Negatives Add Up in Mideast Coverage

Has network news, as many partisans charge, been taking sides in the Middle East?

One thing is clear amid the carnage: Everyone involved is getting terrible press.

A study by the Center for Media and Public Affairs found that 78 percent of the on-air evaluations of Israel on the ABC, NBC and CBS evening news shows were negative. The Palestinians fared even worse, with 92 percent of the comments negative. And when it came to the Israelis’ treatment of the Palestinians, the score was 96 percent negative. Hard to get more negative than that. By that standard, the coverage of President Bush’s handling of Mideast violence — 72 percent negative — doesn’t sound quite as bad. And Secretary of State Colin Powell was practically a hero with 55 percent negative coverage.

“The media has an anti-everybody bias,” says center director Robert Lichter. “Both sides think the media is biased against them, and they’re both right. You almost never hear justification for anything; you only hear condemnation.”

The study analyzed network coverage from the Passover suicide bombing in late March through the end of June.

Who did the newscasts blame for the violence? The Palestinians were faulted 42 percent of the time and the Israelis 33 percent. When the coverage was more specific, Palestinian leader Yassir Arafat was blamed 30 percent of the time, the Israeli government 14 percent and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon 9 percent.

As for the conflict itself, Israeli military action in the West Bank and Gaza received twice as many mentions as the suicide bombings by Palestinians — a longstanding complaint by supporters of Israel. But the bombers were singled out as instigating the conflict twice as often as Israel’s use of force.

© 2002 The Washington Post Company