Fool Me Twice: CNN Falls for False Casualty Numbers

Wolf Blitzer should have known better.

Nabil Shaath, the senior Palestinian official who on CNN several days ago fervently charged Israel with conducting “a war against the Palestinian people,” has a history of lying about Palestinian casualties. In 2002, after Israel’s difficult and costly battle with Palestinian gunmen in Jenin, Shaath told the CNN journalist that the Israeli army “massacred” Palestinians and “snatched” their corpses, which they supposedly “buried elsewhere in unidentified graves.” It was pure fabrication. So was Shaath’s statement to AFP that 300 Palestinians were killed during the battle. In fact 52 were killed, mostly combatants.

Lessons were not learned. In his July 25 interview with Blitzer, Shaath insisted that one thousand Palestinians in Gaza have been killed, and that “700 of them are women, children and elderly civilians.”

An analysis of casualties by CAMERA’s Steven Stotsky, which looks at Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) data through July 26, reveals that Shaath was off by hundreds. About 300 women, children and elderly were killed in Gaza at the time of the interview, assuming children to be everyone under the age of 18 and elderly to be those over 64. Add 17-year-old males to the count and the number rises to about 325. (This figure almost certainly includes Palestinians killed by Palestinian rockets that misfired.) In short, CNN viewers were given a number that more than doubled the true figure.

Fine-tuning the count doesn’t change much. Even if we expand “elderly civilians” to a broader (and insulting) range that encompass everyone aged 50 and older, consider every fatality whose age is not given by PCHR (and who is not described as a militant) to be a child, elderly or female, and add a few dozen to the list to account for fog-of-war counting errors, there is an absolute maximum of about 440 women, children and elderly.
Any way you look at it, Shaath’s number was egregiously off the mark. CNN viewers deserve better. They deserve accurate information, and if that requires CNN to fact-check Palestinian officials with a history of duplicity, then that is what must happen.

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