There is an old idea in the news business that a story is either a Dog Bites Man story or a Man Bites Dog Story. A Dog Bites Man story is something barely of note because it is so common that there is nothing surprising about it. The cause, incident, and outcome are all exactly what we expect. The media rarely if ever cover this kind of story in more than the most cursory way. Compare that to a Man Bites Dog story, which is unusual and interesting. It is interesting because it’s not what we expect, because the cause, incident and outcome are not what we have become accustom to. The media will cover this kind of story for days or weeks on end.
A Man Bites Dog story will always get more attention and discussion in the media than a Dog Bites Man story, even though it is the Dog Bites Man stories that happen much more often and effect our lives in much more significant ways. Several stories in the last weeks show us clear examples of how this difference between Dog Bites Man stories and Man Bites Dog stories effect the way Israel and the Palestinians are covered in the international media and we should be examining this when developing Hasbara strategies. For the sake of clarity, I will divide the news stories up into Man Bites Dog or Dog Bites Man stories.
Man Bites Dog – Bibi Netanyahu made the somewhat foolish mistake this week of claiming that the Mufti of Jerusalem was responsible for the Holocaust. Now, his argument is much more nuanced than that, and there is debate among historians about the validity of this claim, but Bibi is a seasoned politician and he should have known better. He should have known that at a time like this, any nuance would be lost in the coverage of his comments.
This is the classic Man Bites Dog story. The professional politician makes a claim that on the surface looks ridiculous. Even though there might be some deeper truth to the comment, the press will never look that deeply and the gaffe will be top news for weeks. Now, I think Bibi meant to be inflammatory, but there is no call to violence here, yet we are going to hear about Bibi’s blood libel against the Palestinians for years to come, I can almost guarantee it.
Dog Bites Man – Abu Mazen praises terrorists in Jerusalem, calling them Martyrs, soldiers who died in holy struggle. But how many times have we heard this before? This isn’t the first or fiftieth time we are hearing something like this from Abu Mazen. He routinely praises terrorists and his Palestinian Authority pays money to terrorists and their families. Unfortunately, we have accepted this situation for so long that this is a Dog Bites Man story. Abu Mazen’s incitement has become so common place that it isn’t even thought about anymore outside of Israel.
It is Abu Mazen’s incitement about threats to Al Aqsa that caused this wave of violence, threats to Al Aqsa that are complete fabrications, and Abu Mazen knows it, but this is a Dog Bites Man story, so we won’t hear much about it. Today we will get Abu Mazen’s list of demands to stop this wave of terrorism that he started. The demands will include changes to the Status Quo at the Temple Mount. One would think the amazing amount of irony involved in this story would be enough to make it a Man Bites Dog Story, but sadly, it isn’t, and we will hear nothing about it after a day or two.
Man Bites Dog – This week during a terrorist attack in Be’er Sheva, a double tragedy struck when an Eritrean man was mistaken for a terrorist, shot and then beaten by a crowd of Israelis. This poor man died of his wounds. This incident is horrifying to most Israelis and the investigations and arrests have rightfully, already started. This is a Man Bites Dog story because it is so unusual, it is so unexpected and it is so horrifying.
Yes, Israel has problems and yes, racism is an issue, but this incident is by no means and in no way representative of life in Israel. Yes we should remember it, think about it and learn from it, but it is not the norm. Yet, because it is not the norm this is a Man Bites Dog story, we will hear about it for a long time. We will hear it used as an example of Israeli racism and brutality over and over again.
Dog Bites Man – Two Palestinian boys, 13 and 15, brutally stab a 13 year old Jewish boy. Here we see the real heartache of this conflict. All over the world we talk about the war crime of using child soldiers. It is one of the most truly horrifying crimes a leader can commit. It is so out of line with the world, that even countries like China and Saudi Arabia condemn the practice. There is not a place on earth where this practice is not condemned, except when it comes to the Palestinians.
Children are routinely used by the Palestinian terrorist groups, including Hamas and Fatah, for all sorts of tasks, from couriers to look outs to attackers. Child soldiers are used throughout Palestinian controlled areas with not a word of condemnation from the world community. Children are routinely used at violent protests, sent to throw rocks, shoot fireworks and otherwise attack Israeli soldiers. Palestinian children line roads in the West Bank raining large stones down on the cars of Jews passing by. These attacks have left many Israeli civilians dead over the years. These children are sent out to try to kill Jews, and it’s nothing new. They are sent out because they are expendable and because if they are harmed, it can be used to claim Israel kills children.
Sadly, terribly, horrifyingly, painfully, this is a Dog Bites Man story to the world. It has been going on for so long, day in and day out, that it has become accepted practice. It crushes the soul, how the world can stand silent while this atrocity continues, but it is Dog Bites Man, it won’t ever get the attention that a 15 year old Jewish boy killing a Palestinian would get.
So, we see four different stories here, the Dog Bites Man stories have to do with Palestinian incitement and the use of Child Soldiers, the Man Bites Dog stories have to do with Israeli gaffes and fear making people do something horrible. These are some of the stories the media will use to frame this round of violence, and unfortunately, until we can find a better strategy to change the narratives, until we find a different way, our Hasbara will just be doing the same thing, which has shown only limited effectiveness, with more intensity and more money. We need to think of new ways to deal with the international media because right now we are fighting a losing battle, because of people’s natural reaction to the Dog Bites Man or the Man Bite Dog kind of story. It’s not fair and probably based in a certain amount of antisemitism, but neither of those things change reality, and the reality is we have a losing media strategy.