While all three networks denounced the shelling of a U.N. school in Gaza on Thursday, NBC, ABC and CBS all failed to report on similar U.N. schools in the war-torn territory being used to hide Hamas rockets. As Fox News reported on Tuesday, "The U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) said the rockets were found in between two other UNRWA schools that are being used to host 1,500 displaced people."
On Wednesday's Special Report, anchor Bret Baier read a statement from the office of the U.N. Secretary General condemning Hamas for the action. Panelist Charles Krauthammer blasted the international organization: "The U.N. workers, UNRWA, have collaborated with Hamas for years and years. They know that there are missiles in the schools, in the hospitals, in the mosques, and they know what's going to happen. Kids will be killed and that's going to be on television." [Listen to the audio or watch the video after the jump]
Krauthammer also took the media to task: "The U.N. is so committed to the Palestinian cause, and in this case, the Hamas cause, that it doesn't even care about appearances. And after all, who, but you, and a few other outlets, are gonna report it? How many have reported the rockets in the school?" Baier responded: "I don't know. But it's not many, I guarantee you that."
The answer is none when it comes to the Big Three networks.
Despite the nonexistent coverage of Hamas using U.N. schools to conceal weapons, Thursday's network evening newscasts seized on the opportunity to lambast Israel over the school that was hit – though it remains unclear who was responsible. [Listen to the audio]
On NBC Nightly News, chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel proclaimed: "This school was a designated refugee center run by the U.N. The U.N. says it was hit without warning and that there's no evidence weapons were inside." He talked to United Nations Relief and Works Agency operations director Robert Turner and asked: "Were militants operating inside this school?" Turner replied: "No, we are very, very strict about the neutrality of our installations. It's just civilians."
Engel never challenged the claim of "strict neutrality" despite Hamas rockets having been found in other U.N. schools just days earlier.
On ABC's World News, anchor Diane Sawyer described "a strike on a U.N. shelter, where families were huddled inside." In the report that followed, correspondent David Wright declared: "They had sought refuge from this war at a U.N. school. Today their safe haven came under attack."
Like NBC, a sound bite was featured of Turner from UNRWA lamenting: "Where else can these people go? We are the refuge of last resort for them. If they are not safe with us, where are they safe?"
Again, no mention of U.N. facilities being used by Hamas to store weapons.
Opening CBS Evening News, anchor Scott Pelley announced: "Tonight, death in a safe haven. Shells hit a U.N. school in Gaza where civilians had taken shelter from the war." Correspondent Barry Peterson stated: "Eight days ago, residents took shelter at the U.N. school as a safe haven. Some were still there after the attack. The U.N. said it gave GPS coordinates of the school to both Hamas and the Israelis to help arrange a humanitarian cease-fire for an evacuation."
No mention of rockets in U.N. schools, but Petersen did find time to dismiss Israel's suggestion that Hamas may have been responsible for the bombing: "...it's sort of inconsistent with what we were hearing from the survivors....We asked Hamas, and Hamas said the eyewitnesses say it was Israeli artillery and, says Hamas, they speak the truth."
Here are full transcripts of the July 24 evening news reports:
NBC Nightly News
7:00 AM ET TEASE:
BRIAN WILLIAMS: Direct hit on a United Nations school in Gaza. Many dead and injured, including women and children. And now the question, were they warned to get out?
7:05 PM ET SEGMENT:
WILLIAMS: Now to the ongoing fighting in the Middle East. The Israeli assault on Gaza in response to that rocket barrage. It claimed more civilians today, many of them women and children. At least sixteen Palestinians killed in a school in Gaza they thought was safer than staying in their homes. Our chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel in Gaza City for us again tonight. Richard, good evening.
RICHARD ENGEL: Good evening, Brian. This school was a designated refugee center run by the U.N. The U.N. says it was hit without warning and that there's no evidence weapons were inside. Israel is investigating.
Witnesses say five explosions tore through this U.N.-run school in northern Gaza. The playground took a direct hit. An outdoor class was soaked in blood.
At a nearby hospital, ambulance after ambulance brought in the injured, mostly children, before going back for more. Six-month-old Ahmed had shrapnel in his back. Doctors with little time and few supplies removed the sharp metal without anesthetics. Nearby, Ahmed's father, Muntusser, described the moment when his six children were "blown away," he says, "like scraps of paper."
The hospital was overwhelmed by the flow of injured. None of them accepts Israel's claim that it does its best to spare the innocent.
UNIDENTIFIED: That's a responsible thing?! To kill the children, the old women?! The children are, what?!
ENGEL: Robert Turner is the director of the U.N. agency that operates the school in Gaza. Do you know who struck this facility?
ROBERT TURNER: Well, we can't say with certainty. The initial indication would be that it came from Israeli forces.
ENGEL: NBC's Kate Snow spoke with the Israeli military's official spokesman.
LT. COL. PETER LERNER [ISRAEL DEFENSE FORCES]: Indeed, there is a possibility that there was a loose mortar that mis-shot.
KATE SNOW: If you knew that there were women and children staying in this shelter, why not just avoid that area?
LERNER: The terrorists determine where they meet us.
ENGEL: Were militants operating inside this school?
TURNER: No, we are very, very strict about the neutrality of our installations. It's just civilians.
ENGEL: Schools like the one hit today have become a refuge for civilians. They believe the U.N. logo will protect them. But this is the fourth attack on a U.N. school in four days. For the wounded and the dead today, there was no protection at all.
This incident has sparked anger among Palestinians who until now have not been involved in this conflict. Thousands of Palestinians in the West Bank tonight marched toward Jerusalem. There were violent clashes, several Palestinians have been killed. And more demonstrations are expected tomorrow, the Muslim holy day of prayer. Brian?
WILLIAMS: Richard Engel in Gaza for us once again tonight. Richard, thanks.
6:37 PM ET
DIANE SAWYER: And now we head overseas to the conflict in the Middle East. Tonight, U.S. airlines are starting to fly into Tel Aviv once more. That 48-hour ban has been lifted.
But searing news is pouring in of another deadly hit in Gaza. This time, a strike on a U.N. shelter, where families were huddled inside. ABC's David Wright is on the ground in Gaza for us tonight.
DAVID WRIGHT: Today at Jabalia Hospital, there were so many casualties, they had to stack them two to a bed. Mothers and grandmothers and grandchildren. They had sought refuge from this war at a U.N. school. Today their safe haven came under attack.
This is one of the smaller local hospitals, but you can see how stretched they are for resources. Only thirteen beds in this emergency room. Today, they got more than seventy injured, many of them just children. This father begged the busy doctors to please tend to his son. The boy is thirteen years old. In all, more than a hundred injured, sixteen dead in this one attack alone.
And this is where it happened. The buildings, clearly marked with U.N. colors, blue and white. We saw shrapnel in the courtyard, and blood. But no one here. The refugees fled, leaving their few belongings behind. Stray horses rummaged through them for food.
The U.N. is outraged, telling us they passed the school's location to Israeli forces thirteen times, including this morning.
ROBERT TURNER [DIRECTOR, UNRWA OPERATIONS]: Where else can these people go? We are the refuge of last resort for them. If they are not safe with us, where are they safe?
WRIGHT: But Israel says it warned the U.N. to evacuate this particular school. That it had strike militant targets nearby, as part of its effort to stop Hamas from firing rockets into Israel. Of course, the people had nowhere to go. And tonight, these children are homeless again. David Wright, ABC news, Beit Hanoun, Gaza.
CBS Evening News
6:30 PM ET TEASE:
SCOTT PELLEY: Tonight, death in a safe haven. Shells hit a U.N. school in Gaza where civilians had taken shelter from the war. Barry Petersen is there.
BARRY PETERSEN: The hospital was overwhelmed. From everything we've seen, most of the casualties are children and women.
6:31 PM ET SEGMENT:
PELLEY: There was no escaping the war today, not for the Palestinians who sought shelter in a United Nations school in the northern Gaza Strip. The school was hit by shells. Each side – the Israelis and the Palestinians – is blaming the other. Palestinian officials say at least fifteen people were killed, dozens more were wounded. We have two reports tonight. First, Barry Petersen in Gaza.
BARRY PETERSEN: There was only one question amid the chaos – how does this kind of war makes sense? A child, who looked to be in shock. Two children brought in together. They looked bewildered. When we first saw seven-year-old Shahed, she seemed unconscious. But then a good sign, opened her eyes.
The hospital was overwhelmed. From everything we've seen, most of the casualties are children and women. Ibrahim Shinbari lost three cousins, his son wounded. "No warning," he said. "No warning."
Eight days ago, residents took shelter at the U.N. school as a safe haven. Some were still there after the attack. The U.N. said it gave GPS coordinates of the school to both Hamas and the Israelis to help arrange a humanitarian cease-fire for an evacuation. Survivors said they were told to gather in the courtyard to leave. They did, and then – "Suddenly, shells came down on us," he said. "We ran in every direction – children, women, everyone running."
Tonight end ended, as so many now do in Gaza, with one more question. "They killed our son," she said, "what do we do now?" And from a grandfather to his grandson, with one more last farewell.
PELLEY: Barry, no one in authority is claiming to know what happened exactly, but the Israelis have suggested it could have been Hamas fire that hit the school. What is Hamas saying?
PETERSEN: Well, it's sort of inconsistent with what we were hearing from the survivors. The survivors talked nothing about any kind of firefight going on. It was peaceful. They were gathering in the courtyard when the shells came in. We asked Hamas, and Hamas said the eyewitnesses say it was Israeli artillery and, says Hamas, they speak the truth.
PELLEY: Barry Petersen reporting from Gaza again tonight. Barry, thank you.