My phone is constantly dinging with alerts from various Israeli news outlets, my newsfeed is overflowing with articles and opinions, and I even saw an increased police presence on campus during my first day of classes at Tel Aviv University. The beginning of the current situation in Israel also marked the start of my second year living in this country. All of this tension is new to me, as I was fortunate enough that last year was relatively calm. My year long program of teaching English to Israeli students in Rishon LeZion began one day after the cease fire to end Operation Protective Edge.
Last year before I came to Israel, I tried to ignore the biased media surrounding Operation Protective Edge. The media which often used fabricated images and false reporting to present a very one-sided, and it went both ways, view of the war. This year is different. I can actually witness the disparity between what the media is reporting and the actual events in the country. I read every news article with a critical eye. I’m aware of biases, and take them into account. When browsing the web, I hope to gain basic information about events that occur rather than to formulate an opinion with the media’s not so subtle suggestions.
But the other day I read an article on CNN in which the bias was too strong, too glaring for me to ignore. The funny thing is, most people wouldn’t read the article and notice anything remarkably prejudiced. Well not everyone is a grammar nerd like me.
In school, many of us learn, and sometimes yawn ourselves through, the difference between passive and active voice. As a writer and English literature major, I know the important distinction between the two and how passive/active voice can completely change the meaning of a sentence.
Take these two sentences for example:
“Jim punched Mark.” (active)
“Mark was punched by Jim.” (passive)
There is no doubt that the first sentence is stronger and clearly delineates that Jim is the actor. The second sentence is weaker; it lacks the conviction of the active sentence. Even the arrangement of the sentences shows that there is a stronger connection between Jim and his action in the first sentence: the two are right next to each other. Whereas in the passive sentence, extra words separate Jim from the action.
The CNN article was called “Israel-Palestinian Violence: What you need to know.” When I saw the headline, I initially thought this article would be an informative read for someone living in Israel. It was entitled, “What you need to know,” so maybe there was some important or new information in the article that I, in fact, needed to know. If anything, I thought the article would just reiterate the basics of the conflict, the arguments of each side, the different mentalities, etc.The article did speak to the essentials surrounding the conflict, but after reading a few sentences, I knew the article had a different agenda.
The article detailed recent attacks among Israelis and Palestinians, those leading up to the current surge in violence as well as those that occurred as a result of the tension. It questioned whether these few weeks mark the start of the Third Intifada, and remarked how these blitz attacks are much different than rocket attacks and suicide bombings. But how the article described each attack differed greatly.
Whenever CNN described an attack on an Israeli, the reporter used the passive voice. On the other hand, all accounts of attacks on Palestinians used the active. Every time, there was no exception to this throughout the article.
Attacks on Israelis:
“The latest upsurge in violence in Jerusalem started with two Israelis being stabbed to death by a Palestinian in the Old City.”
“In fact, the security situation in Jerusalem and the West Bank has been more and more tense since 2014 when three Israeli teenage settlers were kidnapped and murdered in the West Bank by militants from Hamas.”
“On October 1, an Israeli couple were shot dead in front of their four children near the Palestinian city of Nablus.”
Attacks on Palestinians:
“A few weeks later, Jewish extremists kidnapped and murdered a 17-year-old Palestinian from East Jerusalem.”
“On July 31, in the West Bank, Israeli settlers burned a Palestinian house in a so-called ‘price-tag attack,’ killing an 18-month-old toddler and his parents.”
Besides the description of the attacks, the article also claims that the Israeli government is doing nothing to help the situation, only provoking it with the “continued building of settlements in the West Bank.” Settlements the article cites as an “unending, humiliating Israeli occupation.” An example of prejudice in a more direct way.
The different use of the passive and active voice really struck me. The subtlety, almost self-consciousness of it, seems like a dangerous new trend in biased media. For me, it’s worse than flat out expressing prejudice. It’s devious and very effective.
By using the passive voice when describing attacks on Israelis, the article takes away the blame from the terrorist. In some cases, like the third example, passive sentences do not even mention the assailant. By removing the actor, the article almost dismisses the attack. Whereas in the active sentences, the Israelis are clearly and rightly to blame for the attack. But why aren’t Israeli victims given the same courtesy? Is CNN doing this on purpose? Is there a hidden agenda? Can bias in the media be so strong that it displays itself subconsciously?
CNN classifies attacks on Palestinians as brutal and barbaric. But, the same cannot be said about the attacks on Israelis; in which the actor and the person to blame, is removed from the sentence, detached from the crime.
This subtle difference in writing can completely change the meaning of a sentence. It is a scary new development in media today, allowing reporters to insinuate blame one side while exonerating another, a trend that must be addressed and challenged.