The racism of no expectations: The Guardian’s coverage of the Palestinians (A six month review)

Who are the Palestinians?

If Israelis represent the most obsessively and disproportionately covered national group on the pages of the Guardian, the Palestinians represent their antithesis.

While every conceivable flaw in Israeli society is reported ad nauseam in the news section (and ‘Comment is Free’) there is an egregious dearth of critical coverage of Palestinian politics, culture and society.  Instead, the familiar facile moral binarism, which posits Palestinians as victims of Israeli villainy, overwhelmingly frames the coverage.

The questions which are almost never asked by Guardian reporters and commentators include:

  • What is the Palestinians’ guiding moral ethos? 
  • Which political principles and traditions would inform a future Palestinian state? 
  • If the Palestinians achieve political independence, how will they treat their citizens? Will the state be truly democratic? What rights will be guaranteed for political, religious, ethnic and sexual minorities?

The last six months of coverage of Palestinian society by the Guardian (consistent, it seems, with coverage prior to the period under examination) provides almost no insight into these vital questions.

In short, the Guardian’s Palestinians are abstractions (void of any flaws, nuance or complexity) and protagonists – morally juxtaposed with their Israeli antagonists.  The Palestinians never act. They are always acted upon.

The Palestinian page of the Guardian, in 183 stories and commentaries going back six months, from November 22nd 2011 to May 21st 2012, reveals a few patterns:

  • Most stories on the ‘Palestinian’ page are merely cross posted from the ‘Israel’ page, and often have little to do with Palestinians, their society, or government. This is especially curious in light of the fact that the overwhelming majority of Palestinians are governed by Palestinians: all of Gaza, and in Areas A (civilly and militarily) and B (civilly) of the West Bank.
  • The number of stories or commentaries devoted to critiquing or analyzing government policies in Gaza or the PA: 7 out of 183  (here,  here, here, here, here, here, here)
  • Number of stories focused on acts or attempted acts of terrorism against Israelis: 0 out of 183  (In fairness, there were several stories reporting on the barrage of rocket attacks from Gaza in March, but none were framed as terrorists attacks against Israeli civilians as such, and all emphasized Israel’s retaliatory attacks and the resulting Palestinian casualties.)

In addition to the Guardian’s institutional hostility to Israel, while contextualizing the Guardian over the last two years – and consistent with the results of this review – I have often been struck by their reporters’ stunning lack of intellectual curiosity concerning the actual values, mores, politics, culture, and ethics of living, breathing Palestinians.

The corollary of this professional abdication (their cognitive blind spot) is that such journalists often completely fail to assign to the people living in the Palestinians territories the moral agency generally associated with those deemed as genuine equals.

A more exquisite expression of racism would be difficult to find. 

(Note: Here are screen shots of all the headlines, with story captions, in the six-month period covered in this report.)

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