Attack When the World Is Not Watching? International Media and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

October 2015
Ruben Durante, Ekaterina Zhuravskaya

Policy makers may strategically time unpopular measures to coincide with other newsworthy events that distract the media and the public, so as to minimize the political cost of these measures. We test this hypothesis in the context of the recurrent Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Combining daily data on attacks on both sides of the conflict with data on the content of evening news for top U.S. TV networks, we show that Israeli attacks are more likely to be carried out when U.S. news are expected to be dominated by important (non-Israel-or-Palestinerelated) events on the following day. Several findings indicate that this association is a result of the strategic behavior of Israeli authorities: i) only attacks that bear higher risk of civilian casualties are timed to newsworthy events; ii) attacks are timed to events that are predictable, and iii) the timing of Israeli retaliations against Palestinian attacks is related to U.S. news only in periods of less intense fighting, when retaliation is less urgent. Based on comprehensive content analysis of conflict-related news, we document that the strategic timing of Israeli attacks is aimed at minimizing news coverage on the following day because next-day news stories are especially charged with negative emotional content. We find no evidence of strategic timing for Palestinian attacks.

Publication Type: 
Working Paper