War reporting is where many media outlets shine. But how does a network cover combat that involves a terror organization funded directly by the same government that funds its news coverage? The new Al Jazeera America showed how not to handle that challenge as it reported on the fighting between Hamas and Israel. Viewers tuning in to AJA (admittedly, there weren’t many of them) were treated to a wildly one-sided account of the conflict.
In the five weeks following the initial Israeli ground incursion into Gaza on July 18, AJA’s “flagship” weeknight news program, “America Tonight,” interviewed Gaza civilians, Hamas officials and sympathizers more than five times as often as it did anyone from the Israeli side (16 people to 3 three people). Although Hamas fired rockets at the rate of one every 10 minutes into Israel, there were no live remotes from inside Israel. Instead, Al Jazeera correspondents favored dramatic remotes from Gaza, with minutes of footage of displaced, wounded or dead Palestinians – all civilians.
AJA stressed over and over that “There has been nowhere safe [for Palestinian civilians] to go over the last few weeks here in Gaza,” as correspondent Charles Stratford put it Aug. 4. They also stressed the devastation to some areas without saying why they’d been devastated. People “have said they could start going back, this is an area of Gaza with a population about 60,000, vast areas of it have been absolutely flattened, go back to what?” Stratford said, though he didn’t explain whether Hamas had been using the buildings to fight from or hiding among civilian homes.
Nor did AJA or any of the Al Jazeera correspondents AJA turned to for on-the-ground reports use the word “terror” or “terrorist” in connection to Hamas. The group has been designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department since 1997, and the indiscriminate firing of rockets at population centers certainly qualifies as terrorism. Yet the only two mentions of “terror” aired by AJA were part of quotes from Israelis.
The coverage of this latest Israel-Hamas war has been mostly awful. We know that Hamas strictly controlled what journalists could see and report, allowing the terror group to manipulate situations and spin incidents. We know too that plenty of journalists are pre-disposed to seeing things Hamas’ way. And we know that, in the case of AJA, it had good reason to paint the fighting as a one-sided slaughter of Palestinian civilians.
Al Jazeera America Owned By Funders of Hamas
Al Jazeera and AJA are owned by the emir of Qatar. In a Sept. 8 article on Qatar’s material support for radical Islamist groups, The New York Times laid out both the nation’s inclinations, and Al Jazeera’s bias.
“Propelling the barrage of accusations against Qatar is a regional contest for power in which competing Persian Gulf monarchies have backed opposing proxies in contested places like Gaza, Libya and especially Egypt. In Egypt, Qatar and its Al Jazeera network backed the former government led by politicians of the Muslim Brotherhood.”
Hamas is a wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, so radical that it was recently removed from power in Egypt. Also from the Times:
“Qatar openly provides a base for leaders of the Palestinian militant group Hamas — deemed a terrorist organization by the United States and Israel — as well as money to help prop up its government in Gaza.”
The New York Times isn’t exactly unfriendly to AJA and its parent.
Al Jazeera correspondent Nick Schifrin acknowledged the distrust of his network in a July 22 report from Gaza. The network’s offices had been hit by an Israeli projectile. The incident, Schifrin noted, came “one day after Israel's top diplomat said that Al Jazeera should not be able to broadcast in Israel, and called Al Jazeera a mouth piece for Hamas.”
Small wonder, given the network’s anti-Western track record, and the fact that nobody covering the war thought to mention that Al Jazeera and Hamas share a sugar daddy.
One-Sided Reporting: Gaza Not Israel
AJA’s Gaza reporting focused relentlessly on the suffering of Palestinian civilians – the dead, wailing women, casualties in hospitals, refugees and especially children. The network did little to balance it out, making the reports more propaganda than news coverage.
Thousands of rockets have been fired from Gaza into Israel, according to some analyses, up to 95 percent of them get through and the nation’s “Iron Dome” defense. Yet AJA rarely if ever mentioned the rockets or the destruction they caused, and never rushed camera teams to Israeli neighborhoods to breathlessly relay the chaos, as they did in Gaza.
After a U.N. school sheltering civilians was shelled (by the IDF or Hamas) on July 24, Al Jazeera correspondent Stephanie Dekker reported from a Gaza hospital. A doctor called the incident “a crime against humanity.”
Amid the confusion and wailing Dekker said, “The people here are asking ‘why does Israel target where they know there are civilians.’ They say Israel knew this was a shelter for those who already had to flee the area because of Israel's military campaign.”
Dekker didn’t say whether the hospital she was in is the same one in which Hamas had its headquarters during the fighting.
Of course Israel denied targeting the school, and said it believed a Hamas rocket had fallen short, as Dekker admitted, “but no one believes that here,” she said.
AJA’s reporter made it plain they didn’t much believe it either. On Aug. 6, correspondent Azmat Kahn said “Along with so-called military targets, Israeli strikes in the past couple of weeks also took out key critical infrastructure that will cost impoverished Gaza billions of dollars to repair or replace.”
Strangely, for a nearly seven-minute report that discussed at length the problem of buying and deploying building materials in the rebuilding of Gaza, Kahn’s report never mentioned all the building materials Hamas had previously diverted into constructing hundreds of tunnels for use smuggling in weapons from Egypt and for attacking Israel. Some estimate the tunnels cost $1 million each to build and maintain. Meanwhile, average Gazans are desperately poor and crowded.
A report on the tunnels, however, provided one of the few Israeli voices to be found on AJA during the war. Israeli Economic Minister Naftali Bennet asked in an interview, “How would you feel if your home was penetrated with a hole in the ground and suddenly 40 Hamas commando terrorists would jump out?”
Al Jazeera’s anchors and correspondents clearly mastered the art of euphemism when it came to Hamas and its actions. On Aug. 20, anchor Joie Chen said, Hamas threatened Ben Gurion airport on Thursday, "warning international flights to divert.” She then asked Schifrin about Hamas “targeting,” a civilian airport. “Do you think they have the capacity to do that or is this as it was in the past an empty threat?” Hamas is willing to shell a civilian airport along with residential neighborhoods with no military value. That’s terrorism, but AJA talked around it.
In the Gaza conflict, AJA had an opportunity to confound its critics and burnish its credentials as hard news source, no matter who pays its bills. They failed.
The Media Research Center’s Culture and Media Institute analyzed “America Tonight” broadcasts from July 21 through the end of August to weigh AJA’s coverage of Gaza and Israel. The analysis totaled the number of Palestinian and Hamas civilians and representatives given air time versus those of Israel.