Some Media Tag Serial Stabber as ‘Israeli National,’ Others See ‘Israeli Arab’ or ‘Palestinian Christian’

August 14th, 2010 11:14 PM

When reporting on the nationality of a criminal from another country who has already been arrested, it normally would be considered unnecessary or even uncalled for to take the extra step of explicitly identifying the suspect’s ethnicity or religious affiliation as well. But, given that Israelis, the vast majority of whom are Jewish, often face sharp criticism and negative press reaction over conflicts with their Arab neighbors – inflaming anti-Semitic sentiment – if an Israeli citizen who is non-Jewish is implicated in a violent crime, informing viewers that he is non-Jewish would seem to be in order.

But so far in the media coverage of serial stabber Elias Abuelazam’s arrest, some major news shows on both broadcast and news networks have avoided explicitly informing viewers that he is not a Jewish Israeli, while others have been more upfront with viewers on the subject. CNN’s The Situation Room, the NBC Nightly News, FNC’s Fox and Friends, and CBS’s The Early Show all have directly relayed to viewers at least once that Abuelazam is an Israeli Arab. But ABC’s World News, the CBS Evening News, FNC’s Fox Report, ABC’s Good Morning America, CNN’s American Morning and NBC’s Today show have all avoided such a direct identification of ethnicity.

On Thursday’s World News, ABC correspondent Steve Osunsami described the serial killer simply as an "Israeli national," and on Friday’s Good Morning America, ABC correspondent Jeremy Hubbard recounted that he was arrested "just as he was about to board a flight to his native Israel." On Saturday’s Good Morning America, Osunsami again referred to him as an "Israeli national," but later in the report indirectly conveyed his ethnicity by noting that Abuelazam’s mother in Israel had spoken Arabic in an interview.

On Thursday’s CBS Evening News, correspondent Elaine Quijano described him as an "Israeli national." On Friday’s The Early Show, the initial report on Abuelazam did not mention ethnicity as Quijano reported during the 7:00 a.m. hour that, when he was arrested, Abuelazam was "trying to fly to Israel." But during a news brief just after 8:00 a.m., Jeff Glor described him as an "Israeli Arab." On Friday’s CBS Evening News, guest anchor Erica Hill referred to Abuelazam’s "native Israel," while correspondent Quijano again tagged him as an "Israeli national."

On Thursday’s NBC Nightly News, correspondent Pete Williams not only informed viewers that Abuelazam is not Jewish, but, for those who might be worried that being identified as an Arab might implicate Muslims, the NBC correspondent also relayed to viewers that Abuelazam is non-Muslim as Williams referred to him as "an Israeli man, Elias Abuelazam, a Palestinian Christian."

But the Today show did not take Williams’s approach. On Friday’s Today, the story was included in two news briefs, during one of which NBC’s Juju Chang mentioned that he was trying to fly to Israel. Saturday’s Today show included a full report, with co-host Amy Robach tagging him as "a 33-year-old Israeli national," while correspondent Ron Mott identified him as "an Israeli citizen."

On Thursday’s The Situation Room, CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer identified Abuelazam as an "Israeli Arab" as he plugged the story, and, after a report by correspondent Jeanne Meserve that recounted the crime spree and the serial killer’s arrest, correspondent Paula Hancocks elaborated on his background in Israel, describing him as an "Israeli Arab," and she, similar to NBC’s Pete Williams, noted that he is from a "Christian family." On Friday’s The Situation Room, correspondent Susan Candiotti did not mention ethnicity, but relayed that "his family in Israel is a very well-respected member of a Christian organization."

But Friday’s American Morning did not take the same approach as The Situation Room, as neither his ethnicity nor his religion was ever mentioned when CNN’s Meserve appeared at the top of each of the show’s three hours, referring to him as an "Israeli citizen" each time.

On Thursday’s Fox Report, anchor Shepard Smith described him as a "33-year-old Israeli citizen." On Friday’s Fox and Friends, FNC co-anchor Gretchen Carlson twice read a brief item on his arrest, referring to him as an "Israeli citizen," but, during the 8:00 a.m. hour, FNC’s Geraldo Rivera appeared to discuss the matter in more detail and described him as "an Israeli Arab living here on a green card legally," and later wondered why an Israeli Arab would feel motivated to target African-American victims. On Friday’s Fox Report, anchor Smith referred to "his native Israel," and on Saturday’s Fox Report, anchor Julie Banderas referred to him as an "Israeli man."