In recent weeks, a lot has been written about the problematic media coverage of the war between Hamas and Israel. Richard Landes mentions many of the relevant articles in a thorough overview published at The American Interest, where he focuses on “The Media’s Role in Hamas’ War Strategy” and argues that “Hamas shows full cognizance of the media’s importance.” As Landes rightly emphasizes, the terror group has even “issued detailed directions to Gazan ‘social media activists’” and it is hard to imagine that the local “fixers” on whom foreign journalists working in Gaza rely would feel free to ignore what Landes calls the “Hamas media protocols.”
The media coverage we have seen largely confirms that Hamas got what it wanted: lots of images and reports about the suffering of Gaza’s civilians; barely a sighting or a mention of Hamas fighters and their use of civilian neighborhoods – including UN facilities, hospitals and mosques – to launch rockets and conceal their weapons. Likewise, the media have largely ignored the hundreds of Hamas rockets that have fallen short and have obviously caused damage and casualties.
However, by now the Foreign Press Association has protested “the blatant, incessant, forceful and unorthodox methods employed by the Hamas authorities and their representatives against visiting international journalists in Gaza over the past month.” But it seems not everyone agrees that this protest is justified: Ha’aretz has published a lengthy report that cites several journalists claiming that Hamas “didn’t censor” the foreign media reporting from Gaza. Interestingly, most of the journalists interviewed by Ha’aretz “asked to remain anonymous.”
The views expressed by one of these anonymous journalists are arguably particularly interesting, because they show that even without any interference from Hamas, some reporters may have been all too willing to deliver what Hamas wanted. Ha’aretz cites a “reporter with 30 years experience in hot spots worldwide” who indignantly claimed that “Israel wants reporters to write about the conflict as it conceived it, as a security problem framed by the IDF,” whereas journalists generally prefer to focus on the “humanitarian impact of conflict.”
It may well be true that this is the general preference of most journalists, though it seems that most journalists also prefer to make an exception for Israel: whenever Israel is forced to defend itself against the terror groups on its borders, the foreign media devote very little attention to the toll these campaigns take on Israeli civilians, preferring instead to show heavily armed Israeli soldiers and tanks. Indeed, all too often, the price Israeli society pays for combatting the ever present threat of heavily armed terror groups that resemble well equipped and organized armies is belittled in the media where the “if it bleeds, it leads”-rule combines with the quest for a mindlessly mechanistic “balance” to produce ruminations about a “disproportionate” casualty count that shows too few dead Jews to warrant much empathy. And as Navi Pillay, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has so preposterously demonstrated, Israel’s enormous investments in defensive measures can even be presented as putting Hamas at a most unfair disadvantage.
But the veteran journalist cited by Ha’aretz made the perhaps most revealing statement when s/he declared: “I personally chose not to speak to Hamas mouthpieces because I hold Hamas propaganda in as much contempt as that of Netanyahu.”
Debates raging on social networks illustrate that many would be inclined to consider this a “balanced” statement. On the one hand, there is a terrorist group that keeps reaffirming the genocidal goals spelled out in its fascist charter; on the other hand, there is the prime minister of a western-style democracy – but who can tell the difference??? And if the journalists who report about the democracy trying to defend its citizens from relentless attacks by murderous jihadi terrorists can’t tell the difference, who can blame their audiences?