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Major media outlets grossly underreport the number of Israelis under rocket fire

More than a million Israelis suddenly become “tens of thousands” and then “thousands.”

Israel's Iron Dome missile-defense system fires at rockets launched from the Gaza Strip at Israel on Aug. 7, 2022. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
Israel's Iron Dome missile-defense system fires at rockets launched from the Gaza Strip at Israel on Aug. 7, 2022. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
Tamar Sternthal
Tamar Sternthal
Tamar Sternthal is director of the Israel office of the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA).

How many Israelis have had to flee rockets fired from the Gaza Strip by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorist organization this weekend? It’s an easy question with a simple answer, and yet media giants the Associated Press and Reuters reduced 1 million fleeing Israelis to “tens of thousands,” while The New York Times cited just “thousands.”

Following communication from CAMERA’s Israel office today, both Reuters and AP commendably corrected their reports. As of this writing, the Times has yet to correct the information.

Initially, Reuters grossly underreported that Islamic Jihad “rocket salvoes have sent tens of thousands of Israelis to shelters.”

In fact, Islamic Jihad rockets have sent more than 1 million Israelis running to shelters, at locations in Ashkelon (population 140,000), Ashdod (226,000), Rishon Letzion (260,000), Holon (194,300), Bat Yam (130,000) and Sderot (28,000), in addition to the countless smaller yishuvim and kibbutzim. Among other targets were Tel Aviv (461,000), Mevaseret Zion (25,000), Abu Ghosh (8,000) and Har Adar (5,000).

(This writer was on her way to Shabbat lunch yesterday when a siren went off, forcing her to run to a neighbor’s home and crowd into their family’s protected room to wait out the Iron Dome interception. She lives in the central city of Modi’in, 67 kilometers away from Gaza. In that alone, she was one of 100,000 residents compelled to flee to safety.)

Notably, this was not the first time that Reuters made this identical error. During a 2019 round of violence very similar to this week’s, Reuters corrected after similarly misreporting that rockets were “sending thousands of people to shelters.”

In response to a communication from CAMERA about today’s error, Reuters amended the text to more accurately report that “rocket salvoes have paralyzed much of southern Israel and sent residents in cities like Tel Aviv and Ashkelon to shelters.”

Yet contrary to common journalistic practice, including Reuters’ own, the news agency did not append a clarification alerting readers to the change. In addition, it’s notable that both today and in 2019, the corrections avoid stating the actual correct figure—1 million fleeing Israelis—although the original number had indeed included a specific (and wrong) figure of tens of thousands.

The Associated Press, originally reported: “Islamic Jihad fired over 200 rockets and projectiles at Israeli cities and towns in the south and center, disrupting life for tens of thousands of people.”

In response to CAMERA’s follow-up, AP commendably amended the text, citing rockets “disrupting life for hundreds of thousands of people.” Its correction, like Reuters’, was also stealthy, with no appended note alerting readers to the change.

The Times of Israel, which also published the AP story, commendably fixed its copy even before AP did. Its corrected copy accurately refers to rockets “disrupting life for well over a million Israelis.”

Meanwhile, The New York Times further minimized the threat to Israel’s population, erroneously reporting: “One airstrike on Friday killed a senior Islamic Jihad commander in Gaza, and prompted the group to return fire with several rocket and mortar barrages that sent thousands of Israelis into bomb shelters overnight Friday.”

By Friday night, the residents of Bat Yam, Holon, Ashdod, Ashkelon, Rishon Lezion and Sderot, plus all of the small communities in the Gaza envelope area, had already visited their bomb shelters.

Tamar Sternthal is director of CAMERA’s Israel Office

This article was 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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