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Media Partisanship and Bias

Partisanship and Bias in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict:
A Comparative Study of Four International Media Outlets

Nevet Basker, University of Washington, December 2009

Abstract

Partisans, sometimes exhibiting a “hostile media” phenomenon (Vallone, Ross, & Lepper, 1985), often complain that media coverage is biased against their side in a conflict or dispute.  Academic researchers, on the other hand, have struggled to identify empirically such bias.  These studies often have focused on domestic political issues—typically, presidential elections (e.g., D’Alessio & Allen, 2000)—and compared actual coverage to an “objective” balanced or even-handed treatment.  In the area of international affairs, however, the ideal of “objective” or “even-handed” treatment is itself debatable, and “balance” is not automatically desirable; partisans always see their side as “right” and therefore justifying favorable coverage.

This study compares coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in four international media outlets—the New York Times, the Guardian (U.K.), the Jerusalem Post (Israel), and the English-language Web site of the pan-Arab cable TV network, Al Jazeera.  A content analysis of a sample of 200 articles from each outlet over five years (2004-2008) demonstrated clear differences between the four outlets, while avoiding having to establish what would constitute a “correct” or “fair” treatment.  The Jerusalem Post, clearly a partisan outlet, favored the Israeli side of the conflict, while AlJazeera.net presented a pro-Palestinian viewpoint.  The New York Times treated each side approximately equally, while the Guardian sympathized with civilians on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides, and harshly condemned violence against civilians, regardless of the identity of the perpetrator or the circumstances.

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