MSNBC: Four Months of Disinformation

Since the barbaric Hamas attack on Israel on October 7, 2023, in which 1200 men, women, and children were tortured, raped and killed and over 200 more taken hostage, MSNBC has churned out multiple biased and distorted reports, featuring some of the worst anti-Israel propagandists such as Rula Jebreal, Noura Erekat, and Ilan Pappé. While Mehdi Hasan’s recent departure from the network is a positive step, it does not go far enough to address the problems there. Many of the network’s other anchors and commentators continue to distort events related to the war with Israel that Hamas started.

Of course, the reporting has not been universally bad. For example, on October 14, José Díaz-Balart hosted Israeli spokesperson Eylon Levy. Díaz-Balart also allowed Israeli soldier Rudy Rochman to provide the perspective of a soldier preparing for the ground invasion, as well as to speak about his experience defending Israel on October 7 and to describe the atrocities he witnessed that day. That same day, reporter Raf Sanchez described the preceding week as “a nightmare that Israel can’t wake up from.” On October 15, Katie Phang interviewed ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt who told her and her audience, “anti-Zionism, I’ve long said, is antisemitism. I was wrong. Anti-Zionism is genocide.” On October 26, Mandana Dayani appeared on Morning Joe, talking about her experience as a Jew who fled Iran and how, in light of that experience, she perceived the worldwide reaction to October 7. Memorably, correspondent Martin Fletcher movingly spoke about his own family members who had been taken hostage by Hamas.

Yet, some specific problems have recurred. One theme in the coverage was commentators who ignored or minimized the 2005 disengagement, when Israel withdrew every last civilian and soldier from Gaza, leaving Gaza with a greenhouse agricultural business, a beautiful coastline for tourism, and the opportunity for the people there to chart their own course for the future. In 2006, when the people of Gaza had the opportunity for independence, and the opportunity to build a peaceful and prosperous society, they elected Hamas, a group dedicated to the destruction of Israel. On October 7, 2023, Hamas acted on that sentiment, and everything that is happening today flows from that decision. But MSNBC commentators repeatedly ignored this, blaming Israel’s siege or occupation, rather than the election of Hamas, for the attack as well as for the current war. CAMERA counted at least six instances in which the conflict was distorted in this manner. This type of omission is a form of disinformation. 

Another recurring issue is the elevation of Jews who hold fringe positions and have limited credentials, such as Sarah Schulman, a fiction writer who teaches at the College of Staten Island, Daniel Levy, presented as an “Israeli peace negotiator,” who never negotiated anything that was successful, Masha Gessen, a staff writer at the New Yorker, Simone Zimmerman, co-founder of the fringe group IfNotNow, or even MSNBC’s own Peter Beinart. The vast, vast majority of both American and Israeli Jews support Israel in its defensive war against Hamas. But MSNBC presents such guests as if they hold expertise or authority, creating a false impression of a division in Jewish opinion about the war. Such individuals represent a tiny and extreme minority opinion at best, and are not representative of the Jewish community.

A third recurring problem is that MSNBC commentators presented Hamas casualty statistics without caveat, emphasizing the alleged number of civilian and child casualties, without noting that Hamas itself does not distinguish between civilian and combatant casualties, without noting that Hamas recruits child soldiers, without noting that some of those casualties have been caused by shortfalls of Palestinian rockets, and without noting the numbers of combatants the IDF claimed to have killed. This is another example of an omission that is itself a form of disinformation, as it skews people’s perceptions of events. CAMERA noted at least two cases in which MSNBC falsely characterized the entire Hamas-supplied casualty count as “civilians.” 

Other type of errors were made as well. A partial list of some of MSNBC’s worst reporting is below.
• On October 9, just two days after the worst attack on Jews since the Holocaust, as previously noted by CAMERA, Joy Reid and her guests Peter Beinart, Ayman Mohyeldin, Ali Velshi and Lt. General Stephen Twitty ignored Hamas’s dedication to genocidal violence as expressed in its charter and in its leaders’ rhetoric, omitted any mention of offers of Palestinian sovereignty and independence, and sought to imply that the carnage was inevitable due to Israel’s actions. In doing so, they excused and justified Hamas’s barbaric attack, instead blaming Israel for the attack on itself.

• On October 29, Ayman Mohyeldin hosted Sarah Schulman, a novelist, a professor at the College of Staten Island (part of CUNY), and an advisory board member of Jewish Voice for Peace. Schulman has no qualifications as an analyst on the Middle East, and gained notoriety only due to her association with a fringe group that, while purporting to be Jewish, has, in the past, proudly stated that its members in fact need not be Jewish. Mohyeldin allowed Schulman, unchallenged, to falsely claim, “for 75 years Palestinians have been murdered and displaced and incarcerated.” Schulman went on to falsely claim that Gaza has been under “occupation,” even though every single Israeli, civilian and soldier, was withdrawn from Gaza in 2005. Schulman claimed that “the conditions have been created that are completely untenable and they exploded,” and that “the violence is a consequence of the oppression,” even while insisting that she was not “excusing” Hamas’s attack.

• On November 10, Dean Obeidallah, a guest on Joy Reid’s program, claimed that up to that point in the war, the IDF had killed “upwards of 4000 children.” There was not then, and still today is not, any way to know how many of the casualties are children, other than by taking Hamas’s word for it. Nor do we know how many of the casualties were killed by misfired Palestinian rockets. Moreover, Hamas uses child soldiers, which is itself a war crime precisely because it makes them targets. Obeidallah then went on to make an apples and oranges comparison to the number of children killed in the Ukraine war. But at the very start of the Ukraine war, women and children were allowed to flee to neighboring states, to get out of harm’s way. In comparison, as NPR reported, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi “said in October that he rejects Palestinians being displaced, saying it could forever undermine the push for Palestinian statehood.” In other words, foreign leaders are keeping Gaza children trapped in a war zone, yet Israel, again, is blamed for the consequences.

• On November 11, Ayman Mohyeldin did a nine minute segment on conditions in the Gaza hospitals, featuring Hamas propagandists from the NGO Doctors without Borders, without mentioning IDF claims or evidence that Hamas was operating out of hospitals, especially Al-Shifa.

On the same date, Mohyeldin also featured a two-and-a-half minute segment on the Bedouin population of Israel that presented a completely distorted picture. The segment included NBC correspondent Jay Gray reporting that 15 Bedouins were killed in the October 7th attacks and seven captured as hostages, as well as an interviewee who complained of rocket fire. But which party committed that attack, which party took those hostages, which party is firing the rockets that fall on them, MSNBC doesn’t say in this report. (After this report was broadcast, one of the hostages that it featured, Samer al-Talalka, tragically, was mistakenly killed by IDF fire.) Even worse was Mohyeldin’s criticism of Israel over the Bedouin community’s nomadic, off-the-grid lifestyle. When Israel tried about a decade ago to get the Bedouin into permanent housing, where they would have had electricity, running water, bomb shelters and Iron Dome protection, that plan was widely condemned as “ethnic cleansing” and abandoned. But again, Israel is blamed for the result. 

• On November 12, Peter Beinart advocated that Marwan Barghouti be released from Israeli jail so that he would be able to assume a leadership role in the Palestinian Authority. Beinart neglected to mention that Barghouti has been convicted of murdering five people, downplaying his actions by saying only that Barghouti was “involved in armed attacks in the Second Intifada.”

• On November 12, Mehdi Hasan (who is now no longer employed at MSNBC) falsely described the Nakba as the “forced expulsion” of 700,000 Palestinians in 1948. As CAMERA has made clear many times, the majority of Palestinians who left their homes in 1948 fled a war that, much like the current one, Israel did not start and did not want. Hasan then turned his platform over to Human Rights Watch’s Omar Shakir, a man whose animus against Israel is widely known and well-documented, and who used that platform to make a number of false claims, including that, “there’s no doubt that the Israeli government has committed war crimes.” Shakir also used his time on MSNBC to call for an arms embargo against Israel, even while Hamas continued to fire rockets at Israel and hold Israeli hostages.

On November 19, MSNBC commentator Omar Baddar stated, “we are here in the first place precisely because Palestinians have been denied freedom for decade after decade.” His co-panelist Peter Beinart agreed, saying, “ultimately, it’s only if Palestinians have a path to freedom, and they can see that ethical resistance, not what happened on October 7, but an ethical fight for freedom, is working, that’s the only way ultimately you’re going to weaken Hamas and make it an irrelevant political force.” As noted above, this is actually the opposite of the truth. We are here now because of what happened when, in 2005, the people of Gaza had freedom and the opportunity to chart their own course. That is when they elected Hamas, a group that was then, as it is now, sworn to Israel’s destruction. Today’s war is a direct consequence of that decision.

• On November 27 Joy Reid hosted Noura Erekat, who recited unverifiable casualty statistics, called Palestinian prisoners lawfully arrested by Israel “hostages,” and falsely called Israel an “apartheid regime.” Erekat made no mention of how Hamas kidnapped people who had committed no crime – men, women, children and even a baby – from their beds, but only criticized Israel for the manner in which it chose to pursue their release, calling its military campaign “genocidal” and claiming that Israel should have released the hostages exclusively through diplomacy.

Erekat said, “I think that Israel has waged, now we’re on day 52, a campaign that is not a military campaign but what is very clearly an ethnic cleansing campaign that has not achieved any military advantage. … This agreement [to exchange hostages for prisoners] was extended in the first week after October 7th. Israel could have achieved it immediately. It could have achieved it before the ground incursion that began on October 27th. … If there has been no military advantage, if Israel did not increase its negotiating leverage, but what it did do was mete out this incredible, incredible high civilian humanitarian harm, then we are pointing out that the purpose was not in fact to release the hostages which they could have released through this diplomatic exchange, this diplomatic process, a political process, but in fact was a campaign intended to do what many Israeli leaders have told us, which is to turn Gaza into a parking lot, which is to ethnically cleanse the north of Gaza, below the Wadir Gaza line, now 1.7 million Palestinians or 70 percent of the population has been displaced, and former justice minister Ayelet Shaked says that they won’t return but that they should be distributed as refugees across the world.”

Both Erekat and Reid ignore that freeing the hostages is not the only goal, that one legitimate purpose of the military campaign is to destroy Hamas and prevent the events of October 7 from recurring. Moreover, exchanging lawfully held prisoners for civilian hostages in the first week of the war would have rewarded, and thereby legitimated, hostage-taking. Erekat is suggesting that Hamas should have been rewarded for its barbaric October 7 assault. If this were followed, taking civilian hostages, including children, would become a legitimate method for freeing prisoners who have committed crimes. Moreover, Ayelet Shaked is not even currently in the Knesset, so her statements are irrelevant.

Israel, Erekat says, “must be held to account for this amount of destruction that it caused.” But Hamas, according to Erekat? Not so much.

Erekat also claimed that “there’s no military solution to this. … You actually have to end the occupation.” Both Reid and Erekat, of course, ignore that that is exactly what Israel did in 2005, when it withdrew all soldiers and civilians from Gaza.

Erekat went on to describe “opposition to Zionism” as “you oppose an ethno-national state that is contingent on maintaining a Jewish demographic majority that requires the ongoing removal of Palestinians and the confiscation of their lands.” She claimed that this “is not the same thing as bigotry towards Jewish people.” But when the only nationalism that you oppose is Zionism, when you falsely characterize that nationalism in negative and harmful ways, as Erekat does, of course it is a form of bigotry towards Jewish people.

• On November 28, Joy Reid hosted Brown University professor Omer Bartov who uses his Israeli identity to justify the October 7 attack, again repeating the trope that, “if you keep people under siege for 16 years without any hope, without proper sanitation, without proper education, with very heavy unemployment, a place where they cannot leave, it becomes a pressure cooker. And people will want to break out.” Again, as so many other commentators did, he ignored the fact that there was no siege when Israel evacuated all soldiers and citizens from Gaza in 2005. Bartov also claimed that “the [current] Israeli government is … not a good partner for negotiations because Netanyahu and the people to his right who are very extreme do not want any settlement,” ignoring the fact that offers of Palestinian independence made by Netanyahu’s predecessors were rejected by Palestinian leaders.

• CAMERA has previously described Ilan Pappé as “among the most extreme of a group of radical Israeli historians who have sought to rewrite Israel’s history to suggest the country was born in original sin.” He has made clear his willingness to falsify history when it suits his political agenda. Yet, despite being totally discredited, he was introduced on the network on December 10 as a “historian.” Pappé grotesquely and falsely claimed that “ethnic cleansing, which was attempted in 1948, is one of the means to make sure that the Palestinians are not part of the citizenship of the Jewish state.” This is false both because there was no organized attempt at ethnic cleansing in 1948, and because Arab Israelis are indeed an integral part of the citizenry of Israel. Pappé continued, “I’m afraid that the horrible attack by Hamas on the 7th of October is used as a pretext to downsize the one piece of historical Palestine that really causes the Israeli headaches. … they hope that this war allows them and gives them the opportunity to get rid of a large number of Palestinians either by transferring them to Egypt, if Egypt won’t allow that, then to other places in the world.” He then went on to absurdly suggest that Israel must negotiate for peace with Hamas, and called on the U.S. to “bring an end to the destruction of Gaza,” in other words, to force Israel to surrender.

• On December 14, Joy Reid introduced guest Daniel Levy as an Israeli “peace negotiator,” though he doesn’t appear to have ever negotiated any agreement that was actually implemented. Levy is a man who, elsewhere, just days after the barbaric October 7 attack, denied that Israel’s response was targeting the Hamas terrorists that perpetrated it, saying, “these kind of lies can’t be allowed to pass.” On Reid’s program, Levy said that, “no Israeli government has ever endorsed two states,” ignoring the multiple times that Israel has offered the Palestinians their own, independent state. Reid erroneously claims that, “one of the slogans of the Likud party, which this ambassador [she appears to be referring to Ben Gvir, who is neither an ambassador or a member of Likud] and Bibi Netanyahu belong to is ‘from the river to the sea’.” The claim that Netanyahu has made is that Israel must maintain security control in the entire area. This is not comparable to a call to destroy an existing nation, and to leave the fate of its citizens unknown. Levy falsely called Palestinians the “indigenous people” of the area, and baselessly claims they will be “driven in to reservations.” Levy falsely claimed that the people living in refugee camps in Gaza are there because they were expelled.

Reid closed the segment by stating that, “the other option of course, the Ottoman Empire had Jews, Christians, and Muslims, all living in peace. It can be done.” Reid appears oblivious the second-class or dhimmi status that Jews were subjected to for centuries under Muslim rule, including for most of the time that they lived under Ottoman rule. In the late 16th century, for example, Ottoman Sultan Murad III ordered Jews to wear specific hats that distinguished them from Muslims and forbade the construction or repair of synagogues. This latter prohibition continued into the mid-1800s.

• On December 17, Mehdi Hasan hosted Masha Gessen, who used the platform to promote Holocaust inversion, and Simone Zimmerman, who used the platform to promote her film “Israelism,” a film the Jewish Journal said “Assaults the Truth and Hurts Palestinians.”

• On the same date, guest Kevin Baron of Politico said there have been an “estimated 20,000 civilian deaths” (emphasis added) – a claim that even Hamas has not made. A week prior, the IDF had announced that 7000 of the casualties were Hamas fighters, a point that was ignored. Ayman Mohyeldin and Baron then discussed the shooting of three hostages by the IDF, without any discussion of traps that Hamas lays for soldiers that creates confusion and untenable situations for them.

• On December 20, Josh Paul, who resigned from the State Department over US military aid to Israel, appeared as a guest on Joy Reid’s program. Paul’s hatred of Israel is demonstrated by his severely distorted claim on Reid’s program that, “I recall my time in Jerusalem and in the West Bank in 2008, 2009, where at that point Israel was in the process of bulldozing the historic Palestinian [Maman Allah] Cemetery in Jerusalem to build a museum of tolerance.” In fact, as the Jewish Journal reported at the time, when the Museum was proposed, the site had already been turned into “mainly a large open parking lot,” and, well-before the Museum was ever conceived of, and the Jewish Journal citing Rabbi Marvin Hier, “in 1964, the highest Muslim religious council in Jerusalem ruled that the cemetery had been inactive for such a long time that it had lost its sacred character and could be used for public purposes.” Paul used his time on Reid’s show to call for the US to “hold out the real possibility of prison,” for IDF soldiers. Reid herself compared the situation in Gaza to that of Darfur, Rwanda or Democratic Republic of Congo, “previous cases in which the United States sort of watched, seemingly helplessly, as people died by the hundreds of thousands.”

• On January 2, Peter Beinart was up to his usual, again ignoring the fact that the people of Gaza had their independence in 2005, and used that opportunity to elect the group whose charter stated, “Israel will exist, and will continue to exist, until Islam abolishes it,” and that eventually acted on this when it committed the attack of October 7, 2023. Beinart said that Israel was “not offering any political horizon for the basic underlying cause of these conflicts,” and “this Israeli government isn’t offering any vision whatsoever that might suggest that after Hamas, Palestinians, even if they had a completely different kind of leadership, might have any path to freedom. It’s basically just offering occupation and, frankly, apartheid. … The only way, it seems to me, to undermine Palestinian support for the kind of horrifying attack that we saw on October 7th is by showing Palestinians that by ethical resistance, resistance that follows international law, that they can actually achieve their freedom.”

Beinart then claimed that the current Israeli government, “is dominated by people who want Jewish supremacy,” adopting a Nazi slur. He also falsely claimed that Israel, and not Hamas, “made Gaza unliveable,” and that most residents of Gaza were “expelled to Gaza in Israel’s war of independence in 1948.”

• On January 14, Ayman Mohyeldin introduced his segment saying, “one hundred days of war. That is how long it has been since the brutal Hamas attacks on October 7 and the subsequent destruction of Gaza by the Israeli military. The Palestinian territory has become virtually uninhabitable after continuous airstrikes and shelling, food and water shortages, and the lack of medical care and supplies.” But he fails to mention that 100 days, at that point, was the number of days that many Israelis have been held hostage in the territory, or that the level of destruction is due to the extensive Hamas tunnel network that must be destroyed.

He further claims, “some senior Israeli officials have called for the forced resettlement and expulsion of Palestinians outside of Gaza.” But this is false. The comments to which he appears to be referring have called for voluntary resettlement only. Even the NBC article which appears to be Mohyeldin’s source states, “These politicians say any relocation of Palestinians would be voluntary.” (The article does go on to quote “experts” who explain that voluntary isn’t really voluntary “‘under conditions of duress,’” i.e., when there is war on– of course, Israel is not really voluntarily fighting the war, either, and the experts don’t say how forcing people to remain in the war zone, if they want to leave, is not “duress.”)

Repeat guest Daniel Levy says, “we hear even today further warnings of the degree of danger the civilian population of Gaza are in, 23,000 deaths, overwhelming majority civilians, 10,000 children.” Again, there is no mention that 9,000 of those killed are Hamas members, or that Hamas recruits child soldiers. He then calls for the Biden administration to “use [its] leverage,” to curb Israel’s military campaign, in other words, to force Israel to surrender.

• On January 18, Chris Hayes and Senator Bernie Sanders spent the vast majority of the eight and a half minute segment discussing massive food shortages in Gaza and how those shortages are affecting children, but completely failed to note that Hamas commandeers aid coming in to Gaza for its own benefit.
• On January 19, Chris Hayes and guest Ben Rhodes blame the “Israeli offensive in Gaza,” rather than Hamas’s brutal October 7 attack which started the war, for the escalation in Yemen. As Hayes hands the show off to Alex Wagner, Wagner states, “Seventy percent of the schools and all universities in Gaza have been destroyed, talk about a recruitment effort for terrorism, right there.” No one ever seems to care, however, about how attacks on Israel affect the political positions of Israelis.

• On January 25, NBC reporter Matt Bradley falsely stated on MSNBC that 25,000 civilians have been killed in Gaza. But 25,000 was the approximate total number of casualties, and, as noted above, the figures coming out of the Hamas-run “Health Ministry” do not distinguish between civilians and combatants. And about a week and half prior, the IDF announced that 9000 of those killed were Hamas fighters. 

The above is not even a full accounting of misinformation purveyed by MSNBC since the October 7 attack. While, as noted above, there has been some coverage sympathetic to Israel’s predicament as well, with such distortions so common on the network, MSNBC’s viewers are not being well-informed.


With research by Myron Kaplan

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