Shorthand for detecting media bias

It’s a fair guess that most newspaper readers are busy people and haven’t got the time to read articles all the way through.  So here’s a tip: if you suspect media bias, let’s say, at the Washington Post, just read the headline and the last paragraph.

The headline supposedly requires focus on the most important, most newsworthy matters that the Post wants to convey to readers – more important than other items in the body of the article.

The last paragraph also rounds up and sums up the main message the article is supposed to convey to readers.

So let’s see how the Post fares when one examines its headline and its last paragraph – in this instance, an Oct. 5 piece about tensions heating up in Jerusalem.

First the headline, in huge type, of course: “Israel bars Palestinians from Old City.”  The impression left on readers: Palestinians get the short end.  They’re barred from Jerusalem’s Old City.  Palestinians as victims, Israelis as heavy-handed.

But is this the main news in the latest 24-hour news cycle?  Not really.  For the real McCoy, you’ve got to immerse yourself in the much smaller-type secondary headline, which indicates that the barring of Palestinians from the Old City occurred after “the fatal stabbing there Saturday of an off-duty Israeli soldier and a well-known rabbi.”

The murder of two Israelis, one would have thought, is more newsworthy than closure of the Old City, especially since it turns out that this closure is only for two days.

But this bit of explanatory news appears only in much smaller type in the sub-head, which reads: “Jerusalem closure follows fatal stabbings, is set to last 48 hours.”

Taken together, the headline and the sub-head never make it crystal-clear that the overarching news is the murder of Israelis by Palestinian terrorists – oops, militants.  Israel gets mentioned specifically as the tough party that bars Palestinians from the Old City, while the fatal stabbings of Israelis is never directly attributed to Palestinians.

Put them together, and the headline and the subhead leave readers with a pro-Palestinian, anti-Israeli impression.

Now let’s turn to the last paragraph that’s supposed to sum up the most salient developments in the last 24 hours.  It reads:

After condemning violence against innocent civilians, Palestinian activist Hanan Ashrawi said, ‘Netanyahu is under the delusion that he can convince his own people and the international community that he can ‘manage the situation.’ This is not only morally deplorable, it is also politically irresponsible and effectively unsustainable. Never has a people under foreign occupaction accepted the systematic violation of their rights and freedoms.

Wow!  Washingotn Post correspondent William Booth tilts sharply to the Palestinian side in his send-off, summed up paragraph.  It’s exclusively pro-Palestsinian down to the last comma.  Booth reaches all the way to Palestinian propagandist Hanan Ashrawi to make his point.

Leo Rennert is former White House correspondent and Washington bureau chief of McClatchy Newspapers.