November 7, 2023 - 7:30pm

US media outlets have been criticised for reporting that a Jewish man who sustained fatal injuries while protesting an anti-Israel demonstration on Sunday had “died”, rather than saying he was killed.

Two counter-protesters, Jonathan Oswaks and Paul Kessler, were holding Israeli flags at a Palestinian demonstration outside Los Angeles when a man with a megaphone began yelling and swung the object at Kessler, Oswaks told the New York Times. Kessler then fell back and hit his head on the ground, dying at the hospital that evening of blunt force head trauma. Multiple onlookers called the authorities and reported the incident as a battery. 

Police are currently investigating the incident as a homicide and potential hate crime. Local Jewish and Muslim leaders have discouraged the spreading of rumours about the incident while the investigation is underway. 

The media has been surprisingly circumspect, given the evidence, with outlets including CNN, the New York Times and Time reporting that Kessler “died” and declining to state that he was killed. NBC News initially used “Man dies after hitting head” in its headline on the incident before updating it to “Jewish man killed in altercation”, though the outlet did not provide an editor’s note to explain the change.  

NBC’s original headline

For legal reasons, journalists generally avoid the word “murder” unless a murder conviction has been handed down. “Killing”, on the other hand, encompasses both intentional and unintentional killing and doesn’t have the same legal implications. 

The Associated Press Stylebook provides the following guidance: “Do not say that a victim was murdered until someone has been convicted in court. Instead, say that a victim was killed or slain […] and if not already in the story, specify the nature of the killing.”

Media outlets’ hesitance to label the incident a killing has triggered a widespread backlash, and has been viewed as a form of bias against Jews and supporters of Israel. While online commentators have said that Kessler was struck in the head with a megaphone, that detail has not yet been confirmed by authorities, and Oswaks himself is unsure if the megaphone struck him, according to the NYT

New York Post columnist Carol Markowicz wrote that “Paul Kessler was murdered” in response to a Time article titled “Jewish man in California dies after confrontation during Israel-Hamas war protests.” 

“He was murdered in cold blood by being bludgeoned to death,” media personality Megan McCain wrote in response to the same Time article. “What the hell is wrong with our media?! Do Jewish lives mean so little to so many of you, you can’t even identify when someone is murdered?!”

is UnHerd’s US correspondent.