Rolling Stone is the former counter-culture magazine that is now under the full ownership of Penske Media, a company that, in February of 2018, sold a $200 million stake to the Saudi Arabian company Saudi Research and Marketing Group. SRMG is headquartered in Riyadh and is majority-owned by the Saudi government. Earlier this year, Penske Media announced “a new partnership with YT Media, one of China’s leading media and art companies, launching the Chinese Edition of Rolling Stone.”
Since Penske took over ownership, Rolling Stone seems to have developed a problem with its coverage of Israel and related issues. With its latest reporting on the military conflict between Israel and Hamas over the last two weeks, Rolling Stone shows us once again that it is in over its head when it comes to reporting on the Middle East. A highly misleading news article, “A Group of Senate Democrats Calls for Immediate Ceasefire in Israeli-Palestinian Conflict,” (May 17, 2021), was followed up with an even more slanted photo slide feature titled, “Life and Death in Gaza, In Photos” (May 19, 2021).
The title of the slide show feature, “Life and Death in Gaza,” emphasizes the damage specifically on one side of the conflict. Why did Rolling Stone editors make the choice to emphasize only Gaza in the headline? Viewers who click though without reading the descriptions may not even realize that two of the damaged buildings they see are in Israel.
The fifth slide shows an injured Palestinian child being carried by paramedics. Tragic, to be sure. But none of the photos show any injured Israeli civilians, though Magen David Adom (Israel’s paramedic service) claims to have treated 600 injuries related to the fighting.
The tenth slide shows a funeral for a Palestinian family that was killed on May 15 in the Al Shati refugee camp. The caption reads, “Palestinians attend the funeral of 10 members of a single extended family in Gaza City, on May 15th, after an Israeli air strike in the Al-shatea refugee camp in Gaza.” But there is no mention of the fact that Hamas leaders were meeting in the home where the family was killed, at the time of the airstrike that killed them. Properly captioning the photo could have revealed the truth about the conflict – that Hamas commits war crimes by using Palestinian civilians, including children, as human shields. Instead, the misleadingly captioned photo, like so much of the bad reporting we’ve seen, demonizes Israel and undermines its self-defense.
Of course, no slides have pictures of funerals of the Israeli civilians who have been killed – only a funeral for a soldier.
The third slide is titled, “Israeli Forces Bomb Building Housing Al-Jazeera, Associated Press.” The description omits the crucial fact that Hamas was operating out of this building, leaving Rolling Stone’s readers to form their own inferences about why Israel would destroy it. Indeed, there is no mention of the fact that Hamas embeds itself among Palestinian civilians. Nor is there any mention that at least some – and there is no way of knowing precisely how many – of the Palestinian casualties were caused by the approximately 12-20 percent of Hamas rockets that fell short and exploded inside of Gaza.
Two days before publication of the slides, in a May 17 news article, reporter Ryan Bort wrote:
A group of Senate Democrats is calling for a ceasefire in the Middle East after a week of conflict between the Israeli military and Hamas that has left more than 200 people dead, including dozens of Palestinian women and children.
But the lawmakers’ push for an immediate end to the violence comes amid a broader split over whether the United States should push for an end to a conflict in which civilians are being killed. While some Democrats are calling for an immediate halt, others are keeping quiet or backing the ongoing Israeli military operation. Republicans, meanwhile, remain largely united in their support of the bombardment of Gaza.
The call for a ceasefire came in the form of a statement released Sunday night by Sen. Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.), who along with 27 of his colleagues is urging an immediate end to the airstrikes between Israel and Palestine. “To prevent any further loss of civilian life and to prevent further escalation of conflict in Israel and the Palestinian territories, we urge an immediate ceasefire,” read the statement.
Rolling Stone magazine has claimed that it “has actually been in the hard news/investigative reporting business since its inception.” Yet, its editors seem unaware that there is in fact no sovereign entity called “Palestine,” and that the article’s claim that certain Democratic Senators have called for “an immediate end to the airstrikes between Israel and Palestine” is nonsensical. (The statement by the U.S. Senators, as is quoted, refers to “Israel and the Palestinian territories.”) Actual news organizations have consistently corrected erroneous usage of this terminology.
Bort informs readers in the first paragraph that the current fighting “has left more than 200 people dead, including dozens of Palestinian women and children.” What about Israeli women and children? Mr. Bort doesn’t see fit to tell us. He does mention much later in the article, that ten Israelis were killed, but doesn’t lead with it, and makes no mention of Israeli “women and children.” The Associated Press article that Bort relies on notes that there were “eight dead on the Israeli side, all but one of them civilians, including a 5-year-old.” But Bort ignores this.
Outrageously, Bort “reports” that “Republicans … remain largely united in their support of the bombardment of Gaza.” The current round of fighting began on May 10, when Hamas fired a barrage of rockets at Jerusalem, Israel’s capital. Since then, nearly every part of Israel has been affected, with Hamas rockets fired from within civilian areas inside of Gaza, indiscriminately at Israeli cities and towns. Somehow, though, Bort believes that only Gaza is “bombarded,” and later in the article refers to “Israel’s aggression against Palestine” (again, it’s not a country).
In reporting Palestinian casualty figures again later in the article, Bort claims they come from the “Palestinian Ministry of Health,” ignoring that Gaza casualty figures are reported by Hamas’s own operatives. CNN, for example, has referred repeatedly to the “Hamas-run Gaza Ministry of Health.” (The Palestinian Authority in the West Bank has its own Ministry of Health.) He ignores, as well (as did the slide feature) that numerous Hamas rockets are misfiring and exploding inside of Gaza, and that it’s been documented that two of the Palestinian children killed, were killed by rockets launched from inside Gaza.
WATCH as a Hamas rocket aimed at Israel misfires and falls back into Gaza.
But this isn't the 1st time—Hamas misfired 350 rockets in the last 3 days.
These rockets result in the deaths of innocent Gazan civilians.
It's time for the world to hold Hamas accountable. pic.twitter.com/vmhmXTZrl6
— Israel Defense Forces (@IDF) May 13, 2021
Though Rolling Stone editors are well-aware of the antisemitic statements made by the magazine’s former cover girl Representative Ilhan Omar, her position critical of current Israeli actions is cited with no mention of her past comments. (For example, in 2012 she tweeted, “Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel. #Gaza #Palestine #Israel.”)
Nor is it true, as Bort claims, that “Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), a staunch Israel defender … has co-sponsored legislation that would make boycotting the nation over its oppression of Palestinians a felony.” The bill in question was clear that it would have provided only for fines for cooperating with boycotts imposed by international governmental organizations (i.e., the U.N.).*
Two years ago, I asked in an op-ed in the Algemeiner, “Is It Downhill From Here for ‘Rolling Stone’?” Since then, the publication has moved much of its news reporting behind a hard paywall. This week’s mess of coverage comes at a time when China, the location of its newest venture, is being criticized for its human rights policies in Xinjiang, Tibet, and Hong Kong. In addition, Rolling Stone has been under fire for, among other things, owner Jay Penske’s ties to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Ironically, some on social media have even called to “#BoycottRollingStone.”
*Following through Rolling Stone’s links, from the Gothamist to the Intercept, it’s apparent that the initial source of the misinformation was an ACLU memo, authored by the organization’s then-political director, that misinterpreted the initial bill. The bill stated, in clear language, “(j) Violations Of Section 8(a).—Whoever knowingly violates or conspires to or attempts to violate any provision of section 8(a) or any regulation, order, or license issued thereunder shall be fined in accordance with section 206 of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (50 U.S.C. 1705)” (emphasis added). The ACLU memo’s description of the amount of the fines was also in error, as was the Intercept article that relied on the ACLU memo.