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The Real Misinformation Merchants
Every basic journalistic practice was thrown out the window yesterday in pursuit of a sordid little narrative.
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Readers of this newsletter know well that in recent years mainstream media organizations have cried wolf about the spread of misinformation online. Indeed, according to the people of whom these organizations are comprised, so grave is the problem that they’ve all become cheerleaders for censoring speech on the internet, even in collusion with the federal government. But yesterday, the world’s leading news outlets practically jumped at the chance to spread terrorist propaganda in what was arguably the worst press failure in decades—one that had severe real-world consequences, and which should dispel the notion that these people are trustworthy gatekeepers.
By now you’ve probably heard that there was an explosion Tuesday night at the Al-Ahli Baptist Hospital in Gaza. Hamas immediately claimed that it was the result of an Israeli airstrike, and that some 500 people had been killed.
Right away there were many reasons why any journalist should be skeptical. It is well known that Israel doesn’t target hospitals—so well known, in fact, that Hamas literally has its headquarters at a hospital. And it would obviously be extremely unwise for Israel to drop a bomb on a hospital — especially on the eve of President Biden’s visit — considering the monumental public relations victory it would hand Hamas during a time when many people around the globe aren’t exactly on the side of the Jewish state.
Moreover, Hamas has a long record of lying1 about munitions aimed at Israel that misfire and end up landing within Gaza. The terrorist organization fires a wide variety of rockets and mortar bombs, with some produced domestically that are effectively “homemade” from old water pipes. Unsurprisingly, the failure and malfunction rate of such ordnance is high. Back in the summer of 2022, Hamas tempers flared at Islamic Jihad over rocket attacks that killed Palestinian civilians. A year earlier, in 2021, Human Rights Watch investigated a barrage of rockets landing on both sides of the border and concluded that, “Munitions apparently directed toward Israel that misfired and fell short killed and injured an undetermined number of Palestinians in Gaza.”
We now know that the Tuesday night explosion at Ahli Baptist Hospital was indeed a predictable short-round episode that happens when Hamas and Islamic Jihad take up firing positions deep inside civilian territory and uses civilian infrastructure as shields.
Notably, Hamas hasn’t provided evidence to back up its claim, but Israel has, and it presents an uncomplicated picture. Footage from multiple angles of the Gaza Strip shows at least one missile in an outgoing barrage directed toward Israel failing and descending back onto Gazan territory—not an uncommon occurrence given the notorious unreliability of the rockets used by Hamas, as mentioned above. Israel Defense Forces have since released intercepted communications between Hamas terrorists confirming that one of Islamic Jihad’s errant rockets landed “on the right side of the al-Ma’amadani hospital.” Video and images from the scene also show that the destruction occurred to the hospital’s courtyard and parking lot — with “no singular crater suggesting it was from a bomb,” and no sign that high-power munitions were detonated — while the surrounding buildings are intact. If the IDF wanted those buildings destroyed, it would have easily been able to do so.2
And yet, the mainstream media ran with Hamas’s propaganda right from the start.
The New York Times led the way with a banner headline — “Israeli Strike Kills Hundreds in Hospital, Palestinians Say” — and then proceeded to change it multiple times without including any kind of editor’s note.
Below, you can see that the Times changed “Location of Hospital Airstrike” to “Location of Hospital Explosion”:
Note also the photo of a bombed building that was used under the headline on the paper’s main page (left), even though it wasn’t the hospital, as well as the interesting euphemism used (right):
The Times was far from alone. CNN, Reuters, AP, and Politico among others also uncritically spread Hamas’s claim:
Then we have Ben Collins, one of NBC’s “disinformation” beat reporters, who sprained his finger yesterday retweeting disinformation. Imagine being someone who “covers disinformation, extremism, and the internet” who got fooled by disinformation, from extremists, on the internet. It’s also worth noting that Collins received an award this year for “best practices of TV journalism aimed at combating disinformation and defending democracy.”
Meanwhile, we have these two Squad members spreading stories of mass death and destruction to millions on the say so of the group that just conducted a mass murder of civilians:
Twenty-four hours after posting these falsehoods, Omar and Tlaib still haven’t deleted them. Indeed, today at a rally, Tlaib broke down in tears while repeating that Israel bombed a hospital. She then proceeded to storm the Capitol building with protestors in tow. Neither Omar nor Tlaib were willing to answer any questions from National Review about their decision to tweet and stand by misinformation. I’m sure the Washington Post, NBC, New York Times, and Politico will have their mis-/disinformation beats covering this.
All of this could have, and should have been avoided, if only these people had responded to Hamas’s claims with some incredulity, cautioned patience, and waited a few hours to confirm events as they occurred. The episode represents a black mark upon the media outlets and politicians who used the incident as a pretext to cast scorn on Israel from great moral heights, rushing to leverage the event in order to justify their prejudices while filling in the obvious gaps in Hamas’s narrative with conjecture presented as absolute fact.
The appropriate way for the media to have handled the story would have been to state in headlines that there was a blast or explosion at a hospital in Gaza. The body of the story could have then cited Hamas’s claim while also noting that Israel was investigating the matter. Instead, nearly every legacy outlet in the country rushed to parrot a blood libel peddled by an actual honest to God terrorist group just weeks after it committed a massacre because it allowed “journalists” to reframe Jews as the perpetrators instead of the victims.
I find it impossible not to have bottomless contempt after what can only be described as a shameful act of unprofessionalism and motivated reasoning led an inexcusably large constituency within media to promote a false narrative. The benefit of the doubt should not be extended to these people given the absolute essential background knowledge anyone establishing the record should be expected to have.
And the consequences of this deliberate effort to establish a moral equivalency between Israel and Hamas are not minor. It has led to mass protests and riots around the globe, attacks on Jewish symbols, and the cancelation of bilateral meetings between the president and his counterparts in Jordan, Egypt, and the Palestinian Authority. That last part should be what matters most to you, regardless of how you feel about Israel/Palestine: Muslim governments bought the lie and parroted it and decided to cancel all negotiations surrounding an end to the conflict. Our “truth-seekers” in the media have inflamed tensions by uncritically spouting incredibly weak propaganda and reporting Hamas’s line without evidence, turning up the temperature, hurting the cause of peace, and reinvigorating calls for Jewish genocide.
Members of the mainstream media covet a picture of themselves as guardians against misinformation, when in reality they’re the leading spreaders. The tale they like to tell is one in which they’re guided by a commitment to the truth and take accountability for their errors. But in this case, the most “reputable” news outlets credulously spread false information released by a known terrorist entity — with big and immediate geopolitical consequences — and there will be zero accountability, zero reflection, zero remorse. Going forward, one should understand that the people reporting on this conflict aren’t engaged in a dispassionate effort to chronicle events. Rather, they seek to shape events, even when that means engaging in unscrupulous malpractice and sacrificing fidelity to the truth.
Yes, I know the Israeli government lies as well, please don’t yell at me in the comments.