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November 11, 2014

Snapshot of NY Times Headline Bias

What a difference 16 hours makes in the life of a New York Times headline about Palestinian violence.

Shortly after a Palestinian stabbed to death Israeli soldier Almog Shiloni yesterday outside a Tel Aviv train station, the straightforward headline was "Palestinian Stabs Israeli Soldier at Tel Aviv Train Station." The headline clearly identified the perpetrator (a Palestinian), what he did (stabbed), and his victim (an Israeli soldier).

The headline in today's International New York Times, an edition which has an earlier deadline, is consistent with the original, clear wording:

inyt Palestinian stabs.jpg

Apparently, the clear identification of a Palestinian as being responsible for a violent attack was uncomfortable for one or more Times editors.

The article's headline now appears online as:

nyt Palestinian suspected.JPG

This is also the headline that appears in print in the domestic edition of The New York Times, which has a later deadline than the international paper.

A glance at the Newsdiff site, which tracks changes made to news headlines, reveals the striking evolution of The Times headline. A snapshot of the Newsdiff log tracking the changes is below, with the newer headlines at the top:

nyt suspect change log.JPG

The first, clearer headline is active ("Palestinian stabs"), while the passive language in the newest headline ("Palestinians are suspected") downplays Palestinian culpability. The first headline states as fact that a Palestinian was responsible for the stabbing. According to the latest version , Palestinians are only "suspected."

In the current headline, Israelis "die," they are not "killed," language which again downplays Palestinian responsibility for violence.

The headline isn't the only aspect of the story which underwent transformations which served to downplay Palestinian culpability for violence. The first paragraph of the international edition reports as fact that Palestinians were responsible for the two stabbings: "Both attacks were carried out by Palestinian men. . . "

In the later domestic edition, the fact that Palestinians carried out the attacks was downgraded to an Israeli assertion: "An Israeli soldier and a woman were killed on Monday in separate stabbing attacks that the authorities attributed to Palestinian men . . ."

What is the justification for The Times' caution in identifying the assailants as Palestinians? By yesterday afternoon, hours before editors inserted the term "suspected" into the headline, Islamic Jihad already claimed responsibility for the second deadly attack in which Dalia Lemkus, 26, was murdered. Regarding the first attack, Hamas spokesman Husam Badram readily attributed it to Palestinians, saying that the killing of soldier Almog Shiloni "reflects the tenacity of our people to resist the occupation and move against the crimes [committed] in al-Aqsa and in Jerusalem.�?

See also: "How Dumb are New York Times Headline Writers?"

Posted by TS at November 11, 2014 03:41 AM


The revisions are more than a move to a passive voice. The revised formulation that "Palestinians are suspected" or that "the authorities attributed" make it possible for a NYTimes reader who is critical of Israel to interpret the the story in a completely different way. Ie, to a reader critical of Israel, this headline leaves open the prospect that the Israeli accusations are without basis and politically motivated.

Posted by: MB at November 11, 2014 01:41 PM

The subtle yet important changes tell us so much about the NY Times literally whitewashes the truth. One can only imagine what might be discovered if we could use the tools of today on the coverage of yesteryear.

Posted by: Arthur at November 11, 2014 07:48 PM

I live in Jerusalem, where we have had a number of
car attacks and other violence. On Nov 5th, a Palestinian drove a car into a group of border police near a light rail station, killing Jidan Assad, the father of a 2 year old and with a pregnant wife. The attacker than plowed into civilians at the train station, wounding 14. He drove into the street, hit other cars and his car stopped. He got out of his car, wielding an iron pipe, and ran towards a group of policmen, who shot and killed him.
The next day, I was coming home at night, and
glanced at the headlines on a copy of the Internatl NY Times on a rack outside a store.
A small headline on the front page read "Two Die
in Jerusalem Attack." I was puzzled at first until I realized they were referring to the terrorist and his victim in the same language.
When I got home, I checked the Times on the Internet and did see that the full story with a more accurate headline about the car plowing into
groups of policemen and civilians.

Posted by: Eve at November 12, 2014 12:25 AM

It is so obvious that the New York Times is not the accurate well written paper it was when I was growing up. If I were still teaching, I would be sure to make it a point to tell all of my students that the paper is biased and inaccurate, and I would show them comments that have been made on blogs such as this one. Just because it has the name the New York Times does not mean it is the New York Times any more!

Posted by: Eileen Vicente at November 12, 2014 04:49 PM

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