Last week, our website VOANews.com posted an item on which was placed the headline:
“Jewish Settler Kills Palestinian in West Bank.”
It was misleading and inflammatory for two reasons:
First, the original headline made it seem the settler initiated the act. But the actual story made clear the act of killing was to stop an attack by the Palestinian. One wire service report cited a police spokesman as calling it an act of self-defense.
Secondly, why were we saying a "Jewish settler" in our headline? It makes an assumption that the Israeli settler was Jewish, which was probably a correct assumption, but an assumption nonetheless. It was unbalanced to identify one person as Jewish but the other as Palestinian. We did not make any assumption or identification of the religion of the dead man.
We changed the headline. But not quickly enough to ward off a slew of irate emails:
“…the most biased headline I have ever seen. The most vital piece of information is not seen until the second graph. That is when readers learn that the Palestinian was attacking other Jews and so the Jewish man defended himself and the others”
“Considering it was a case of self-defense, why doesn't the headline read something along the lines of ‘Palestianian attacker killed’ or ‘Jewish man killed Palestinian in self-defense’?”
“Bias is something journalists are to fight against.”
“What an inciteful headline!”
“The headline and content of the article…belie VOA's policy of being a trusted news source…Imagine a headline that says ‘US soldier kills Iraqi in Baghdad’ when the Iraqi was a militant trying to kill the soldier…”
“Your… headline, ‘Israeli kills Palestinian in West Bank’, is absurdly misleading.” “[That] headline… was so shameful … [and] so infuriated me…Please see to it that VOA is even-handed in its headlines and reporting.”