(June 3, 2015 / JNS)
Last year’s war between Israel and Hamas seems to have only just ended. But it appears that a different terrorist group is already preparing to start another fight with Israel. Hezbollah has been amassing weaponry on the Lebanese-Israeli border and placing its weapons within civilian villages, hoping that the likelihood of high casualty rates will deter an Israeli attack.
If a war does erupt, how will the Catholic News Service (CNS) cover it?
CNS publishes articles used by 170 local Catholic newspapers and broadcasters within the United States, and 70 news organizations around the globe. Though a division of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, CNS prides itself on being “editorially independent,” with a staff of “trained, professional journalists.” Despite this mandate, however, its record of impartial reporting on the Middle East is less than stellar.
In its coverage of the 2014 Israel-Hamas war, CNS suffered from a lack of Israeli quotes, particularly in response to some of the more egregious assertions and factual inaccuracies found in the articles.
In one article, “Jerusalem patriarch: Don’t punish all Gaza Palestinians because of Hamas,” published on July 23, CNS quoted Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal of Jerusalem, who said regarding the rockets Hamas fired into civilian areas of Israel, “Remember these rockets: They make noise, they make fear, they never killed one person.”
And yet by the time the article was published, more than 50 people had been killed by Palestinian rocket and mortar fire. The last two had died in the eight days prior to the publication of the article. Another died the day the article was published.
Had CNS sought an Israeli source, this falsehood could have been countered, and maybe even kept out of print altogether.
Other articles included similar mistakes. Many, such as “Cease-fire gives Gaza civilians chance to assess damage, seek aid” on July 17, accepted at face value Hamas’s claim that most of the Palestinian casualties were civilians. In truth, however, an analysis of the casualty list reveals that many were terrorists. Hamas’s Interior Ministry encouraged social activists to tell news sources that all those who died were civilians, a strategy that Hamas has often used in the past.
Speaking to an Israeli source could have protected CNS from making this error.
In “Christian patriarchs denounce silence on persecution in the Mideast,” published on
Aug. 11, CNS reported on the Middle East Catholic and Orthodox patriarchs’ characterization of the actions of the Israel Defense Forces as “inhumane” and “a crime against humanity.” Such an allegation certainly deserved a response, particularly given that Israel took great pains to warn Palestinian citizens of impending attacks and used weaponry that minimizes civilian casualties.
CNS articles further suffered from a lack of context. “CRS official: Gaza a ‘complete catastrophe’ on ‘brink of collapse,’” from Aug. 4, condemned attacks on United Nations facilities, but failed to mention that Hamas stored weaponry in such buildings. The aforementioned “Jerusalem patriarch: Don’t punish all Palestinians because of Hamas” bemoaned the lack of bomb shelters in Gaza, but did not acknowledge that Hamas took the cement meant for bomb shelters and used it instead to construct bunkers for its weaponry and tunnels to conduct terror attacks in Israel.
Some articles had historical omissions. Both “Holy Land bishops criticize ‘collective punishment’ of Palestinians,” from July 9, and “Jerusalem patriarch: Don’t punish all Gaza Palestinians because of Hamas” entertained claims that Hamas’s terrorist activity is a result of the blockade on Gaza. These articles failed to recognize that such attacks occurred before the blockade was established and were the reason for its creation.
Further, “No electricity, water: Caritas official to launch appeal for Gaza,” from July 18, as well as the aforementioned “Holy Land bishops criticize ‘collective punishment’ of Palestinians” described Israel’s military operation against Hamas without acknowledging the reasons behind it. They did not mention that Hamas had been firing rockets into civilian areas of southern Israel, or that the IDF had uncovered Hamas’s network of tunnels used for terror.
If CNS hopes to remain true to its promise of impartiality and verity, it must start to seek out quotes from all sides of any conflict. While this may mean including figures that challenge church leaders’ claims, it will help ensure that CNS does not again leave out so many vital facts.
As long as CNS considers itself a news service and not a front for propaganda, it is imperative that it prioritizes, above all else, conveying the truth. Only by doing so will its readers obtain a fair presentation of “the news which affects Catholics in their everyday lives.”
Edyt Dickstein, an intern at the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (www.camera.org), is a junior studying government at Harvard University.