Headlines and front lines: How US news coverage of wars in Yemen and Ukraine reveals a bias in recording civilian harm

Headlines and front lines: How US news coverage of wars in Yemen and Ukraine reveals a bias in recording civilian harm

Esther Brito Ruiz & Jeff Bachman

August 10, 2023

War entails suffering. How and how often that suffering is reported on in the U.S., however, is not evenhanded. Take, for example, the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen in March 2015 and the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. The media attention afforded to the crises reveals biases that relate less to the human consequences of the conflicts than to the United States’ role and relationship with the warring parties involved.

In Yemen, the U.S. is arming and supporting the Saudi-led coalition, whose airstrikes and blockades have caused immense human suffering. Meanwhile in Eastern Europe, the U.S. is arming and aiding Ukraine’s efforts by helping to counter missile strikes that have targeted civilian infrastructure and to retake occupied territories where horrific killings have taken place.

As scholars who study genocide and other mass atrocities, as well as international security, we compared New York Times headlines that span approximately seven and a half years of the ongoing conflict in Yemen and the first nine months of the conflict in Ukraine.

We paid particular attention to headlines on civilian casualties, food security and provision of arms. We chose The New York Times because of its popularity and reputation as a credible and influential source on international news, with an extensive network of global reporters and over 130 Pulitzer Prizes.

Purposefully, our analysis focused solely on headlines. While the full stories may bring greater context to the reporting, headlines are particularly important for three reasons: They frame the story in a way that affects how it is read and remembered; reflect the publication’s ideological stance on an issue; and, for many news consumers, are the only part of the story that is read at all.

Our research shows extensive biases in both the scale and tone of coverage. These biases lead to reporting that highlights or downplays human suffering in the two conflicts in a way that seemingly coincides with U.S. foreign policy objectives.

Now – continue reading this very thought-provoking analysis at The Conversation that may serve as one more example – documentation – of how so-called leading media are leading in cheating, on a daily basis, their audiences: You!

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