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On Another Willful Lie from the Press

Earlier today, Charlie Cooke outlined the media’s blatant, willful misrepresentation of Donald Trump’s comments about illegal immigrants. Yesterday, Trump referred to members of MS-13 as “animals.” The fact that he was referring to heinous criminals was crystal-clear from context, but leading media outlets ignored the context and claimed that he referred to all illegal entrants as “animals.”

If this incident wasn’t bad enough, today’s New York Times contained a confession of an older, perhaps more-consequential lie. It turns out that the Associated Press has willfully and falsely presented false casualty figures in Gaza out of fear of Hamas’s retribution. Matti Friedman, a journalist and the author of the excellent memoir Pumpkinflowers: A Soldier’s Story of a Forgotten War, reminds us of this story from the 2008 Gaza War:

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.

The consequences were dire:

Hamas understood that Western news outlets wanted a simple story about villains and victims and would stick to that script, whether because of ideological sympathy, coercion or ignorance. The press could be trusted to present dead human beings not as victims of the terrorist group that controls their lives, or of a tragic confluence of events, but of an unwarranted Israeli slaughter. The willingness of reporters to cooperate with that script gave Hamas the incentive to keep using it.

Let’s put this as plainly as possible. Media distortions provided Hamas with further incentives to use human shields. And when Hamas uses human shields, people die. Not only do people die, but international activists and foreign governments use their deaths to discredit Israel and discredit its efforts at self-defense.

I can sympathize with the need to protect a source. It’s tough to imagine the agony of thinking that a story you print could cost a man his life. But isn’t that what AP contributed to anyway, except on an even larger scale? Journalists often lament the collapse of public trust in media. That is indeed worth lamenting, but it’s hard to trust institutions that will lie — especially when those lies advance the interests of the most evil of men.

David French — David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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