli deaths were almost two times more likely to receive headline coverage than Palestinian deaths. In fact, the Israeli deaths were headlined 111 percent of the time, due to the fact that some Israeli deaths were featured in The Oregonian headlines multiple times.

Even Greater Disparity in Reporting Children's Deaths

However, the biggest discrepancy was in the way The Oregonian reported the killing of children. "Children are by definition non-combatants, and a child's death is always tragic," says Weir. There were eight Israeli children and 117 Palestinian children killed during the study period. 100 percent of the Israeli children deaths and 18 percent of the Palestinian children's deaths were reported. 96 of the Palestinian children's deaths were never reported. The killing of a Palestinian child was de-prioritized, despite the fact that 23 percent of the total Palestinians killed in the study period were children. One would expect the fact that Palestinian children constituted almost one quarter of the deaths would, in itself, be newsworthy.

In headlines, The Oregonian called attention to 88 percent of Israeli children's deaths and three percent of Palestinian children's deaths. By headlining seven of the eight Israeli children's deaths and three of the 117 Palestinian children's deaths, The Oregonian gave readers the impression that more Israeli youths had been killed than Palestinian. In reality, Palestinian children were being killed at a rate 15 times that of Israeli children.

In addition, The Oregonian ignored a common journalistic practice among major media outlets of frequently putting events in perspective by including the cumulative totals of those killed during the current Palestinian uprising. Of the 140 news stories, 136 of them omitted cumulative death statistics. At that time there were almost 4000 deaths, around 3000 of them Palestinian. The complete report is posted on the AUPHR website (:www.auphr.org/oregonian.php).

The Role of the Associated Press

Weir found similarities in the news reporting of The Oregonian and other papers such as The New York Times. Many media outlets like The Oregonian rely on the Associated Press (AP) for their international news. While not relieving any paper of responsibility for the news they print - as they ultimately choose, edit and headline the articles - Weir says there is a bigger story here. She found on her last trip to the region that the Ramallah and Gaza City AP bureau journalists call in their breaking news to the Jerusalem bureau, where it is written by another journalist under the Palestinian reporter's name, or simply not reported at all. This makes the Jerusalem bureau the "gatekeeper" for the news out of this region, she says. The journalists in the Jerusalem bureau are usually isolated from the brutal realities of the conflict and their affect on the Palestinian population. In addition, the news passes through another filter - the AP International Desk in New York - where wire feed decisions are made as to which stories go on U.S. papers, and which go on the World stream wire to the United Kingdom, Europe, and the rest of the world.

"The AP is the largest news organization in the world, and is a member owned coop. Newspapers and all news media operate in the public trust," says Weir. "According to their own ethical standards, they are obligated to provide accurate, reliable and objective reports. Omissions and distortions should be corrected immediately when they are made aware of them." Instead of correcting the errors brought to their attention, Oregonian editors on two occasions have recommended that concerned activists take their complaints directly to the AP.

Opinion Pages Next

Currently, AUPHR is about to release its one-year study of the opinion pages of The Oregonian. The study will show how voices against the Israeli occupation and denial of Palestinian human rights have been significantly silenced. With the news study, "for the first time, our many questions about the credibility of The Oregonian's coverage were proved with a detailed quantitative study. This validates our concern that the full story is not being told," says Peter Miller, President of AUPHR. "Reading The Oregonian, you only get a one-sided version of events. The scope of the Israeli army's violence against the Palestinian population goes largely unnoticed," he says. Weir concurs, and states further, "With the opinion pages study, the readers will have documentation on the extent of The Oregonian bias in that part of the paper completely controlled at the local level." [

Diane Adkin and Jennifer Grosvenor are co-chairs of the AUPHR media committee. For more information on If Americans Knew, www.ifamericansknew.org. For more information on Americans United for Palestinian Human Rights, :www.auphr.org.