Is Missing–From a New York Times Headline
By Jim Naureckas
19, 2014 "ICH"
Shot by Israeli Troops at Gaza Border
Think for a
second about what kind of image that calls up. How
much does that image change when you read the
story's second sentence?
spokeswoman for the hospital said the
Palestinian was a 10-year-old boy.
Now, very few
people read the full text of every story in any
newspaper, so as an editor you have to ask yourself
what a headline conveys on its own. I expect that
most people who only read that headline assumed that
the Palestinian referenced was an adult–and likely
had a different reaction to the story as a result.
probably also less likely to read the story–the
opposite of the effect that you usually want to have
with a headline–which makes you wonder why the
Times would leave this key fact
out. Space, maybe? But "Gazan Boy Shot by Israeli
Troops at Border" would have fit just as easily.
Or "Child Shot
by Israeli Troops at Gaza Border," for that matter,
since the shooting victim's likely nationality would
be clear from context; there aren't too many Israeli
children near the border with Gaza. In any case, the
victim's age is arguably a more important fact than
editors leave out of the headline the fact that it
was a child who had been shot because they didn't
want readers to get too upset about Israel doing the
would say no–but recall that New York Times
story (7/16/14; FAIR Blog,
7/17/14), accurately headlined "Four Young Boys
Killed Playing on Gaza Beach," that was rewritten
for the print edition as "Boys Drawn to Gaza Beach,
and Into Center of Mideast Strife." Here the boys
remained boys, but their deaths disappeared.
Times public editor Margaret Sullivan (7/22/14)
asked why the headline had been changed, executive
editor Dean Baquet claimed that print headlines tend
to be "a little poetic." Keats it ain't.
To take a
quantitative look at this phenomenon, let's move
from the New York Times to an
outlet that fancies itself to be the New
York Times of the airwaves–NPR.
FAIR's Seth Ackerman (Extra!,
11/01) did a study of which deaths it reported
in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict over a six-month
period. He found that NPR reported
81 percent of the Israeli deaths during that time,
and 89 percent of the deaths of Israeli children–but
only 34 percent of the Palestinian deaths, and 26
percent of the deaths of Palestinian children.
being a child made an Israeli victim's death more
newsworthy, if Palestinian victims were children
that made NPR less likely to report
That's an odd
sort of news judgment–unless what's being aimed at
is not maximizing human interest, but keeping it to
About Jim Naureckas
Magazine Editor Since 1990, Jim
Naureckas has been the editor of Extra!,
FAIR's monthly journal of media criticism. He is the
co-author of The Way Things Aren't: Rush
Limbaugh's Reign of Error, and co-editor of
The FAIR Reader: An Extra! Review of Press
and Politics in the '90s. He is also the
co-manager of FAIR's website.