How not to win a Pulitzer

Published May 19, 2024
The writer is a former editor of Dawn
The writer is a former editor of Dawn

ISRAEL’S destructive military campaign in Gaza, which has so far killed over 35,000 Palestinians, including nearly 14,000 children over the past seven months in revenge for the Hamas assault on Oct 7 last year, has exposed the objectivity and impartiality claims of many leading Western newspapers and media outlets.

The New York Times, whose coverage of the Oct 7 events and its aftermath won the 2024 Pulitzer for international coverage, has been disappointing in so many ways. Analysts have for months strung together its headlines that refrained from naming Israel for the mass killings in Gaza.

A couple of its stories have come in for considerable stick after readers and small independent digital media platforms investigated not just the claims contained in them but also who was responsible for the newsgathering, ie, whose byline appeared on these.

The foremost example of such reporting was a front-page story on Dec 31, 2023, which detailed the alleged rape of many Israeli women by the Oct 7 attackers. There was scepticism within the Times newsroom and its print story, which was also to be made into a podcast, never made it into audio.

Most Western media will have you believe the Palestine issue cropped up on Oct 7, and not with the Nakba.

One of the murdered women’s families, which was cited as a source by the Times reporters, later said they did not believe she was raped, and neither did the reporters mention rape when interviewing them. About a third of the story was centred on this particular victim. (Watch the investigation by ‘Breaking Points’ journalists online.)

After The Intercept reported on the serious differences of opinion in the NYT newsroom over the editorial decisions on the rape story, the union representing 1,500 NYT newsroom staff, made a representation to the management decrying the ‘interrogation’ of staff of Middle Eastern origin on suspicion of leaking the story.

When asked at a public forum about his evidence, Jeffery Gettleman, whose byline appeared alongside two other reporters, said he was uncomfortable with the term ‘evidence’ as it applied to courts and that the journalist’s job is to ‘present information’. I would have added ‘credible information’.

It emerged later that an Israeli, Anat Schwartz, who shared the byline with Gettleman, had ‘liked’ posts that were vehemently anti-Palestinian (she later took down her social media accounts). It also emerged she served in the Israeli Defence Forces and was in the Air Intelligence, possibly a Hasbara specialist.

Another story appeared this March about the ‘food convoy stampede’ in late February, which killed around 100 starving Palestinians and left another 700 wounded as they tried to reach the trucks.

The Israeli version was taken as fact by the NYT journalist reporting on the event. Multiple sources and media outlets reported that the IDF opened automatic fire on the Palestinians, and the IDF itself vaguely acknowledged this fact while blaming the victims for it.

Yasemin Giritli nceolu, a visiting professor of media studies at the LSE Media and Communication Department, says there is nothing new in this pro-Israel bias in the Western media. Writing in The Wire, she quoted a 2011 study by the Glasgow Media Group on the BBC’s news broadcasts, which documented the differences in language used for Israelis and Palestinians.

Google her piece for many such examples where NYT and Washington Post headlines displayed a brazen tilt, and even the BBC World/News handle on X used ‘dead’ for those killed in Gaza and ‘killed’ for Israelis.

Most Western media will have you believe the Palestine issue cropped up on Oct 7, 2023 and not with the Nakba in 1948.

An Associated Press story on the Columbia University students’ protest said:

“The latest Israel-Hamas war began when Hamas and other militants stormed into southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing around 1,200 people and taking an additional 250 hostage. Palestinian militants still hold about 100 captives, and Israel’s military has killed more than 35,000 people in Gaza, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry, which doesn’t distinguish between civilians and combatants.”

Ironically, AP itself does not make the same distinction, as it does not mention that the 1,200 Israelis killed on Oct 7 included some 400 security personnel.

By contrast, Israel’s Haaretz newspaper incurred the wrath of its own government when the cabinet considered banning it on national security grounds because it carried (and continues to carry) several pieces criticising Netanyahu’s Gaza policy and printed graphic accounts of killings and destruction in the Strip. All Israeli TV channels censor Gaza stories and footage.

A Haaretz story based on released Palestinian prisoner testimonies about widespread sexual abuse and torture got little to no traction in the Western media.

Most of the US and UK media are either blindly sympathetic to Israel or petrified of it to do the kind of journalism they should be doing. I am aware only of British-American journalist Mehdi Hasan being dropped by his channel in the US.

However, there are several cases in the UK where journalists have either had to offer grovelling public apologies (LBC’s Natasha Devon for questioning the rape stories) or have been sacked from their jobs for robustly questioning Israeli government functionaries. Bella Donati (SkyNews) and Sangita Myska (LBC) are two examples.

But all is not as bleak. Some of the journalists on CNN have done sterling work. Matthew Chance’s story, based on whistle-blowers’ accounts of Palestinian detainees’ sub-human treatment and torture at a military-run camp, made headlines. CNN’s Jomana Karadsheh reported not just on the 14,000 children killed but also on the heart-breaking plight of the 20,000 WCNSF (wounded child, no surviving family), many of whom are amputees.

Israel may have banned Al Jazeera recently for its bold, powerful reporting, but the widespread use of social media bringing to our smartphones horrific images of the Gaza mass murder is slowly turning the tide against the total endorsement of the Israeli position. The student protests in the US and Europe are just one indication.

Admittedly, there is a long way to go. Palestin­ians have been dehumanised so systematically and for so long that they have indeed become children of a lesser God. Journalists around the world react very strongly to the killing of one of their own but over 100 Palestinian journalists have been killed but you hear very little of them.

The writer is a former editor of Dawn.

abbas.nasir@hotmail.com

Published in Dawn, May 19th, 2024

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