How a CNN Headline Reports a Terrorist Attack

This article contains commentary which reflects the author's opinion
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Headlines matter. I was aghast to learn that 8 out of 10 readers do not get beyond the headline of a story, and that the two who do are often deeply influenced by the headline in their reception of the story itself. How a CNN headline led readers astray is reported on here: “CNN Downplays Wave of Palestinian Terrorism with Bizarre Comparison to ‘Attacks by Jewish Settlers’ by Rachel O’Donoghue, Algemeiner, December 9, 2021:

An Israeli security guard was left seriously injured on Monday [Dec. 6] when a Palestinian driver rammed his vehicle into a West Bank checkpoint.

The perpetrator, identified as 16-year-old Muhammad Nidal Younis, from Nablus, was shot dead before he could cause further harm.

It was a terror attack — one that could have had graver consequences were it not for the swift and decisive actions of soldiers stationed at the checkpoint.

Yet, this was the headline used by CNN to report on the incident: “Suspected car-ramming attack by Palestinian teen highlights rising tensions, amid questions over Israeli police actions.”

There are several points that need to be addressed with regard to this title.

First, there is nothing “suspected” about the attack.

Why did the headline writer introduce a potential doubt when there was none? The car-ramming was not merely “suspected”; it took place. Or was the word “suspected” meant to cast doubt not on the fact of the car-ramming but on what was its intent? Perhaps we were meant to understand that the car-ramming, after all, might not have been a deliberate act of homicidal terrorism at all, but the innocent result of a malfunctioning brake, or possibly, the result of a young, inexperienced driver who became confused, and in his confusion, stepped on the gas rather than, as he had intended, on the brake. These are preposterous excuses (and it’s easy to check the car’s brakes). The incident was exactly what it appeared to be: a car-ramming, with intent to maim or kill. Similar car-ramming attacks at Israeli checkpoints are attempted every other week in the West Bank. It was much more than merely “suspected.”

Second, the inclusion of the rather vague term “highlights rising tensions” masks the context in which this attack occurred. That is, it was the second terror attack by a Palestinian in just 48 hours, the former involving the stabbing of a Jewish man in Jerusalem on Saturday.

Rising tensions” here are unexplained; they apparently just grew, like Topsy. But who has caused these “rising tensions”? Are both sides equally to blame? Is there any reason for thinking the “rising tensions” are the result of a surge in violent Palestinian attacks during the last few months that then provoked “settler violence”? The latest month for which the Israeli government has released figures is last September. Here is the summary of the terror attacks that took place that month:

September 2021: Two hundred and fifty-one terror attacks took place in September. Of these, 199 originated in Judea and Samaria, 42 in Jerusalem and the Green Line area and 10 in the Gaza Strip. The September attacks resulted in six non-fatal casualties. There were no fatalities.

13 September: Two civilians were moderately injured in a stabbing attack in Jerusalem.

15 September: A civilian was severely injured in a stabbing attack in Jaffa

22 September: A civilian was moderately injured in a ramming attack in Maále Michmash.

26 September: Two members of the security forces were wounded in a shooting attack in Jenin.

There were eight launches of rockets and mortar bombs from the Gaza Strip. Among other incidents, there were a total of 187 firebomb attacks, 17 pipe bomb attacks, 9 incidents of small-arms fire and 22 arson attacks.

Since September, so alarming has been the surge in violence against Israeli citizens and soldiers, that former IDF chief of staff Moshe Ya’alon warned on Monday [Dec. 6] that “we are in the midst of a new wave of individual terrorism.”…

In response, there has been an uptick in what is called “settler” violence. But the number of those attacks is about one-fifth the number carried out by Palestinians in the same period. More importantly, there is a great difference in the kind of attacks being carried out by both sides. At least 70% of the attacks by settlers – even according to the anti-settler group Yesh Din – are directed only at Arab property. These attacks include the writing of graffiti on the walls of Arab dwellings, damaging, or in some cases uprooting, olive trees, and slashing tires. All to be deplored no doubt, but hardly to be compared to Arab attacks on Jews, which are almost all crimes of extreme violence, intended to maim or kill the Jewish victim, with stabbings, gunfire, Molotov cocktails, rocks thrown at windshields and at persons. These differences in both the frequency and the ferocity of such attacks need constantly to be kept in mind.

Reading the article, it is clear that the apparent questions over the police response are a reference to the incident that took place in Jerusalem on Saturday [two days before], and to the harsh criticism that was meted out before the full circumstances of that terrorist act were known — specifically that the assailant had lunged at soldiers with a knife and was believed to be armed with a suicide belt (a fact HonestReporting addressed in depth).

The CNN headline was simply wrong. The “questions over police actions” were not about the incident being described, but about a different Arab attack in Jerusalem two days prior to the car-ramming. That attack involved a stabbing, and a neutralizing of the attacker while he was lunging with his knife toward the police; he looked as if he might be wearing a suicide belt that he would still be capable of detonating. Hence the instant decision to neutralize – i.e., kill – him. Initial reports did not make clear that the terrorist still possessed a knife, was lunging at the police, and gave the appearance of wearing a suicide vest, so there was an immediate demand for an investigation. But as soon as those facts became known, the policeman was not denounced, but praised for his quick action in neutralizing the terrorist who, let’s remember, had just stabbed someone in an attempt at murder. One wonders what went on at the CNN newsroom that made its headline writer confuse the car-ramming attack with the stabbing attack two days before.

The most egregious portion of the CNN article, however, is actually a passage right at the very end:

Away from Jerusalem, there are also concerns over a rising number of attacks by Jewish settlers against Palestinians in the West Bank. A report by the United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) recorded 410 such attacks in the first 10 months of 2021 (up from 358 for the whole of 2020) including more than 100 against individuals. Four Palestinians have been killed in settler violence, OCHA says.

This clumsy attempt to link the issue of settler violence to Palestinian attacks effectively normalizes terrorism while totally ignoring the scale of the problem: between 2016 and 2020, Palestinians firebombed 3,675 Israeli buses and cars; carried out more than 10,000 stonings, and perpetrated a total of 353 knife, gun, and vehicular assaults….

In the five years between 2016 and 2020, there were a grand total of 14,648 acts of extreme violence – stonings, fire bombings, stabbings, shootings, and vehicular assaults — carried out by Palestinians against Jews. By comparison, in the nine years since 2012 there has been a grand total of 1,200 acts of “settler violence,” with 70% of them consisting of damage to property. In nine years there were, then, 840 violent attacks by Jews against Palestinians, and these were not stabbings or shootings or car-rammings, but consisted almost entirely of stonings.

In sum: there were 14,648 violent attacks by Palestinians against Jews in nine years and 840 violent acts by Jews against Palestinians in five years. Palestinians committed nearly 20 times the number of violent attacks that Jews did, and did so in about half the time.

With this in mind, here is an alternative headline suggestion for CNN: “Israeli injured in vehicle attack by Palestinian terrorist.”

No qualifications, no justifications; just facts.

Yes, that jack-webb just-the-facts-ma’am headline should fit the bill. Try it out, all you grand poobahs and grand panjandrums at CNN. Even you might begin to like it.

This article by Robert Spencer originally appeared on JihadWatch.org and is republished with permission. ©All rights reserved.

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Robert Spencer

Robert Spencer

Robert Spencer is a guest author for NRN, the director of Jihad Watch, and a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center. He is author of 23 books including many bestsellers, such as The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades)The Truth About Muhammad and The History of Jihad. His latest book is The Critical Qur’an.

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