Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) wrote to executives of the Associated Press, CNN, The New York Times and Reuters on Thursday about concerns that freelance journalists they have employed might have had foreknowledge of the Oct. 7 mass murders by Hamas terrorists in southern Israel.
“According to reports, members of your staff were embedded with Hamas, knew about the attack, and not only went along with it but accompanied members of Hamas as they carried out the attack,” he wrote.
“If your employees, as part of their work, participated in terrorist activities or if your organization or employees provided material support (including any funding) to Hamas, the leadership of your organization may also face criminal penalties under federal law,” the Arkansas Republican added.
Cotton also penned a letter to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, calling on the U.S. Justice Department to investigate the media companies.
“The Department of Justice must immediately open a national security investigation into these four media outlets to determine whether they or their leadership committed federal crimes by supporting Hamas terrorists,” Cotton wrote.
A lawyer for The New York Times replied to Cotton’s letter on Friday, saying he was “parroting disinformation harvested from the Internet based on a website that has conceded that it has no evidence for its claims.”
“Falsehoods circulated on the Internet are many things, but they are most certainly not ‘reports,’” wrote David McCraw, deputy general counsel for the Times. “They also should not be abused by a U.S. senator to falsely accuse fellow Americans of crimes.”
The media watchdog HonestReporting published a report on Wednesday about Gaza-based freelance photojournalists who covered the Oct. 7 attacks. It suggested that their presence there early on a Saturday morning and Jewish holiday may have meant the journalists were forewarned of the attacks.
All four of the news outlets issued statements denying foreknowledge of the attacks. Reuters and the AP pointed out that the first photographs from the Gaza border were taken at least an hour after the attacks began.
“We had no prior knowledge of the Oct. 7 attacks,” a CNN spokesman told JNS on Thursday. “Hassan Eslaiah, who was a freelance journalist working for us and many other outlets, was not working for the network on Oct. 7. As of today, we have severed all ties with him.”
AP said it was also cutting ties with Eslaiah, whose social-media posts revealed that he had traveled miles into Israel during the attack.
One post appears to show him riding on a motorcycle with a man holding a hand grenade, while another from before Oct. 7 shows Eslaiah receiving a kiss on the cheek from Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar, who Israel says orchestrated the massacre.