Yesterday, the spokeswoman for the Hamas government in Gaza let the shoe drop. Isra al-Mudallal told a Lebanese television station that the Islamist group routinely intimidated foreign journalists in efforts to “persuade” them to stop trying to take pictures of rocket launches or Hamas fighters.
This admission jibes with the complaint issued earlier this week by the Foreign Press Association about Hamas intimidation and interference with reporters in Gaza. Indeed, it explains a lot about the fact that, as I noted last week, throughout the four weeks of fighting, the hordes of foreign reporters that flooded the strip failed to produce a single video of the thousands of rockets shot at the Jewish state or of the armed Hamas cadres that were fighting the Israel Defense Force. Indeed, the first videos of Hamas terrorist activity launches only came in the waning days of the conflict and were released by Finnish and Indian TV only after their reporters had left Gaza? Until then, the only videos coming out of Gaza were those that bolstered the Palestinian narrative about Israeli attacks on civilians as pictures of dead children played in an endless loop on cable news stations.
Yet when put to the question about what was going on in Gaza, most members of the foreign press weren’t very forthcoming about what was, admittedly, a difficult problem. Some claimed they never saw a Hamas fighter or that a massive force numbering thousands operating in what we were endlessly told was a tiny and densely populated area operated out of sight. Others denied the charge of intimidation and claimed to have not seen any evidence of Hamas using civilians as human shields even though they know that the terrorist group was operating in and around civilian targets continuously.
While none of those who knuckled under to Hamas intimidation should be nominated for any awards for journalistic integrity, let alone courage, it’s easy to sympathize with their plight. Hamas is a terrorist organization whose members have no scruples about violence. It plays for keeps and reporters in areas under their control who don’t get with the program do run a very real risk of never seeing their homes and families again.
But the frustrating thing about this situation is not just that the foreign press was forced to tell only part of the story that was happening in Gaza. It is that most of them seem to think there was nothing wrong with their coverage. Indeed, many seem not to have needed a talking-to from Hamas thugs in order to agree with al-Mudallal that the only proper thing to do in Gaza for a journalist was to take as many pictures of injured Palestinian civilians while ignoring the fact that they were put in harm’s way by terrorists shooting and tunneling from within their midst, including the vicinity of schools, hospitals and mosques.
What’s even more interesting is that one journalist who reported from the Israeli side of the border, New York Times Jerusalem Bureau Chief Jodi Rudoren, protested the Foreign Press Association complaint against Hamas. On Monday, Rudoren tweeted that: “Every reporter I’ve met who was in Gaza during war says this Israeli/now FPA narrative of Hamas harassment is nonsense.”
That may well be true since so many of those who reported for the Times and the broadcast and cable news networks seemed to think the narrative of this war was solely about Israeli attacks on Gaza while ignoring or minimizing the fact that Hamas started the war and launched thousands of rockets and prepared dozens of terror tunnels, the purpose of which was to kill as many Jews as possible. This selective presentation of information about the fighting skewed both the coverage and the climate of public opinion in most of the world. The lies by omission committed by journalists helped feed an atmosphere in which anti-Semitism became respectable in Europe, Asia and Africa and caused even some fair-weather friends of Israel in this country to claim that Israeli beastliness was undermining the Jewish state’s right to self-defense.
This shouldn’t be terribly surprising to those who have closely followed the media’s coverage of the conflict in recent years. Hamas spokeswoman al-Mulladal was, after all, treated by many in the press as a symbol of the new, moderate and modern Hamas as this profile published in Germany’s Der Spiegel in the weeks before the fighting started testifies.
This blatant media bias isn’t bothering most Israelis who long ago gave up on the idea of getting a fair shake from a foreign press corps that often arrives in the region deeply prejudiced against Zionism and determined to find stories that fit with their pre-existing biases about the Palestinians. But it should profoundly upset those who care about the profession of journalism.
We’ve heard a lot in the last weeks about whether Israel and its friends have drawn the proper conclusions from this war as pundits warned them that the coverage of Palestinian casualties would cost them dearly in the court of public opinion. But we’ve heard very little soul searching from journalists about the crisis in their profession that the failure of reporters operating in Gaza highlights.
It is no cliché to say, as Americans have been repeating since the earliest days of our republic, that a free press is essential to a functioning democracy. But journalists who set out to distort the truth about a major conflict and skew their reporting to further isolate the one Jewish state on the planet and boost their image of a bloodthirsty terrorist organization have lost their moral compass as well as their professional integrity. It may well be that the controversy over the missing pictures in Gaza will soon fade from memory and the press will, as is their wont, go back to business as usual blasting Israel and ignoring the ethical questions raised by their one-sided actions. But no one who reads al-Mudallal’s admission and ponders the otherwise inexplicable failure of journalists to tell both sides of the story will ever trust Rudoren or any of her colleagues again.