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Censorship vs. Accountability in Journalism

Last week, there was a bit of an uproar when NBC foreign correspondent Ayman Mohyeldin, who was covering Gaza for the network, was replaced with a more experienced anchor. There were concerns that Mohyeldin was being rotated out of Gaza due to his apparent sympathy for the Palestinian side. After an outcry, he was sent back to Gaza. But it’s now becoming clear that NBC had good reason to have second thoughts about putting its coverage in Mohyeldin’s hands.

CNN’s media reporter Brian Stelter looked into the controversy and did a segment on it over the weekend. In an accompanying article, he explains that NBC had Chief Foreign Correspondent Richard Engel arrive in Israel midweek and that the network was prepared for the possibility it would only have time for one broadcast, and decided to make it Engel’s. That proved to be wise call.

The day Engel arrived, Mohyeldin witnessed the attack on a Gaza beach area that killed four Palestinian children. That earned him a chance to do the segment. But NBC higher-ups were disappointed in the quality of Mohyeldin’s proposed script, and crunched for time, gave the nod to the more experienced Engel. It was a very sensitive story, and Mohyeldin had dropped the ball.

That didn’t stop complaints that Mohyeldin was being punished (or “censored,” a patently ridiculous claim) for his perceived pro-Palestinian bias. But there’s a difference between sympathy for the Palestinians and whitewashing Hamas at the expense of getting an accurate story. And now back in the region, Mohyeldin is showing why NBC was uncomfortable with his work. On a segment on Gaza with MSNBC host Chris Hayes last night, Mohyeldin was asked about the tendency of Hamas to use Palestinians in Gaza as human shields. Here was his response to Hayes:

MOHYELDIN: Well, we just put that statement, exact statement to Hamas spokesperson who’s categorically denied that Hamas or its fighters are
using the civilian population as human shields. We have not — I have not in my specific time here in Gaza, and I’ve covered three separate wars — have ever seen Hamas fighters using civilians as human shields.

But more importantly, what they say about that allegation, they categorically reject it, they deny. They say the entire world’s media is present here on the ground in Gaza. If there are any evidence, or if there are any reporters, that should be sufficient, but none of those have emerged, according to Hamas. Officials, they say there simply isn’t any documentation to suggest that Hamas uses hospitals or uses mosques or schools to store weapons.

Now, the U.N. has countered that. The U.N. has said that last week, it found 20 rockets in one U.N. facility, although that was not substantiated. That is a claim the United Nations, which oversees schools near Gaza, claims to have found.

For its part, though, Hamas denies that allegation entirely.

To put it simply: if Mohyeldin has reported from Gaza for three wars and never witnessed the use of human shields, he is failing comprehensively to do his job. This is likely what NBC saw: a reporter missing the key stories his competitors were covering to instead offer Hamas’s official explanation. Some NBC executives were very likely uncomfortable not with Mohyeldin’s supposed sympathy for Palestinian children but that he was taking a wrecking ball to NBC’s credibility.

Perhaps he was in over his head; Gaza is a tough beat. Whatever the reason, NBC had to do something. Now that they’ve returned him to Gaza, he continues chipping away at their efforts to get some accurate sense of the conflict.

It’s not as though Hamas has all the media fooled (as Mohyeldin hints). The Washington Post has been quite busy getting the story. The Algemeiner has a roundup of Post stories on the topic. They note that the Post covered the fact that Hamas was using a hospital as “a de facto headquarters for Hamas leaders,” and that the Post ran stories detailing the use of mosques to store rockets. In one story, the Post reporter witnessed Hamas fighters moving rockets into a mosque during a temporary cease-fire. It’s also a bit baffling that Mohyeldin played down the rockets discovered in a UN school, when other press followed the progress of those rockets being returned to (Hamas-linked) Palestinian officials.

To be fair, Mohyeldin isn’t alone. The New York Times’s Anne Barnard complained on Twitter this morning that criticism of her one-sided coverage isn’t fair because it’s too dangerous to cover Hamas accurately. I sympathize, and admire reporters for putting themselves in harm’s way for their job. But it’s all the more reason to salute the reporters who are doing so while actually getting the story.



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4 Responses to “Censorship vs. Accountability in Journalism”

  1. KAREN ADLER says:

    It was clear early on that Moyheddin’s reporting was biased, particularly when he was their sole reporter in Jerusalem. I was not at all surprised that he was pulled; I was surprised that he was sent back. And Brian Williams’ tsking and clucking over the “disproportionate casualties” without any explanation as to why, was just irresponsible journalism.

  2. LOUIS OFFEN says:

    Are journalists free to film and report what they see going on in Gaza, or like was the case in Lebanon during the civil war there, do they know that they will be in considerable peril if what they put out there displeases Hamas? Why few to no pictures of Hamas fighters, rocket launching sites, etc.?

    • JACK LEVEY says:

      Louis, great question. Hamas controls whether they can get into Gaza.

      And whether they can get out.

      I’d say the question answers itself.

  3. BARBARA PANKEN says:

    It’s too dangerous in gaza to report accurately? You must be kidding!!!




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