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But when covering the latest round of violence sparked by the massacre that Hamas committed against Israeli civilians on October 7th, reporters often fail to remind readers of several crucial facts relevant to the reliability of information sourced from Hamas:
1) There are no checks and balances on Hamas from any governmental or political institution. It is a de facto Islamist dictatorship with a tyrannical rule akin to that of the Taliban.
2) There is no freedom of speech or assembly under Hamas in Gaza.
A 2018 Human Rights Watch report states that:
"...the PA and Hamas use detention to punish critics and deter them and others from further activism. In detention, security forces routinely taunt, threaten, beat, and force detainees into painful stress positions for hours at a time.
A 2019 New York Times article ("Hamas Crackdown on Gaza Protests Instills Fear") reports:
"Hamas security forces moved quickly to quell the protests that brought hundreds of people into the streets in at least four camps and towns across Gaza this month to demand better living conditions. The security forces beat demonstrators, raided homes and detained organizers, journalists and participants, about 1,000 people in all."
A 2022 report by Amnesty International concludes that:
"Authorities in the West Bank and Gaza Strip continued to unduly restrict freedom of expression, association and assembly, at times using excessive force to disperse peaceful gatherings."
3) There is no freedom of the press in Gaza.
In 2016, Human Rights Watch reported that "The Palestinian authorities in the West Bank and Gaza are arresting, abusing, and criminally charging journalists and activists who express peaceful criticism of the authorities."
An Al-Monitor article dated November 7, 2022 exposes some cases where a journalist is arrested or his family threatened for reporting stories unfavorable to Hamas.
An August 11, 2022 Israel Hayom article reported that Hamas ordered journalists and local Gazans working with them not to report on Islamic Jihad rockets hitting inside Gaza, and to blame Israel for the latest conflict. Hamas has also barred Gazans from working for or being interviewed by Israeli media.
Hamas control of the Western press is particularly relevant when it comes to reporting anything contrary to Hamas' preferred narrative in any conflict with Israel, given how much the Western media obsesses over that conflict. As the Times of Israel reported on July 28, 2014: "Several Western journalists currently working in Gaza have been harassed and threatened by Hamas for documenting cases of the terrorist group's involvement of civilians in warfare against Israel."
4) There is no adequate justice system where any of Hamas' abuses could be fairly addressed. An October 2012 report by Human Rights Watch noted that "Palestinians face serious abuses in the Hamas criminal justice system, including arbitrary arrest, incommunicado detention, torture, and unfair trials."
5) Most important of all, in stark contrast to the information provided by Israeli government officials, hospitals, and other sources, Hamas faces no consequences for lying. Global sympathy for Gazans is virtually guaranteed, even after they commit the worst mass atrocities against Jews since the Holocaust, as the many pro-Hamas protests around the world have amply established. Humanitarian aid will continue to flow to Gaza even if Hamas is caught lying. So the incentive to do the hard work of investigating, fact-checking and telling the truth, however unfavorable, will be lower in Gaza than in perhaps any other place.
Indeed, with the October 17th Al-Ahli Arab hospital explosion, Hamas swiftly exploited the PR value of the incident, blaming an Israeli airstrike and claiming over 500 civilian dead. Such an inflammatory allegation – issued long before any thorough investigation into the facts could possibly be completed – could instantly turn global public opinion against Israel. Yet the Hamas accusation was reflexively reported by many, including Al Jazeera, Associated Press, and Time. None of these mentioned that the casualty count couldn't be independently verified, or that initial death tolls reported from a war zone are notoriously unreliable – especially when coming from a cynical source like Hamas.
So when news organizations reporting on Gaza rely on Hamas for information without clearly disclosing that source and the reasons for distrusting it, they fail in their basic journalistic duties, because the source determines the difference between news and lies.
Keeping in mind the crucial context about Hamas' tyrannical rule of Gaza and its brutal control of people and information there, here is a comparison of how various news organizations reported on the Hamas claim that as of October 23, over 5,000 Gazans had been killed by Israel's response to Hamas' October 7th massacre. The relevant language is highlighted to show a breach of (or compliance with) the obligation to inform readers that (a) the information about the number of dead and injured comes from Hamas and (b) such a source implies that the reported information is far less likely to be accurate or reliable.
EXAMPLES OF BAD JOURNALISM
As Israel's genocide in the Gaza Strip entered its 17th day today, the death toll climbed to over 5,085, according to latest reports, amid an increase in air strikes, the Palestinian Information Centre reported.
(relies on the Palestinian Authority Ministry of Health, which likely gets its Gaza information from Hamas as well. Indeed, the reported casualty figures – 5,087 dead and 15,273 injured – are identical).
As of Monday, at least 5,087 people have been killed in Gaza, and 15,273 have been injured since October 7, the Palestinian Authority Ministry of Health in the occupied West Bank reported.
More than 5,000 Palestinians in Gaza have been killed in air and artillery strikes carried out by the Israeli military in response, according to Gaza's health ministry.
— Washington Post (cites "Palestinian authorities" but then links to the Hamas-run Health ministry's Facebook page for its source)
Palestinian authorities said Israeli strikes have killed at least 5,087 people in Gaza and wounded more than 15,200.
EXAMPLES OF MEDIOCRE JOURNALISM (MENTIONS HAMAS OR SOME CAUTIONARY CONTEXT BUT NOT BOTH)
Health authorities in Gaza said over 5,000 people have been killed since the Oct. 7 start of the war between Palestinian militant group Hamas and Israel. More than 15,000 have been injured, the authorities said. CNBC could not independently verify these numbers.
The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza has said at least 5,087 Palestinians have been killed in Israeli strikes since 7 October. It said the dead included 2,055 children. Additionally, it said 15,273 people had been wounded.
EXAMPLES OF PROPER JOURNALISM (MENTIONS HAMAS AS THE SOURCE AND INCLUDES CAUTIONARY CONTEXT)
On Monday, Hamas said 5,000 civilians had been killed by Israeli bombardment, but that figure cannot be independently verified, and Hamas has inflated casualty figures in the past.
The Gaza Health Ministry, which is run by Hamas, reported a sharp rise in the death toll after Israel's latest barrage. The ministry said on Monday at least 436 people were killed in Israeli airstrikes "in the past hours," including 182 children. The statement brought the death toll in Gaza to more than 5,000 people, according to the ministry, since Israel began retaliating for the Hamas assaults of Oct. 7. The figures could not be independently verified, and Israel's military has sometimes accused Hamas of inflating the count.
It may surprise some observers that the New York Times made it into the best category of reporting in this particular comparison, considering the paper's abundant record of mistakes that are prejudicial to Israel (as copiously documented by CAMERA) and a general slant that led Israel's Ambassador to the United Nations, Gilad Erdan, to send a letter to the newspaper's executive editor last February, in which he sharply condemned the newspaper's "overt anti-Israel bias" and cited a detailed study in support of his claims.
However, the New York Times editors may have been more cautious when reporting casualties on October 23, because that same day the newspaper also published an acknowledgement that its October 17 coverage improperly repeated Hamas' claim that hundreds of Gazans were killed by an Israeli airstrike on Ahli Arab Hospital, an explosion widely attributed to an errant rocket fired by Islamic Jihad.
It's also worth noting that none of the 8 examples above remind readers about the general unreliability of information coming out of Gaza because it is so tightly controlled by a ruthless terrorist organization that swiftly prevents reporters from contradicting its narrative.
Still, the samples serve to highlight the breadth of reporting quality on one particular fact in a fast-evolving news story. That the New York Times showed improved performance on the particular detail being compared also demonstrates how a media outlet's journalistic integrity and quality can change from story to story – especially as readers, politicians, businesses, and others pressure news organizations to do a better job in meeting crucial journalistic standards, so that reporters can write the first draft of history more impartially while contributing as little as possible to the disasters recounted in that history.
Noah Beck is the author of The Last Israelis, an apocalyptic novel about Iranian nukes and other geopolitical issues in the Middle East.
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