(ANALYSIS) It’s been a little more than a week since Hamas launched a surprise attack on Israeli civilians, killing more than 1,300 people. Many of those killed were children, some even babies, on the deadliest day for Jews since the Holocaust.
Since then, the situation in that part of the world has become a full-blown war. Israel has responded by attacking Gaza, with Hamas leaders (and even hostages) mixed among civilians who, in some cases, have been prevented from evacuating by Hamas.
Palestinians now face a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions.
Not surprisingly, many in the elite media have gotten — and continue to get — this story wrong. For too many years, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was treated like a political story. It was a story about land. It was about colonization. It was about human rights.
It may be about all those things, depending on whom you ask, but it’s also a story about about Jews. It’s about Muslims. It’s about sacred sites in the Holy Lands.
In other words, it’s a religion story.
As someone who covered the 9/11 attacks and the years that followed, I am well versed and experienced when it comes to news about terrorism. I know what terrorism looks like when I see it. So do most reporters and editors.
However, not everyone seems to have open eyes these days.
Let’s start with the BBC, one of the biggest and most influential news organizations in the world. The British state broadcaster came under pressure last week when its leaders refused to call Hamas terrorists. In an explanation posted to the BBC website on Oct. 11, John Simpson, who serves as World Affairs editor, defended the decision this way:
Government ministers, newspaper columnists, ordinary people — they’re all asking why the BBC doesn’t say the Hamas gunmen who carried out appalling atrocities in southern Israel are terrorists.
The answer goes right back to the BBC’s founding principles.
Terrorism is a loaded word, which people use about an outfit they disapprove of morally. It’s simply not the BBC’s job to tell people who to support and who to condemn — who are the good guys and who are the bad guys.
We regularly point out that the British and other governments have condemned Hamas as a terrorist organisation, but that’s their business. We also run interviews with guests and quote contributors who describe Hamas as terrorists.
The key point is that we don’t say it in our voice. Our business is to present our audiences with the facts, and let them make up their own minds.
I applaud any news organization for presenting “our audiences with the facts, and let them make up their own minds.” However, who are we kidding here. What is the accurate term for those who strategically seek out and torture, slaughter, burn, rape and-or kidnap civilians, included women and children?
At a time when news organizations have abandoned objectivity and presenting both sides, they choose this attack as the time to appear impartial?
In a 2020 article, the BBC referred to the Proud Boys as “a far-right, anti-immigrant, all-male group with a history of street violence against its left-wing opponents.” In the same article, the BBC called Antifa “a loose affiliation of mostly far-left activists.”
Sense a difference in tone?
Meanwhile, the BBC has called ISIS terrorists. This past January, in a story about Shamima Begum, a British-born woman who entered Syria to join ISIS, the BBC wrote the following on its website:
Shamima Begum has said she accepts that she joined a terror group when she fled Britain as a schoolgirl for Islamic State (IS) — and said she understands the public anger towards her.
In interviews spanning more than a year, Ms. Begum — who was stripped of British citizenship as a national security risk — revealed that she was fed detailed instructions by IS members, but also undertook her own planning for the journey in 2015.
Giving her first full account of her flight to Syria, she told the BBC podcast The Shamima Begum Story that she had been “relieved” to make it out of the UK and said that when she left, she expected never to return.
In the same post, they wrote this:
Its terror cells were responsible for targeted attacks in Paris in 2015 and Brussels in 2016, and the group also claimed responsibility for attacks in the UK, including the Manchester Arena bombing and the London Bridge attack in 2017.
Acknowledging that the public see her as a potential danger if she should return, Ms. Begum said she is “not a bad person” and blamed her portrayal in the media. She said: “I’m just so much more than ISIS and I’m so much more than everything I’ve been through.”
Challenged that the media coverage was a consequence of her decision to join IS, she said: “But what was there to obsess over, we went to ISIS that was it, it was over, it was over and done with, what more is there to say?
“Like, they just wanted to continue the story because it was a story, it was the big story.”
Pressed further on whether she accepts that she did join a terror group, she said: “Yes, I did.”
Words like “terror” and “terror group” were used to describe ISIS, so why not Hamas?
Full disclosure: At Religion Unplugged, where I now serve as executive editor, we call Hamas “terrorists” and “gunmen” in our news coverage. We have refrained from using terms like “militants” or “fighters.”
Many Jewish groups have agreed. The American Jewish Committee, an advocacy group, made the following observation on its website regarding news coverage:
Media reports of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict often frame both sides as being equivalent and engaged in a tit-for-tat cycle of violence. However, there is simply no moral equivalence between the two sides, in fact, there are not only two sides as the Palestinian side is split between Hamas, the de facto ruler of Gaza, and the Fatah-run Palestinian Authority, which controls portions of the West Bank. Israel is a free and democratic sovereign state that does everything to minimize civilian casualties. Hamas is an Iranian-backed terrorist organization that openly seeks the destruction of Israel. Hamas actively seeks out Israeli civilians to murder or abduct and deliberately fires rockets on civilian areas to kill as many Israelis as possible.
Israel does all it can to limit civilian casualties in its operations. Israel’s military specifically targets Hamas infrastructure, such as rocket launchers and production facilities, terrorist headquarters, terror tunnels, weapons warehouses, and senior terror leaders. For example, Israel employs a tactic known as “roof knocking” where it warns civilians through text messages or phone calls to evacuate a building before targeting it for destruction.
You will not hear much about all of this over at the BBC. But they’re not alone. Some 24-hour cable news channels, most notably MSNBC, also came under fire for its coverage.
The website AllIsraelNews had this piece about news coverage in the United States:
Ultra-liberal news network MSNBC was bemoaning Israel’s “military attacks” in the aftermath of bloody incursions by Hamas terrorists. The chyron on the lower third of TV screens read: “HIGH CIVILIAN CASUALTIES FEARED AS ISRAEL RETALIATES.”
Switching to CNN, I landed on a live interview with IDF spokesman, Maj. Doron Spielman. From CNN’s London bureau, with her co-anchor, Max Frost, staring stone-faced at Maj. Doron’s image on the split-screen, anchor Bianca Nobile stated: “I’d like to begin by asking whether or not you think this approach — an absolute siege on Gaza where civilians are being affected, um, killed — is ultimately the right thing to do.”
Nice slanted blame-the-victim weasel wording.
At that point, I began wondering if this clear media bias was restricted to broadcasting, so I turned to Thursday morning print coverage looking for some modicum of objectivity. Once again, I came up short.
The lead story in The Washington Post — a newspaper whose comically ironic slogan is Democracy Dies In Darkness — was headlined “Humanitarian crisis unfolding in Gaza; Hospitals running out of supplies amid siege.” The front page also displayed a photo of a distraught Palestinian man, running through the streets carrying his daughter after an Israeli “offensive.”
Over at the newspaper USA TODAY, the headline read: “US death toll rises; Hamas denies targeting kids.” (Apparently USA TODAY has not yet seen any graphic videos of young people being shot at point-blank range as Hamas militants paraglided into the Supernova Music Festival field outside the Kibbutz Re’im. Or multiple bodies of Israeli babies found beheaded in their cribs. Or toddlers kidnapped and spirited away, screaming, into Gaza.)
This is activist-media language, but you get the picture.
The piece went on to name some of the usual suspects, including The New York Times. In fact, the newspaper of record also refused to call those committing terrorist acts for Hamas “terrorists.” When they did, editors quickly edited it out, changing the story of record.
Meanwhile, the website Outkick made this observation on Oct. 11 regarding this quick-edit phenomena — illustrated by this very good example:
The New York Times finally referred to Hamas as “terrorists” on Tuesday in a news story headlined “Hamas Leaves Trail of Terror in Israel” with a subheadline as follows:
“As Israeli soldiers regain control of areas near Gaza that came under attack, they are finding evidence seen in videos and photos and confirmed by witness accounts of the massacre of civilians by Hamas terrorists.”
Previously, the Times referred to Hamas as “militants,” despite the organization reportedly beheading babies and raping civilians.
But not long after the publication of the article, the Times made a noticeable edit. A stealth edit, that is. An updated version of the article omitted the use of the word “terrorist” and replaced it with “gunmen.”
The article did not provide an explanation for the edit.
The same Outkick post had an explanation: This was it:
Hamas targets women and children for kidnapping and then for sexual assault and slavery. The U.S. Department of State designated the group a “foreign terrorist organization” in 1992. The Hamas playbook resembles that of ISIS, a terrorist group.
A gray area exists only for political advantage.
Far-left coalitions like BLM, The Squad, and various college campuses refuse to call Hamas “terrorist” on the basis that its attack on Israel was justified in the name of decolonization.
The talking point is ghoulish. But nonetheless a talking point, one in which the Times appears unwilling to side.
Why the stealth editing and struggle with this issue? It can very well be that among those on the political left, the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict has never been a religion story, but a political one.
Politically, they have largely backed the notion that the Palestinians are an oppressed people and that Israel is an “apartheid state,” like South Africa once was.
For those in elite newsrooms who hold similar political proclivities, the Oct. 8 massacre created what New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg, writing this past Sunday, a stunning turn of events in which “progressive Jews have been profoundly shaken by the way some on the left are treating the terrorist mass murder of civilians as noble acts of anti-colonial resistance.”
Here are the facts: Hamas is a terrorist group — and not only because the U.S. and Israel says so. Their actions are those of a terror organization. As a result, legacy news outlets shouldn’t be afraid to tell audiences the truth. Terrorists commit acts of terror.
This post was originally published at GetReligion.