Media Inflated Civilian Deaths at Gaza School, Ignored Israeli Account

On January 6, 2009, there was an infamous explosion near the U.N.-run Fakhura school at the Jabaliya refugee camp in Gaza, as the Israeli military did battle with Hamas fighters. The Israeli military’s official account of the incident, released in February 2009, contended that 12 people died outside the school, nine of whom were identified as Hamas members. But, as ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, FNC, and PBS reported the incident early on, all cited a substantially higher account of the death toll which was claimed by Palestinian officials and the U.N. as being "more than forty" or "dozens,"claiming that many civilians – who were sheltering inside the school to escape the danger of Israeli airstrikes – were among the dead. While most news shows did relay the Israeli account that the explosion occurred because their troops were battling Hamas members, these news shows never reported to viewers the official Israeli account that nearly all who died were Hamas members. In fact, some earlier reports had cited the number of Hamas members in the group as being as low as two.

Many news shows on ABC, CBS, and NBC also referred to the incident – which caused damage to the school wall but no deaths within the school building – as an Israeli "attack on the school," leaving the impression that the school building was the intended target. By contrast, news reports on CNN and FNC used more neutral words like "hit" or "struck" when relaying that Israeli shells damaged the building, which would not automatically suggest whether the building itself was the intended target. And while some news reports on NBC, CNN, and FNC did at least describe those who were killed as being either "outside" or "near" the building, ABC, CBS, and PBS did not make such a clarification and left the impression that those who were killed were inside the building where civilians were taking refuge.

The pro-Israel group, the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA), elaborated on the role of United Nations Relief and Works Agency official John Ging, as well as some early misstatements by Israeli officials, in sending the media off on the wrong track, although, once the record had been corrected, few news shows that reported the initial accounts ever revisited the story to update viewers. One notable exception occurred on February 4, 2009, on FNC’s Special Report with Bret Baier, as host Baier informed viewers that the U.N. had recently clarified that the event "took place outside and not inside the school."

Some news accounts on CNN and FNC referred to the event as the "deadliest incident" since Israel started its ground invasion, but CBS’s Mark Phillips at one point called the event the "single deadliest episode of this war," and PBS’s NewsHour with Jim Lehrer ran a report by Independent Television News correspondent Jonathan Rugman which claimed that the number killed at this one school was the "biggest single loss of life from any incident since the conflict began."

Below is an account of how morning and evening newscasts on ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, FNC, and PBS reported the story:

On the January 6, 2009, World News, Charles Gibson claimed that the Israeli military "attacked" the school that was sheltering Palestinians, and that "many civilians died." Gibson: "We begin in the Middle East, where the conflict took a dramatic turn today after Israel attacked a school being used by the Palestinians as a shelter. Many civilians died."

Missing the point that those sheltering inside the building were safer inside than outside since no deaths and few injuries occurred inside the school, correspondent Simon McGregor-Wood dismissed the relative safety of taking shelter in a school: "Palestinian civilians thought United Nations schools would be safe. They were wrong. This is the school right after it was struck by Israeli fire. At least 34 were killed, dozens injured yet again, many women and children. ‘My God, I just lost three members of my family,’ says this man. 'I want to see if my wife is still alive.'"

McGregor-Wood added: "But the Israeli army insists Hamas was using the school," and played a soundbite of Israeli IDF Spokesperson Avital Leibovich: "There were quite a few Hamas militants inside the school, and they were launching rockets at our force."

On the January 7 Good Morning America, ABC correspondents again gave the impression that those who were killed were inside the school, and referred to the event as "an attack on a shelter." Anchor Chris Cuomo: "Israeli forces have briefly halted their offensive in Gaza this morning to allow much-needed medical supplies and other aid into the area. This follows an attack on a shelter in which dozens of civilians, including many children, lost their lives. Our senior foreign correspondent, Jim Sciutto, has more on the price children are paying for this war."

During a story on the war's effects on both Israeli and Palestinian children, correspondent Jim Sciutto again dismissed the relative safety of taking refuge inside a school: "And we were struck by this statistic. Of the more than 660 Palestinians killed so far, one in four have been children. This U.N. school in Gaza was meant to be a safe haven for children and their families. It was not. Israeli artillery fire killed 42 here after Israel says militants fired mortars nearby, a claim U.N. officials deny. Among the victims were several friends of 12-year-old Aubin."

On the January 7, World News, McGregor-Wood reported: "Today, Gazans used the time to bury the dead. There are so many of them. These are the 43 victims of yesterday's shelling of the U.N. school, one funeral for all."

On the January 8, World News, Jim Sciutto referred to a U.N. school – possibly a different one than the one in Jabaliya – as having been "destroyed," though one may suspect this description of the damage to be exaggerated. Sciutto: "Twelve-year-old Abed was taking refuge in a U.N. school when Israeli shells destroyed it. He escaped. Several friends did not. ‘I don't know if they're alive or dead,' he said, ‘it makes me worried and sad.'"

On the January 17, World News, correspondent McGregor-Wood reported on another U.N. school damaged by Israeli weapons, but did not revisit or correct any portion of the story on the school at Jabaliya. McGregor-Wood: "And another U.N. school was hit by Israeli shells -- two young brothers were killed."

On the January 6, The Early Show, CBS correspondent Richard Roth reported: "The U.N. this morning says an Israeli airstrike killed three Palestinians at a school just outside a refugee camp where people had been seeking shelter."

On the January 6, CBS Evening News, Katie Couric described the Israeli military as having "attacked" a school. Couric: "Today dozens were killed when Israeli forces attacked a school."

Correspondent Mark Phillips failed to clarify that the Israeli strike was right outside the school and only killed people who were outside, even using a soundbite of a U.N. official who claimed the deaths occurred inside the school. But Phillips did at least cite Gaza residents who corroborated the Israeli account that Hamas members were operating in the area. Phillips: "These people had taken refuge in a school run by the U.N. It was no refuge. The Israelis say they were taking mortar fire from the school grounds, and so responded with fire of their own. Residents say Hamas was firing from a street near the school. The U.N. and Gaza medical officials put the death count at more than 40, some of them, inevitably, children."

Then came a soundbite of U.N. official John Ging claiming that deaths had occurred "in one of our schools."

Phillips again passed on the presence of Hamas members in the area of the school: "The Israelis later say they found the remains of a Hamas mortar crew at the school and have released their own camera footage of the close range fighting over the past day."

On the January 7, The Early Show, CBS's Richard Roth failed to clarify that the deaths occurred outside the school building: "Outrage over the Israeli shelling of a U.N. school in Gaza -- where hundreds of Palestinians had taken refuge -- may have helped motivate the humanitarian gesture. Israel says it was returning fire from Hamas militants inside the school compound, but the death of more than 40 people and pictures of the horrific aftermath clearly added to the sense of urgency."

On the January 7, CBS Evening News, as he referred to the temporary ceasefire, Phillips used Couric's terminology from the day before as he described the school as having been "attacked" by the Israeli military, and called the incident the "single deadliest episode of this war": "It was a time to retrieve those bodies of the dead, which could not be collected while the air raids continued, and a time to bury those killed in the Israeli attack on a United Nations school, which has become the single deadliest episode of this war. The Israelis still insist the civilians taking shelter in the school were being used as human shields by a Hamas mortar squad. The U.N. says it had warned the Israelis the school was full of families seeking refuge."

Then came a soundbite of pro-9/11 Norwegian Doctor Mads Gilbert: "Yesterday we had children, large amounts, very severe injuries, and I had children dying between my hands."

On the January 6, NBC Nightly News, correspondent Richard Engel used the word "attacked" as he passed along charges by U.N. officials that the Israeli military "attacked" several U.N. schools. Engel: "U.N. officials say in the last 24 hours, Israeli forces have attacked three U.N. schools and a U.N. health clinic. But the most serious by far was today on a school in Jabaliya. ... The 350 Palestinians who had taken refuge in a United Nations school in Jabaliya hadn't expected to be attacked. But just before sunset, a volley of Israeli mortars exploded by the school's outer wall, sending shrapnel flying. U.N. and medical officials estimate 40 people were killed, 55 wounded. Nearly all the casualties were just outside the school. But Israel says it acted in self-defense. Tonight, the Israeli army said two Hamas militants fired first, launching mortars on soldiers from the U.N. school."

Then came a seemingly out of place soundbite from former Israeli Ambassador Zalman Shoval, who erroneously claimed that the school had "exploded": "We shot back, probably also from helicopters. The moment we shot back, the building exploded, which shows that this wasn't really a school. It was a school, but used as a storage facility for explosives and bombs."

The Center for Accuracy in Middle Eastern Reporting in America (CAMERA) has suggested that Shoval must have been misinformed about the events about which he was commenting, since the school at Jabaliya did not explode.

Engel added: "From Gaza City tonight, a top U.N. official could not confirm or deny if Hamas had fired from the Jabaliya school, but admitted militants have used U.N. locations before."

Then came a soundbite of U.N. official John Ging: "Our school grounds have been used by both the Israelis and the militants in the past. Both have made them battlegrounds."

Later in the same show, during a report about Shifa Hospital treating casualties in Gaza, correspondent Martin Fletcher contended that there were many women and children at the hospital, and that many were "victims of today’s U.N. school explosion": "The dead and wounded pouring in. Doctors say they're mostly civilians, about half women and children, many victims of today's U.N. school explosion."

One of their sources for this story appeared to be Dr. Mads Gilbert, a Norwegian physician who has a history of expressing agreement with terrorism as a tactic, including the 9/11 attacks.

On the January 7 Today show, NBC’s Ann Curry accurately relayed that the Israeli strike occurred "near" the U.N. school, while she repeated the claim, later to be disputed by the Israeli military, that over 40 were killed. Curry: "Israel's top leaders debated the international call for a cease-fire, which has gained momentum after an Israeli mortar strike near a United Nations school on Tuesday, where 40 Palestinians were killed. The U.N. says that 30 percent of the dead so far in this conflict have been women and children."

Later in the same show, Engel did not clarify that the strike happened just outside the school, and repeated the estimate of over 40 deaths: "In Gaza this morning, bodies wrapped in shrouds were prepared for burial, victims of Israel's deadliest attack yet. U.N. officials say at least 40 people were killed, most of them civilians, when Israel bombed on Tuesday a U.N. school where 350 Palestinians were taking refuge." Translating for a male refugee, Engel: "‘We thought the U.N. school was safe,' said this man. ‘We needed it to find cover.'"

The same clip of Shoval was again shown in which the former Israeli ambassador erroneously claimed that the school "exploded":

RICHARD ENGEL: Israel says it will allow more humanitarian supplies into Gaza and that it attacked the U.N. school Tuesday because Hamas militants used it to fire mortars.

ZALMAN SHOVAL, FORMER ISRAELI AMBASSADOR TO THE U.S.: The moment we shot back, the building exploded, which shows that this wasn't really a school. It was a school, but used as a storage facility for explosives and bombs.

ENGEL: The U.N. is demanding an international investigation, and the rising death toll in Gaza, over 600 killed, is intensifying efforts to reach a cease-fire.

On the January 7 NBC Nightly News, Engel repeated the charge that Israel "attacked" the school without clarifying that those killed were just outside the school. Engel: "Hundreds of mourners huddled in a Gaza graveyard at daybreak for an emotional and angry mass funeral. Some kissed relatives, bodies wrapped in shrouds. Many were children, killed yesterday when Israel attacked a U.N. school. Israel claims Hamas was using the school to stage attacks."

On the January 12, NBC Nightly News, anchor Brian Williams used the word "devastation" to describe the damage, and did not remind viewers that Hamas members were among the dead, instead claiming that "40 civilians" had died: "Today Israel acknowledged what it called a stray mortar caused the devastation at a U.N. school in Gaza last week, killing some 40 Palestinian civilians who'd taken shelter there."

On the January 17, NBC Nightly News, correspondent Engel reported on another U.N. school damaged by Israeli weapons:

ENGEL: "The offensive to weaken Hamas has come at a terrible cost. Medical officials say more than 1100 Palestinians have been killed, more than 5,000 wounded, many of them children. U.N. officials say today Israel attacked a U.N. school, where 1800 people were taking refuge, the third U.N. school hit so far. Two boys were killed inside today.

JOHN GING, United Nations Relief and Works Agency: The question now being asked is, is this and the killing of all the other innocent civilians in Gaza a war crime?

ENGEL: Israel says it's investigating. But all day in Gaza there were funerals, and wounded arrived at hospitals, desperately short of medicine. In Gaza the cease-fire has been welcomed, but many wonder if it will last. Tonight the cease-fire is already at risk as Hamas officials insist as long as Israeli troops remain in the Gaza Strip, Hamas will fight them.

During the 6:00 a.m. hour of the January 6, American Morning on CNN, co-anchor Kiran Chetry reported: "U.N. officials say that Israeli air strikes have hit a school in Gaza reportedly killing three Palestinians who were taking cover from the offensive."

Later, co-anchor John Roberts reported: "The Red Cross says there is a full blown humanitarian crisis in Gaza. The United Nation says Israeli airstrikes have hit two schools in Gaza operated by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency. At least one said to be a direct hit. Those attacks killings at least five Palestinians."

#From the 7:00 a.m. hour of the January 6, American Morning on CNN:

KIRAN CHETRY: Christiane, you heard the word just a few minutes ago about a couple of United Nations-run schools being hit by Israeli air strikes. Do you have more details on that?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: Well, details are according to the UNRWA itself, the U.N. Refugee and Works Agency, is that one of those schools, particularly the Asma School, there were three youths killed there overnight when the school took a direct hit. Now they're bitterly complaining because they say that they had well before the fighting begun given the GPS coordinates of all their buildings and installations there, including that school. And apparently, these people who were killed all from one family were among 400 Palestinians who had fled one of the towns there, Beit Lahiya, which is one of the places where Hamas is said to be launching rockets from. So it fled there obviously on the IDF instructions and the leaflets fled to the Asma School for refuge and then the school takes a direct hit. Again, UNRWA asking for an immediate investigation and protesting very, very strongly. In the meantime, Israel continues its ground and air operations. You mentioned those 40 air strikes that had gone on today. Some Hamas rockets continuing to come out of the Gaza Strip and one landing in a town that's the furthest inside Israel that Hamas has reached yet, and that has slightly injured a 3-month-old little child. In the meantime, there are increasing calls for ceasefire.


CHETRY: Well, we have breaking news this morning. A direct hit on a school operated by the United Nations in Gaza, where refugees were taking shelter. The U.N. saying the Israeli air strike killed three Palestinians. Joining us now from Gaza city is John Ging. He is the director of operations in Gaza for U.N. Refugee and Works. Thanks for being with us this morning, John. What can you tell us about the situation that happened at this school, Asma Elementary?

JOHN GING, UNRWA DIRECTOR: Well, you know, it's horrific really. This poor people had fled the fighting in the northern areas, sought safe sanctuary in one of our schools which was set up as a temporary shelter. And a couple of hours later, three of them were killed in a direct hit on the school itself. There is no safe sanctuary here in Gaza at the moment. The scale of the fighting is phenomenal, and even in U.N. installations people are not safe.

CHETRY: Israel is defending itself saying that Hamas focuses the battle in these densely-populated areas and uses residents as shields. Do you agree with that?

GING: Look, Gaza Strip is one of the most densely populated places in the world. If you're going to conduct a military operation here, then that's a fact. It's a reality that cannot be changed. That's why they should stop this military operation. It also means the Palestinians need to stop firing the rockets. This conflict should be fought out in a political forum, not at the end of a gun. The people will always be the ones who will pay too heavy a price if it comes to conflict. And that's why it's so urgent now, 600 dead, 2,500 Palestinians and more injured. It has to stop because that's what's going to continue. We're going to continue to see that level of casualty for as long as it goes on in a military conflict. So many world leaders have said there is no military solution to this. It has to go back to a political forum. Well, let's have a cease-fire and let's get it back there.

CHETRY: I mean, it's heart-breaking. We're seeing pictures of people crying over the dead bodies of their children and you're right, it's the innocents that are really suffering in this situation. No electricity, no running water for thousands there. What is the status of getting any type of humanitarian relief or medical supplies into Gaza and to the people that need it?

GING: Well, again, it's hugely difficult, because of the scale of the fighting, and such a small and confined area. Getting the goods across the border is a very big challenge, and then getting them to our points of distribution. But even for the people to come to our points of distribution, it's also extremely dangerous. This morning, ten people were injured in one of our health clinics, because it was adjacent to a house that was targeted. They had no warning, and they were all injured inside one of our health centers. The real danger here, the population have no safety, they have no security, but they are entitled to protection and conflict under the roofs of the Geneva Convention. You cannot conduct a conflict in accordance with the rules of the Geneva Convention in such a place as Gaza. And that's why we have to stop and get it out of this conflict and back into a political forum.


CHETRY: Updating you now on our breaking news. The United Nations says there was a direct hit on an elementary school that it operates in Gaza, where refugees had left their homes and were taking shelter. The U.N. saying that the Israeli strike killed three Palestinians.


ROBERTS: Thirty-six minutes after the hour, things heating up in Gaza. According to the U.N., a couple of schools they run have been hit. Five people have been killed.


ROBERTS: Again, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency saying that over night, a couple of its schools were hit. Three people were killed in one school, and two in another.


ROBERTS: Six minutes down to the top of the hour. Continuing our breaking news, live pictures from Gaza. New Israeli air strikes there. You can see the smoke rising from buildings in the background. The renewed fighting follows reports from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency that a couple of its schools were hit overnight.

#From the 8:00 a.m. hour of the January 6, American Morning on CNN:

KIRAN CHETRY: Israel taking aim at Hamas. Troops and tanks surrounding Gaza City right now, but unfortunately civilians getting caught in the cross-fire this morning. A United Nations elementary school came under attack. So far more than 550 Palestinians have been killed. CNN's chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour is in Jerusalem. Anderson Cooper is on the Israeli-Gaza border. And Anderson, let's start with you. The situation at this Asma Elementary School in Gaza City a direct hit, at least that's what the director of the U.N. program is claiming this morning. What are you hearing about what happened?

ANDERSON COOPER: Yes, this was a school where a number of people had actually sought refuge. The school had given GPS coordinates to Israeli defense forces. So why an air strike took place at this school is not at this point known. Israel isn't really commenting on it, but three Palestinians are known to have been killed in that strike.


CHETRY: Israel says that, you know, its intentions certainly is not to harm civilians but that Hamas basically operates in the midst of civilians and this is the type of thing that happens. And of course, the pressure, when we hear about things like is increased from the international community on Israel to stop the fighting. What's going on right now with that?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: Well, that's right. Well, I mean, clearly, Hamas is in areas that are densely populated, and there are many who believe that they are actually, because of the very nature of that terrain there, hiding in and out of those populated areas, which of course puts civilians under direct threat. But, on the other hand, there are also situations where more care could be taken. For instance, this U.N. elementary school where the coordinates were given well before the fighting began. So there's a bit of an element of both going on there, and at the same time, these civilian casualties putting increasing pressure on Israel.


CHETRY, INTERVIEWING ISRAELI FOREIGN MINISTRY SPOKESMAN YIGAL PALMOR: And let me ask you about this situation, though, because when things like what happened today, at least according to the United Nations, Israel, an Israeli missile hit a school, Osma Elementary School in Gaza City. They say that the school was clearly marked as a United Nations installation that refugees had gone there to seek shelter and that three men were killed. Do you know anything about that and what happened in that situation?

During the 4:00 p.m. hour of the January 6, The Situation Room on CNN, correspondent Paula Hancocks reported: "Over 40 dead and 55 injured, according to the U.N., when artillery shells landed outside a U.N.-run school where hundreds were taking shelter. Israel insists it was returning fire. As the sun sets over Gaza, a thick haze of smoke drifts across the whole strip. Day 11 of Israel's onslaught, ambulance sirens in Gaza have become background noise to the constant explosions. Within hours, two U.N.-run schools, both being used as shelters for hundreds of people, were hit. The U.N. in Gaza says three artillery shells landed near a school in Jabalia, killing dozens.

JOHN GING, DIRECTOR OF OPERATIONS IN GAZA, UNITED NATIONS RELIEF AND WORKS AGENCY: We're demanding full accountability in accordance with international law and the duty of care that the parties to the conflict are obliged to adhere to. We don't care to pass judgment. We have to deal with the consequences. And we will be satisfied with the -- with the outcome of an independent investigation in due course.

HANCOCKS: The Israeli military says it returned fire after mortar shells were fired from the school. Many Palestinians are caught in the middle. This man asks Israel, "How can you let your army destroy everything, the young, the old, men, women, while everyone else is just watching us?" The Red Cross in Gaza is calling it a full-blown humanitarian crisis.

After Hancocks’ report, Blitzer added: "And we just got a statement in from the embassy of Israel here in Washington on this incident at this school. And, among other things, the Israelis are saying this: "Initial inquiries by Israeli forces operating in the area indicate that a number of mortar shells were fired at IDF, Israel Defense Forces, forces from within the Jabalia school. Israeli forces had no knowledge of those present at the site. However, it is clear that this was not operating -- that it was not operating as a school." The Israelis say they regret the loss of any innocent lives, but they say that Hamas leaders were there on the scene. They say that two of them -- and they identify these two Hamas leaders -- were identified as casualties at the site of this Jabaliya school.

During the 5:00 p.m. hour of the January 6, The Situation Room on CNN, Wolf Blitzer referred to the explosion as the "deadliest incident" of the ground assault with a "devastation toll" that took place "near" a school: "Al Qaeda's number two man speaks out on the fighting in Gaza, and he's lashing out at Barack Obama, as the deadliest incident of Israel's ground assault takes a devastating toll near a United Nations-sponsored school."

A bit later, Blitzer repeated: "The deadliest incident since Israel began its Gaza ground assault. In the latest developments, at least 40 people died, many of them children, when Israeli shells hit near a United Nations school in Northern Gaza. Israel says it returned fire after Hamas militants inside fired mortar rounds, an account reportedly confirmed by residents."

Correspondent Nic Robertson later referred to the explosion: "The issue today, with the bombing of a, the rockets hitting a school that was, that the U.N. set up in Gaza as a refugee site, where more than 40 people were killed. But Israelis say Hamas was using it to fire mortars at Israeli troops."

During the 6:00 p.m. hour of the January 6, The Situation Room on CNN, Wolf Blitzer described schools as being "in the crossfire" as he plugged a piece on explosions near two schools in Gaza: "And the deadliest strike yet in the Gaza ground war, schools in the crossfire."

Blitzer relayed that two U.N. schools had been hit, and correspondent Paula Hancocks informed viewers that the explosion took place outside the school as she relayed the incident occurred "near a second U.N. school":

PAULA HANCOCKS: Dozens of Palestinians have been killed by Israeli artillery shells near a second U.N. school in Gaza. Israel insists it was returning fire, and there were Hamas operatives among the dead. As the sun sets over Gaza, a thick haze of smoke drifts across the whole strip. Day 11 of Israel's onslaught, ambulance sirens in Gaza have become background noise to the constant explosions. Within hours, two U.N.-run schools, both being used as shelters for hundreds of people, were hit. The U.N. in Gaza says three artillery shells landed near a school in Jabalia, killing dozens.

JOHN GING, UNITED NATIONS RELIEF AND WORKS AGENCY: We're demanding full accountability in accordance with international law and the duty of care that the parties to the conflict are obliged to adhere to. We don't care to pass judgment. We have to deal with the consequences.

HANCOCKS: The Israeli military says it returned fire after mortar shells were fired from the school. Many Palestinians are caught in the middle. This man asks Israel, "How can you let your army destroy everything, the young, the old, men, women, while everyone else is just watching us?" The Red Cross in Gaza is calling it a full-blown humanitarian crisis.

#From the 7:00 a.m. hour of the January 7, American Morning on CNN:

KIRAN CHETRY:.Momentum is building this morning for new talks to end the Middle East conflict after Israel hit a school killing dozens of civilians who were taking shelter there. Israel, though, says it was responding to rocket fire from Hamas which was using civilians as human shields. The U.N. is disputing that and calling for an impartial investigation. And overnight Israel's president defended the attack on the schools saying its country is battling terrorists who don't play by conventional rules.

SHIMON PERES, PRESIDENT, ISRAEL: We call it an organized government, which is illegal, and they use means or they permit themselves waste that were never permitted in the past, like use children as a shield to cover arms and fire from them, like use mosques as an arsenal, like to use hospitals to cover their terrorists.

CHETRY: CNN's Christiane Amanpour is live for us in Jerusalem this morning. And this is something that Israel has always contended that it puts them in a spot where their, you know, the enemies of the world, because people see the civilian casualties, at the same time they say it's not them. It's the fact that their enemy is using these civilians as human shields, so how will this play out?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: Well, you know, President Peres says that this is the first time such a thing has happened, but really since time immemorial when an organized army fights a guerrilla force, this is what's going to happen. There will be civilian casualties, and many of those Hamas people are within the civilian population and even been firing their rockets out from within there. But on the other hand, the school incident is so sensitive because this is where people ran for cover, urged on by the IDF, the Israeli Defense Forces, to move from their places to these other places such as these U.N. schools. And this U.N. school particularly and others, their coordinates were given to the Israeli army so this is why this is so sensitive. And while the Israeli government is insisting that there was either Hamas militants or Hamas fire out of this school, the UNRWA, people say, that they have already conducted at least a preliminary investigation and interviewed so many people there and they say they're 99.9 percent sure there was no such activity. But as this continues to play out, this war of words and the civilian crisis grows, Israel is now responding by, as we've been reporting, having humanitarian pauses in the bombing. ...

During the 5:00 p.m. hour of the January 7, The Situation Room, CNN correspondent Paula Hancocks reported: "The chorus of international criticism of Israel's onslaught is becoming louder, since artillery shells killed at least 40 near a U.N.-run school Tuesday. Israel says it was returning fire. The U.N. disagrees."

On the January 6, Special Report with Bret Baier, the show refrained from calling the strike an "attack on the school," more neutrally relaying that the school was "hit" by Israeli munitions. FNC also described the hit as having taken place at the school's "entrance." (Baier would later update viewers on the February 4 show that all the deaths occurred outside the building.) On the January 6 show, anchor Baier set up the report: "A tragic case of collateral damage today in Gaza – Israeli munitions hit a school, killing dozens, many of them children. Israel contends and area residents confirm that militants had been launching attacks from that area."

Correspondent Reena Ninan reported that "some" of those killed and injured were "inside the school." Ninan: "Day 11 of the fighting between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip, and a U.N. school was hit. An Israeli missile landed at its entrance. At least 40 Palestinians were killed, 55 injured, some of them inside the school, others were on the street. Palestinians say all of those killed were civilians, but the Israeli army says at least two were well-known Hamas residents."

Ninan continued: "U.N. officials in Gaza are calling for an independent investigation into the attack. The U.N. provided the Israeli military with GPS coordinates for all schools and shelters in the Gaza strip. But U.N. officials could not confirm or not deny the presence of Hamas militants in the vicinity."

On the January 6, Fox Report, anchor Shepard Smith more accurately relayed that Israeli mortar shells "exploded near" the school. Smith: "‘Nowhere in Gaza is safe.’" That from a United Nations official who says people there are ‘terrorized and traumatized’ after Israeli mortar shells exploded near a United Nations school. That attack, we’re told, killed at least 30 Palestinians, the deadliest incident since Israel launched its ground invasion of the Gaza Strip, an action Israel claims was provoked by continuing Hamas rocket fire."

He and correspondent Mike Tobin went on to inform viewers that Hamas militants were "using its own people as shields":

SHEPARD SMITH: Israel says today’s shelling was in response to Hamas militants firing mortars from within that school – in other words, using its own people as shields. But once again, many of the victims were civilians and children. Overall, the conflict has killed almost 600 Palestnians. Mike Tobin is live on Israel’s border. Mike, the United Nations claims Israeli shells have now fallen around three different schools and a health center for Palestinian refugees on top of that. Aren’t those areas supposed to be off limits?"

MIKE TOBIN: "They are supposed to be off limits, except, according to the IDF, Palestinians were firing at their troops from those locations. That is what drew in the counterfire. Now, of course, Palestinians say all of the victims in this case were innocent civilians, but the IDF says at least two of those people were high-ranking members of some Palestinian mortar teams. In fact, the army says there was a secondary explosion at one of those locations indicating weapons were stored there. It should be noted, Shepard, though, they’ve offered up no proof of that secondary explosion."

Fox and Friends never ran a story on the incident, although on the January 7 show, co-host Brian Kilmead seemed to briefly refer to the explosion at point, erroneously stating that it was a hospital that was hit: "Of course, the big story yesterday, the U.N. hospital was bombed, and Hamas was shooting from the inside."

On the January 8 Fox Report, correspondent Jonathan Serrie showed a video clip posted to YouTube by the Israeli military showing Hamas members "firing mortars at Israeli targets" from a school, though he did not clarify whether it was the same school at Jabaliya. Serrie: "You have individual citizens using cell phones and other devices taking video and posting it on YouTube, like this video here which shows an Israeli attack at a school in Gaza. Now, when viewers in the Middle East watch this, this is incendiary stuff. But the Israeli military is also using YouTube with its own channel to counteract. Here you see the same school, but from a different angle, and they point out that there are militants firing mortars at Israeli targets."

On the February 4, Special Report with Bret Baier, during the show's "Political Grapevine" segment, host Baier cited a report that the U.N. had recently clarified that the event "took place outside and not inside the school," but he repeated the statistic that 43 Palestinians were killed without relaying the Israeli military's substantially lower estimate. Baier: "The United Nations has changed its story about Israel striking one of its schools in Gaza. The January 6 incident, you may remember, killed 43 Palestinians and has been a major point of contention between Israel and the U.N. over the Gaza military operation. The U.N. initially claimed that Israeli mortar shells pounded a U.N. relief school. But Haaretz newspaper the U.N.'s humanitarian coordinator in Jerusalem now say his organization ‘would like to clarify that the shelling and all of the fatalities took place outside and not inside the school.'"

On the January 6, NewsHour with Jim Lehrer on PBS, host Lehrer reported: "Israeli forces moved deeper into Gaza, and shelling killed several dozen Palestinians in schools run by the United Nations. The Israelis said Hamas militants had fired on soldiers from inside."

Correspondent Jonathan Rugman reported: "It was Gaza`s schools which bore the brunt of civilian casualties today, leaving children among the dead and injured. At least 30 were killed when artillery shells landed near the al-Fakhura School in the Jabaliya refugee camp."

On the January 7, NewsHour on PBS, Rugman cited 42 as the number killed at the school, and called it the "biggest single loss of life from any incident since the conflict began." Rugman: "This morning, a vast crowd risked leaving their homes for the funerals of the 42 killed at a U.N. school yesterday. It was the biggest single loss of life from any incident since the conflict began."

Brad Wilmouth
Brad Wilmouth is a contributing blogger to NewsBusters