Saturday, October 14, 2006

Summary Slant

In ABC News Online's Middle East Conflict homepage, each news headline is followed by a single summary line.

For those that involve an Israeli attack on 'militants', here are some examples, along with relevant lines deep within the article:

Summary line: A series of Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip have killed nine people, including an eight-year-old girl.
Inside article: ... the attack, which was made on the home of a Hamas commander and ... after clashes with Israeli soldiers which left six people dead, including four militants.

Summary line: Four Palestinians, including a 13-year-old child, were killed in an air strike supporting an Israeli Army incursion into the Gaza Strip, medical and security officials say.
Inside article: "There were several exchanges of gunfire with armed men," [the IDF spokesman] said. The boy and another civilian were near the gunmen when the missile hit.

Summary line: An Israeli military strike in the northern Gaza Strip has killed two teenage brothers, Palestinian security services and witnesses say.
Inside article: An army spokeswoman says the two were hit as they were collecting a rocket launcher that had been used over the past week to fire rockets from northern Gaza into Israel.
For the first two, the 'includes' don't mention the primary target nor the success in hitting the primary target.

The third summary line ignores the intent. Melanie Philips wrote about this with reference to the recent Lebanon conflict, but it applies equally here:
But the moral crisis in Britain extends far wider and deeper than the wretched BBC and other media. The surreally distorted response by so many to Israel’s attempt to destroy the would-be purveyors of genocide raises the question of whether Britain will ever again support a just war — because it no longer knows what a just war is, and no longer has the intellectual capacity to know. This is in large measure because moral agency has disappeared altogether from the analysis. Intention, the essence of moral actions, is now tossed aside as of no significance. All that matters are the consequences of an action. This is in accordance with the prevailing amoral consensus which has negated moral agency altogether in order to remove the burden of personal responsibility. What someone intends to do is therefore held to be of no account. All that matters is the consequences of their action.
The ABC will claim that the article has all the necessary information. Analagous to their use of moral equivalence, there is no equivalence between the impact of the summary line and a line buried deep in the article.

But now the plot thickens. When ABC Online reports about the Palestinian infighting between Hamas and Fatah, the summary line becomes:
Summary line: Rival Palestinian security forces have clashed across the Gaza Strip, killing three and injuring 45 others, in the biggest outbreak of internal fighting in months over unpaid wages and stalled unity government talks.
Inside article: Medics say most of those wounded in Gaza City and the town of Khan Younis are civilians, and include school children and a cameraman for Al-Arabiya television. Ala Jaras, 36, described by witnesses as a civilian, was killed ... Hassan Abu Hatal, 15, was killed ...
Two of three killed were reported civilians, but this is ignored in the summary. (As an aside, there is ambiguity in the summary which may lead one to conclude the three killed were part of the security forces).

Israeli soldiers target Palestinian 'militants': ABC News Online's summary explicitly mentions the minority of civilian casualties.
Palestinian 'militants' attack each other: ABC News Online's summary does not mention the majority of casualties were civilians.


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