OpinionIsrael at War

CNN’s advocacy journalism

The network misreports a Gaza civilian casualty incident in order to defame Israel.

CNN headquarters in Atlanta. Credit: EQRoy/Shutterstock.
CNN headquarters in Atlanta. Credit: EQRoy/Shutterstock.
Karen Bekker
Karen Bekker
Karen Bekker is the assistant director of the Media Response Team at CAMERA.

CNN appears to be advocating for a further U.S. arms embargo on Israel in a pair of articles masquerading as journalism on its website. Both articles strongly emphasized that strikes were conducted using U.S.-made weapons while downplaying the precision nature of those weapons and the fact that they were used to target terrorists while causing minimal civilian casualties.

In an article originally published on June 6, but updated several times, cnn.com ran the headline, “Israel strike on UN school that left dozens dead used U.S. munitions, CNN analysis finds” (by Abeer Salman, Mohammad Al Sawalhi, Rob Picheta and Allegra Goodwin) and, on May 29, “U.S.-made munitions used in deadly strike on Rafah tent camp, CNN analysis shows” (by Allegra Goodwin, Avery Schmitz and Kathleen Magramo). 

The IDF strike that was the subject of the June 6 CNN article occurred early in the morning of that day. The Times of Israel reported, “The Israel Defense Forces carried out an airstrike on what it said was a compound used by dozens of Hamas fighters inside a United Nations school … where 20-30 terrorists, some of whom participated in the Oct. 7 onslaught, were gathered. … According to the military, the members of the terror groups were struck while gathered in three classrooms, separate from an area where civilians were sheltering.” Approximately 20-30 members of Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad were believed to have been killed in the strike.

Yet the first paragraph of the CNN article gave selective information: “dozens of people” were killed, the strike was on “a United Nations-run school,” a “CNN analysis found [the strike] was conducted with a U.S.-made weapon.”

Later in the article, CNN does provide the information that the IDF claimed “‘20 to 30 Hamas and Islamic Jihad’ militants were targeted in the strike, and … those targeted were ‘using the facilities to plan and execute attacks’ against Israeli forces. Militants who were involved in the Oct. 7 attacks on Israel were among those killed.”

However, this information is accompanied by the disclaimer that “CNN cannot independently verify any of those claims or the identities of the nine people the IDF said it identified.” CNN applied no such disclaimer to claims attributed to “the Gaza government media office,” nor was there any mention that this office must be an arm of Hamas.

Moreover, by the evening of June 6, reported The Times of Israel, Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital “amended [its] records to show that the dead were three women, nine children and 21 men.” Yet on June 7, CNN’s article still incorrectly said, “at least 40 people were killed in the strike, according to medical workers at the nearby Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital.”

The same pattern of focusing on the source of the weapons while undercutting Israel’s claims about the way those weapons were used is evident in CNN.com’s reporting about events that occurred over Memorial Day weekend.

On Sunday, May 26, the IDF carried out a targeted strike on two Hamas officials in Rafah. According to IDF Spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, “The strike was based on precise intelligence that indicated that these terrorists, who were responsible for orchestrating and executing terror attacks against Israelis, were meeting inside this structure we targeted.”

Nevertheless, tragically, in the aftermath of the strike, a fire broke out about 600 feet away from the strike, killing civilians. Hagari speculated that stored munitions may have caused the fire. But, as we saw before with the Al-Ahli Hospital, misinformation about the tragic incident abounded.

This misinformation appears to have originated with The Washington Post. A May 27 article in the Post began, “At least 35 people were killed and dozens injured in an Israeli strike on a tent camp in a part of the southern Gazan city of Rafah that Israel’s military had designated a ‘humanitarian zone’ for displaced Palestinians, according to Gazan officials.”

The Post stated, “The makeshift camp was within Block 2371, an area that was designated a humanitarian safe zone by Israeli officials on May 22.” The Post’s source, Muhammad Abu Hani, is described as “a civil defense official in the Gaza Strip”—that is, a Hamas official.

But as CAMERA’s Sean Durns pointed out, “The entire story came undone within hours of it being filed.” Then, as Durns noted, astonishingly, the Post deleted the story instead of correcting the error. (An archived version is available here.)

On the same date, the online English-language edition of the Israeli daily Haaretz mistakenly reported that there had been two airstrikes and that the “second airstrike [was] on an adjacent tent encampment.” Haaretz, however, corrected this claim, and the article now reads, “For reasons that remain unclear, there was a secondary explosion at an adjacent tent encampment. It’s possible that a fragment from one of the bombs strayed into the camp, causing a large fire there.”

Although the specific claim about Block 2371 didn’t survive, the basic premise of the Post’s retracted story—that Israel intentionally struck a tent camp—still made it into multiple other news outlets, including CNN. A May 29 headline on cnn.com, as noted above, read, “U.S.-made munitions used in deadly strike on Rafah tent camp, CNN analysis shows.”

The first sentence of the May 29 article stated that “munitions made in the United States were used in the deadly Israeli strike on a displacement camp in Rafah on Sunday, a CNN analysis of video from the scene and a review by explosive weapons experts has found.” But CNN’s own analysis pertained only to the source of the weapon and the location of the fire, not to where the Israeli strike occurred. Even though Israel said that the strike was not on the tent camp, CNN reported Hamas’s claim as fact.

What is undisputed is that there was an Israeli strike and that civilians died in a subsequent fire. But the IDF claims the strike was about 180 meters—a little under 600 feet—from the tent camp at which the fire occurred, and that the fire was likely caused by shrapnel from the strike hitting munitions stored in the populated area. The munitions then exploded. None of the expert statements collected by CNN are inconsistent with the IDF claims. Yet the CNN headline and lede imply that there was no ambiguity as to what occurred, legitimizing only Hamas’s claims.

CNN claims that it geolocated videos showing the fire as well as photos showing “the tail of a U.S.-made GBU-39 small diameter bomb (SDB),” in other words, shrapnel. It interviewed no less than four supposed experts in explosive weapons, including Chris Cobb-Smith, to identify the U.S.-made SDB. But none of that proves that the tent camp was the intended target of the strike itself or that it was directly hit.  

It is not until paragraph 22 that CNN’s readers will learn that Hagari, the IDF spokesman, said that “our munitions alone could not have ignited a fire of this size”—if the reader makes it that far, traversing details not only about the GBU-39 but a version of the GBU-39 that CNN doesn’t even claim was the one used.

Moreover, the second article, published on June 6, said the incident “marks the second time in two weeks that CNN has been able to verify the use of U.S.-manufactured munitions in deadly Israeli attacks on displaced Palestinians, the first being a deadly IDF strike on a displacement camp in Rafah on May 26.”

By June 6, however, it should have been clear that there were contested claims about the May 26 incident.

An AFP photo of the June 6 strike, which can be seen here, shows exactly how precise the strike with the SDB was. But CNN ignores this. As CNN’s own “expert,” Cobb-Smith, told the network, “The GBU-39, which is manufactured by Boeing, is a high-precision munition ‘designed to attack strategically important point targets,’ and result in low collateral damage.”

And as CNN also noted, Hagari said of the SDB that it was “the smallest munitions that our jets could use.” Those who support the goal of eliminating Hamas while minimizing harm to civilians ought to applaud the use of these American-made weapons. But not CNN.

By downplaying the role of Hamas and PIJ combatants in these strikes and undercutting Israel’s version of events, while focusing on the American weapons used in both articles, CNN is clearly promoting an agenda and not merely reporting.

Originally published by CAMERA.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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