CNN Reporting: Conflicts of Interest, A Missing Terrorist Organization, And an Inability to Verify

One-sided propaganda or a legitimate news report? Once again, the question must be asked of CNN after its February 22 article, “A small chapel in Gaza City offers sanctuary to Palestinians, as Israeli strikes wipe out entire families in the north,” authored by Khader Al Za’anoun, Abeer Salman, and Sana Noor Haq.

Three themes help to illustrate the bad faith found in the article. First, the authors spill large amounts of ink to link Israel to tragedies, while omitting or glossing over the existence and responsibility of other parties. Second, the article employs a curious double standard as to informing readers of when the network was “unable to verify” details being reported. Third, the background of one of the journalists himself raises questions of a conflict of interest.

Where is Hamas?

No, this isn’t just about the fact that the authors are once again citing the “Ministry of Health in Gaza” without explaining that it is a Hamas institution.

It’s also that the authors go to lengths to connect tragedies in the Gaza Strip to the IDF, while completely omitting Hamas’s responsibility for the tragedies. The very existence of the terrorist organization, which previously boasted over 30,000 fighters in its ranks, is treated as but a footnote in the story.

In some cases, this leads to plainly inaccurate claims. The audience is told that “Israeli attacks on Gaza” have killed 29,313 Palestinians. But these Hamas-sourced numbers include, for example, those killed by misfired Palestinian rockets. Approximately 10% of Palestinian rockets fail, meaning around 1,000 rockets launched since October never reached Israel. We know this causes a substantial number of deaths, too. The figures cited by CNN, for example, include the nearly 500 people that Hamas claims were killed at al-Ahli Hospital on October 17, which we now know was caused by a misfired Islamic Jihad rocket. During the 2022 round of fighting between the IDF and Islamic Jihad, nearly a third of the fatalities were caused by misfired Palestinian rockets. When Hamas’s indiscriminate rockets kill a Palestinian, why is Israel still to blame?

In other cases, the authors’ erasure of Hamas actions and responsibility leads to a deeply misleading portrayal of the issue. The article treats as a non-issue the unprecedented nature and degree of Hamas’s practice of embedding its military infrastructure and fighters in civilian areas. But the fact that Palestinian civilians may have been killed by an Israeli airstrike does not automatically mean, legally or morally, that Israel is responsible for the harm. As the U.S. Department of Defense’s Law of War Manual explains (see section, “The party that employs human shields in an attempt to shield military objectives from attack assumes responsibility for their injury…” This is just common sense. So why would the authors ignore the party most responsible for the harm to civilians?

The authors omit responsibility of other parties, too. They blame “Israel’s bombardment and severe restrictions on aid entering the strip” for diminishing “critical food, fuel, water and medical supplies” and “decimat[ing] the health care system.” But, as even the United Nations has admitted, the problem is not “severe restrictions” on the entry of aid by Israel. To the contrary, Israel has repeatedly produced evidence showing that it is inspecting and allowing aid through faster than the UN can deliver it. All the while, the UN has been repeatedly caught making false or misleading claims about aid delivery.

Conflicts require more than one party. When the authors write as though only one side deserves scrutiny, that raises obvious questions of whether they are acting as journalists or propagandists.

Unable to Verify?

The authors exude bias when they qualify by saying the network “cannot independently verify” a claim. The phrase is used only once in the article:

The IDF claims Hamas operates out of hospitals, calling it a violation of “the strict prohibition under international law against using medical facilities as shields for military operations.” Hamas denies using hospitals as cover. CNN cannot independently verify either claim.

Lest the “either claim” language fool anyone, such qualifications are designed to cast doubt on allegations, which in this case come from Israel, not denials.

But this is so misleading because it doesn’t matter if CNN can independently verify it or not. Israel has produced abundant evidence for its claim, evidence which has been corroborated by independent witnesses and foreign intelligence agencies. How many times does Israel have to produce drone footage showing, in detail, the exact location of terrorist tunnels underneath hospitals? How many videos does the IDF have to release, or Hamas to release itself, showing Hamas fighters using hospital grounds? How many weapons does Israel have to pull out of MRI machines and incubators? What is the standard of evidence CNN requires?

Compare this to some the claims authors do not qualify by stating they could not independently verify. For one, the casualty figures. The network even cites the “Ministry of Health in Gaza” for the claim that “[a] prominent doctor and his daughter, a human rights lawyer, as well as an international football referee” were among those killed during a 24-hour period. But given that Hamas has been caught labeling its own terrorist fighters as “journalists,” or that multiple UNRWA “teachers” were caught participating in Hamas’s atrocities of October 7, was CNN able to “independently verify” these descriptions and numbers?

If CNN is unable to verify, why doesn’t it engage in some journalism and investigate? Why must Israel’s well-documented allegations be “verified,” but allegations against Israel are allowed to escape such scrutiny?

Impartial Journalism?

What might help explain the double standard is the existence of a conflict of interest for one of the authors. The first name listed in the byline is Al Za’anoun, who is identified alongside the other two authors as “CNN.” But CNN hasn’t been Al Za’anoun’s only gig during the current war. He has also been working for WAFA, the official news agency of the Palestinian Authority.

The same PA that openly seeks to co-opt journalism for propaganda.

It would be like CNN hiring a reporter from the Iranian regime’s PressTV to cover the Houthi attacks in the Red Sea.

Just last year, PA president Mahmoud Abbas’s representative to a conference of the Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate (PJS) told the crowd: “In the eyes of His Honor the president, you are the homeland’s soldiers defending the Palestinian national narrative against the Zionist narrative.” Sure enough, the PJS went on to declare that “the top priority of the Palestinian journalist is loyalty to all the Martyrs, loyalty to our people’s just cause.”

The threat of intimidation isn’t imaginary. Nor is the fact that a journalist also works for a foreign outlet any protection. Several years ago, Associated Press reportedly fired a Palestinian cameraman “at the request of Palestinian police who objected to his support for a fellow journalist” that the PA had jailed. A year later, PA forces beat two Washington Post journalists.

If one of CNN’s journalists depends on keeping an interested party, the PA, satisfied with his reporting, how can readers trust they are receiving accurate, contextualized information? How can CNN assure its audience that Al-Za’anoun’s work on behalf of the PA does not taint his work for CNN?

Bonus: Bad CNN Habits Return

CNN’s bad habit of uncritically airing Hamas casualty figures, without mentioning that the figures come from Hamas, is not the only recurring issue.

The outlet is also, once again, laundering Hamas propaganda under the guise of a “humanitarian organization.” As CAMERA documented in October, the network attributed casualty figures to an “aid organization” called “Save the Children.” But, upon a minimal investigation, it became clear that Save the Children was just repeating figures it got from Hamas.

This time, the network used an organization called “Medical Aid for Palestinians” (MAP) for the claim that, “As of February 14, only 11 out of 36 hospitals in Gaza are partially functioning.”

But based on MAP’s statement that CNN links to, the organization isn’t in a position to know this directly. The statement begins with the words, “Reports from the inside…” and does not indicate anywhere that it has firsthand knowledge of the situation. Instead, based on CNN’s own reporting from a day earlier, the figure appears to come from a Hamas spokesperson, Ashraf Al-Qidra: “Only 11 out of 36 hospitals are even partially functioning inside the Gaza Strip, Palestinian Ministry of Health spokesperson Dr. Ashraf Al-Qidra said last week.”

Yes, the network omitted the Hamas affiliation of the “Ministry of Health” in that article, too.

That the CNN journalists are getting their information from MAP is itself alarming, given the organization’s long, documented record of extreme anti-Israel bias. Several years ago, it was warned by charity officials in the United Kingdom over its use of money “towards political propaganda rather than for its stated purpose of providing medical aid.” During the 2014 Israel-Hamas war, the organization even worked with Hamas and another U.S.-designated terrorist entity.

With egregiously slanted reporting like this, CNN is debasing journalism and harming its own reputation.

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