As more than 1,500 Hamas rockets were flying toward Israeli cities with the express purpose of murdering civilians, CNN could spare only around four minutes — in total — to cover the topic during an entire week of prime time. Typically, it’s only when the Jewish state begins defending itself that the story gets any real traction.
And, needless to say, the focus got intense after Israel destroyed a twelve-story high-rise building in Gaza that housed foreign press outlets, including the Associated Press. Israel claims that al-Jalaa Tower was home to Hamas military-intelligence assets. It called ahead to warn those inside, so, fortunately, no journalist was killed.
AP CEO Gary Pruitt said that his organization “had no indication Hamas was in the building or active in the building,” adding, “This is something we actively check to the best of our ability. We would never knowingly put our journalists at risk.”
This is nonsense. Pruitt knowingly puts journalists at risk every day he sends them to places such as Gaza, where the ruling regime wages war behind civilians it uses as shields. But how did Pruitt “actively” check? Did he ask Hamas? Did he call the landlord? Did he ring everyone’s bell? And how could we trust that a media outlet that is unable to track down a single Hamas militant shooting Qassam rockets — from dense civilian areas right near its offices — would be able to figure out who was in their building, anyway?
It is, of course, highly probable that Hamas was using journalists as human shields. This is what it does. During the last major outbreak of violence, in 2014, Gaza’s Shifa hospital became “a de facto headquarters for Hamas leaders,” who could “be seen in the hallways and offices,” according to the Washington Post — but not the Associated Press, which had around 40 journalists working on the Israeli–Palestinian story, including a number of them filing stories from inside that very hospital.
It is also highly probable that the Associated Press knew about Hamas and covered it up. That is what it does. In a 2014 Atlantic piece — this, before Jeff Goldberg’s Salon-ization of that once-prestigious magazine — former Associated Press reporter Matti Friedman recounted:
The AP staff in Gaza City would witness a rocket launch right beside their office, endangering reporters and other civilians nearby — and the AP wouldn’t report it, not even in AP articles about Israeli claims that Hamas was launching rockets from residential areas. (This happened.) Hamas fighters would burst into the AP’s Gaza bureau and threaten the staff — and the AP wouldn’t report it. (This also happened.) Cameramen waiting outside Shifa Hospital in Gaza City would film the arrival of civilian casualties and then, at a signal from an official, turn off their cameras when wounded and dead fighters came in, helping Hamas maintain the illusion that only civilians were dying. (This too happened; the information comes from multiple sources with firsthand knowledge of these incidents.)
Did Pruitt, who became CEO in 2013, investigate Friedman’s claims? The company never really responded to the piece, so it seems unlikely.
Of course, Hamas regularly threatens those who expose the theocratic regime’s murder and abuse of civilians. It demands obedience in exchange for coverage. So we shouldn’t diminish the danger that journalists find themselves in. “You have to wonder [with] the shelling how patients at Shifa hospital feel as Hamas uses it as a safe place to see media,” Wall Street Journal reporter Nick Casey wrote in a tweet in 2014 that was soon deleted. When the hospital was allegedly hit by Israeli missiles, the Journal’s Tamer El-Ghobashy took a picture of Mushir Al Masri, a Hamas media spokesman, and captioned it: “An outside wall on the campus of Gaza’s main hospital was hit by a strike. Low level damage suggest Hamas misfire.” This, too, was deleted. One can make an educated guess as to why.
In a 2018 New York Times op-ed, Friedman tells the story of being blackmailed by Hamas into using fake casualty numbers from an AP report:
Early in that war, I complied with Hamas censorship in the form of a threat to one of our Gaza reporters and cut a key detail from an article: that Hamas fighters were disguised as civilians and were being counted as civilians in the death toll. The bureau chief later wrote that printing the truth after the threat to the reporter would have meant “jeopardizing his life.” Nonetheless, we used that same casualty toll throughout the conflict and never mentioned the manipulation.
Pruitt now claims that the “world will know less about what is happening in Gaza.” I’m skeptical. Indeed, it’s one thing to be intimidated, and another to assertively mislead your readers. Indeed, outlets like NBC News — one of the worst in the region — will report death-toll numbers handed to them directly by Hamas’s “health ministry” without a hint of skepticism. But the AP did them one better.
In 2015, the Observer meticulously debunked and exposed the ethical failures and factual errors of a widely shared Associated Press piece on Gaza death tolls. In the story, the AP outlet claimed that, of 844 dead in 2014, 508 (over 60 percent) were women, children, and older men, “all presumed to be civilians.” The AP had merely regurgitated Hamas claims. In an effort to portray Israel as “wantonly and indiscriminately slaughtering civilians” — feeding into the prevailing narrative of anti-Semites across the world — the AP failed to properly identify sources and causes of death, it used partial and misleading quotes, and it relied on posed photos and Palestinian disinformation.
When Richard Behar took a deep dive into the issue at Forbes, he found that outlets across the media had uncritically repeated the AP’s claim that civilian deaths in Gaza outnumbered militant ones.
Proof of the use by Hamas of civilians as human shields has finally been ably exposed by reporters for media outlets in Finland, France, India, Italy, Japan, Russia, and others — but not by news organizations with greater resources at hand such as BBC, CNN, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and numerous others. (A too-brief exception: the Washington Post.) Sadly, the Associated Press has failed dismally.
Mark Lavie, a former AP staffer told the Observer, “AP’s preference for the Palestinians isn’t a matter of anti-Semitism. It’s a matter of favoring the side perceived as the underdog. The assumption is that the Palestinians are telling the truth and the Israelis are lying.” Perhaps. But I’ll believe this has nothing to do with Jews when media begin giving a fraction of the attention to other ethnic minorities who do not have a nation. There are, as far as I can tell, hundreds of mainstream reporters dedicated to the Palestinian cause. How many of them cover the plight of the 12.8 million Uyghurs in China? How many write about the aspirations of the 50 million Kurds? Or the Karen in Burma? Not many.
Of course, we can’t bore into the souls of reporters. Then again, however bad you think media malpractice is on domestic issues, it is far worse when it comes to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. And the AP has consistently been one of the most mendacious and unprofessional on the issue. Even as their office lies in ruins, they can’t find it in themselves to lay any blame on the genocidal group that put their reporters’ lives in danger.
VIEW PHOTOS: Israel-Hamas Conflict