Following Israel’s 2006 war in Lebanon, veteran journalist Marvin Kalb, senior fellow at Harvard’s Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy, detailed how Hezbollah manipulated the press. A similar report can be written when the war with Hamas is over. In the following excerpts, substitute Hamas for Hezbollah.
Israel is automatically at a disadvantage in any conflict because it is an open society. “During the war,” Kalb noted, “no Hezbollah secrets were disclosed, but in Israel, secrets were leaked, rumors spread like wildfire, leaders felt obliged to issue hortatory appeals often based on incomplete knowledge, and journalists were driven by the fire of competition to publish and broadcast unsubstantiated information.”
Have any of Hamas’s secrets been revealed? No. To the contrary, even when shown evidence of secret tunnels and the use of civilian locations as hideouts and arsenals, The New York Times has questioned the evidence. The Times gives aid and comfort to Israel’s enemies by repeating its propaganda, quoting Hamas officials and others who cannot speak freely without risking retribution.
Worse, the Times has been giving Hamas targeting information by mapping Israeli troop movements. Have you seen the Times publish maps of Ukrainian troop movements? It is as if Times editors want to hasten the Jews’ destruction by enacting the Hadith in the Hamas Charter: “The Day of Judgement will not come about until Muslims fight the Jews. When the Jew will hide behind stones and trees, the stones and trees will say, “O Muslims, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.”
Who needs talking trees when you have the Times?
Kalb reported what media watchdogs knew, but journalists rarely admitted—that Hezbollah strictly controlled their access to stories in Lebanon. “Foreign correspondents were warned, on entry to the tour [of a southern Beirut suburb], that they could not wander off on their own or ask questions of any residents. They could only take pictures of sites approved by their Hezbollah minders. Violations, they were told, would be treated harshly. Cameras would be confiscated, film or tape destroyed, and offending reporters never again allowed access to Hezbollah officials or Hezbollah-controlled areas. Kalb compared the terms to those of the Soviet era and said that only CNN’s Anderson Cooper described the ground rules Hezbollah imposed to control the story. Kalb said, “All of the other reporters followed the Hezbollah script: Israel, in a cruel, heartless display of power, bombed innocent civilians. Casualties were high. Devastation was everywhere. So spoke the Hezbollah spokesman; so wrote many in the foreign press corps.”
Cooper, again, is one of the few to admit the same constraints hold for reporters in the Gaza Strip. Still, even CNN does not tell you that all those humanitarian workers who disseminate Hamas propaganda even after they leave Gaza would not be allowed to do their jobs if they criticized the terrorists or strayed from the Hamas narrative. In the last operation in Gaza, for example, the director of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) operations in Gaza acknowledged that the IDF’s attacks were precise and directed at military targets. He was forced to recant and withdraw from Gaza. Earlier in this war, UNRWA deleted tweets that revealed Hamas had stolen fuel and medical supplies from one of its compounds.
Cameramen didn’t need permission to film devastation, but they were warned against taking pictures of Hezbollah terrorists. “The rarest picture of all,” Kalb observes, “was that of a Hezbollah guerilla. It was as if the war on the Hezbollah side was being fought by ghosts.” The Herald Sun of Australia also published equally rare photos showing Hezbollah preparing to fire rockets from civilian neighborhoods—the type of visual evidence that, if widely disseminated, could have quickly discredited the inaccurate reports of Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.
Hamas has also been ghostlike. Is there any place on earth today with more intense media attention, and yet, since the war began, have you seen a single picture of a Hamas terrorist or anyone firing one of the more than 12,000 rockets targeting Israel? Some photographers just happened to be with the Hamas terrorists on Oct. 7, but we’re told they weren’t tipped off. Now, who has the credibility problem?
The press repeats statistics that most know come from the Hamas-run Health Ministry, but have they made efforts to verify the information? Reporters might as well be taking dictation from Hamas senior leader Yahya Sinwar himself. They know the Hamas casualty figures include terrorists and yet they continue to repeat that they are all innocents. How many are men that are the age of Hamas recruits? Hamas stopped publicizing the ages of casualties and instead put out numbers the press cannot verify of women and children. Israel has said it has killed at least 7,000 terrorists. That would mean, even if the Hamas figures were accurate, that more than one-third of the dead are terrorists. The press might be reminded that in “Operation Cast Lead” in 2008-09, Israel was accused of killing more than 1,400 Palestinians. The IDF was disbelieved when it said 709 of them were terrorists, but Hamas Interior Minister Fathi Hammad later admitted that it lost between 600 and 700 men.
Kalb was also correct about the media publishing unsubstantiated information. Time after time, publications and broadcast media have reported something as fact while acknowledging that the information could not be confirmed. Typically, if the data comes from Hamas, it is treated as accurate, while anything coming from Israel is received with skepticism if not disdain. Can you imagine a headline like “GOP-run hospital found that Joe Biden is senile, sources say” and then admitting in the text the information could not be verified?
Perhaps the best example of the rush to judgment and the devastating impact of the media’s inaccuracy were reports that Israel bombed the Al-Ahli Arab Hospital and killed nearly 500 civilians. Spoon-fed lies by Hamas, the media repeated them and were responsible for inflaming opinion against Israel worldwide. The facts, which the press was not interested in waiting for, indicated that a misfired Palestinian Islamic Jihad rocket hit a parking lot next to the hospital, not the hospital itself, and that the number of casualties was between 100 and 300. By the time the truth was reported, it was too late.
Most of the media refuses to believe that Hamas uses hospitals, mosques and schools for their purposes. Since history begins only when they arrive on the scene, reporters ignored all prior evidence, for example, that Hamas used the Shifa Hospital as a base. Even now, after presented evidence and confirmation by U.S. intelligence, reporters believe Hamas’s denials.
Kalb noted how Hezbollah could control how it was portrayed to the world, and no mention was made of its dependence on Iran. Similarly, little is said about Hamas’s dependence on Iran, and instead, its narrative of people resisting “occupation” and injustice is foisted on a gullible and ill-informed public. Initially, Hamas said it was defending the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem. How many journalists questioned the basis for that claim or asked why it fired rockets at Jerusalem, forcing worshippers on the Temple Mount to flee to shelters?
As in Lebanon, Israel is accused of indiscriminately targeting civilians while terrorists use them as shields. Kalb noted that Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, had said before the war that Hezbollah fighters “live in their [civilians’] houses, in their schools, in their churches, in their fields, in their farms and in their factories.” Something to keep in mind when the war in Lebanon begins in earnest.
In another parallel, Kalb observed that reporters said Hezbollah started the war, and casualties were a consequence of the fighting, “but after the first week, such references were either dropped or downplayed, leaving the widespread impression that Israel was a loose cannon shooting at anything that moved.” Similarly, the media acknowledged the Oct. 7 massacre was the catalyst for war but shifted its focus to accusations that Israel is not making a sufficient effort to avoid civilian casualties even after National Security Council Spokesperson John Kirby said Israel had taken unprecedented steps to warn civilians. “That’s basically telegraphing your punches. There are very few modern militaries in the world that would do that. I don’t know that we would do that,” Kirby said at a press briefing.
You must give the media credit for consistency. Too bad it is for ignoring journalistic ethics and biased reporting related to Israel.