After Mea Culpa, NY Times Coverage of Gaza Hospitals Only Gets Worse

Last month, after the New York Times rushed to trumpet Hamas claims about an Israeli attack on Gaza’s Ahli Arab hospital, and after those claims were widely discredited, the paper published a mea culpa.

The blunder was grave. In the immediate aftermath of the explosion at the hospital on Oct. 17, a large banner headline at the top of the newspaper’s home page read, “Israeli strike kills hundreds in Hospital, Palestinians say.” Just below, another headline charged, “At least 500 Dead in Gaza Attack.” Filling the space between the two headlines was a photo of a destroyed Gaza building.

But Western intelligence agencies and independent analysts would conclude that the explosion wasn’t the result of an Israeli strike — it was likely caused by one of countless misfired Palestinian rockets — and estimated that there were far fewer than 500 dead. The destroyed building pictured on the home page, meanwhile, was not the hospital, which was essentially unscathed but for a tiny crater outside in the parking lot.

On Oct. 23, the Times published an editors’ note admitting its early coverage had “relied too heavily on claims by Hamas, and did not make clear that those claims could not immediately be verified.” The reporting had “left readers with an incorrect impression about what was known and how credible the account was.” Senior management, the note continued, would look into “what additional safeguards may be warranted.”

But since then, the paper’s coverage of Gaza hospitals has only gotten worse.

On Nov. 11, the New York Times yet again gave prominence to unverified, incendiary charges about alleged Israeli attacks on hospitals. And it failed to share an adequate Israeli response. Although CAMERA later informed the paper of a direct Israeli rebuttal to the allegations, the paper refused to update its story.

Snipers and Tank Shells

Citing Palestinian sources including the Hamas health ministry the New York Times piece reported a) that Israeli snipers attacked families fleeing the Al-Shifa hospital, killing one; and b) that Israeli tanks were shelling the hospital.

About the alleged sniping, the paper reported:

At Al-Shifa, thousands of seriously ill and wounded patients and displaced people have been trapped inside while Israeli tanks and troops surround the compounds, with snipers occasionally firing off shots, according to the health ministry, doctors and some witnesses sheltering inside.

Nearby, there is intense, close-quarter combat between Israeli troops and fighters from Hamas, the armed Palestinian group that controls Gaza.

The Israeli military has repeatedly urged patients and people sheltering at hospitals in Gaza City to be evacuated to the south away from the urban combat. Four hospitals in the city were evacuated on Friday.

But some of those who tried to leave Al-Shifa on Saturday, including a family, were shot at by snipers they believed to be Israeli, and at least one person was killed, according to multiple people at Al-Shifa Hospital, including [hospital director Dr. Mohammed] Abu Salmiya.

On Saturday, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, the Israeli military spokesman, denied Israeli forces had besieged Al-Shifa and said troops would provide a safe passage for people to evacuate along the hospital compound’s eastern side. He said Israeli troops were not attacking the hospital itself but confirmed Israel was battling Hamas fighters “who choose to fight next to Al-Shifa Hospital.”

Note that the Israeli statement cited at here does not directly address the shocking accusation about Israeli snipers attacking families fleeing the hospital. On the contrary, the paper framed the denial as only being in reference to attacks on “the hospital itself.”

Seven paragraphs later, the paper relayed another serious Palestinian charge: that “Israeli tanks and military vehicles have surrounded Al-Quds hospital and are shelling the building.” No Israeli rebuttal followed.

Ignoring an Israeli Denial

The New York Times editorial guidelines remind writers what they needn’t be reminded of: “Few writers need to be reminded that we seek and publish a response from anyone criticized in our pages. But when the criticism is serious, we have a special obligation to describe the scope of the accusation and let the subject respond in detail.”

The reporters of the piece, Raja Abdulrahim and Ameera Harouda, failed at their obligation. Not that they tried very hard. Shortly after the Times piece was published, CAMERA asked IDF spokesman Jonathan Conricus about the charges. His official response came quickly, and addressed both the shelling and the sniping claims:

We are not shooting at and have not shot at the hospital, and surely not at evacuees. Hamas, on the other hand, has been documented firing at civilians attempted to evacuate.

The most influential American newspaper should have had no more trouble soliciting an unambiguous response from Israel. But it seems they weren’t particularly interested. Even after editors were made aware of Conricus’s statement, which was both forthright in responding to the charges and, with its reference to Hamas firing at civilians, newsworthy in its own right, they did not update the piece. They preferred to leave readers with the unchallenged charge that Israel cruelly shoots at families.

Meanwhile, the statement they did publish, from IDF spokesman Daniel Hagari, likely came from a video briefing by the spokesperson earlier that day. (The quoted statement in the Times article, that Hamas “chooses to fight next to Al-Shifa Hospital,” was recited at the briefing.) But in his statement, Hagari went much further than what was relayed in the Times. He said Gazans are escaping to southern Gaza despite Hamas instructions that they remain in the war-battered north. To prevent the flight, he continued, Hamas “lies about what is happening at the hospital.” They had charged Israel with attacking the hospital, but in fact it was Gaza terror organizations that struck the area. “Hamas shoots at and kills its own people.”

The Times citation of Hagari was severely sanitized, omitting his reference to the failed Palestinian rocket launch, and omitting his blunt charge that Hamas is lying. (It’s not that the paper is shy about reporting such bluntness. In contrast with its watered-down paraphrase of Hagari, it did find fit to print a Palestinian charge that Hagari made a “completely false” statement. So why conceal Hagari saying the same about Hamas’s claims?)

After the New York Times rushed to push false Hamas propaganda about a non-existent Israeli attack on the Ahli hospital which purportedly killed 500, the newspaper acknowledged that “editors should have taken more care with the initial presentation, and been more explicit about what information could be verified.” Instead, they’ve done the opposite, presenting unverified allegations, but this time even concealing Israel’s response to the charges. So much for those “safeguards.”


Below is Palestinian testimony of Hamas blocking escape routes, including with threats of violence.


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