Reuters Legitimizes Wild Conspiracy Theory With Credulous Headline

Reuters is promoting a wild anti-Israel conspiracy theory about Israel’s operations at Gaza’s Shifa hospital.

The wire service is pushing a story whose headline and lede suggest, without a hint of proof, that Israel has planted evidence of weapons and tunnels at the hospital. The headline reads, “Doctor says Israeli forces ‘found nothing’, supplies low at Gaza’s Al Shifa Hospital.”

The opening sentence echoes the sentiment: “A doctor at the Gaza Strip’s Al Shifa hospital said on Friday Israeli forces had ‘found nothing’ during searches of the hospital complex, and that food and water were running out.”

If Israelis had “found nothing,” then what of the weapons Israel found inside the hospital? What of the larger cache of weapons Israel found on the grounds of the hospital? What of the tunnel that Israel has uncovered?

Reuters has heard and seen what Israel has reported about these discoveries. Yesterday, it ran a story — an bizarrely, inexplicably brief, three-sentence article, but an article nonetheless — on Israel’s discoveries:

The Israeli military said on Thursday that it uncovered a Hamas tunnel shaft and a vehicle with weapons at Gaza’s Al Shifa hospital complex.

“In the Shifa Hospital, IDF troops found an operational tunnel shaft and a vehicle containing a large number of weapons,” the military said, using the acronym for the Israel Defense Forces.

The military also made public videos and photographs of the tunnel shaft and weapons.

Reuters has also shared Israeli video of the discovery. And a previous Reuters story reported on the discovery of weaponry inside a hospital building.

A charge that Israel found “nothing,” then, amounts to an allegation of a conspiracy — that Israel systematically fabricates and plants evidence, that it digs fake tunnels, and that it perfidiously peddles this to the press.

Even if for whatever reason Reuters finds the doctor’s claim newsworthy, there should be a high bar set and crossed — video evidence of Israel trucking in weapons from afar and planting it in the hospital, for example — before so prominently promoting his wild conspiracy theory.

In the absence of evidence (and neither the Palestinian doctor nor the transcribers at Reuters present any) such a claim should at best be relayed as an afterthought, with a heavy dose of journalistic skepticism. Instead, it’s Israel’s discoveries that are treated as an afterthought, with Reuters including a passing reference to those findings in paragraph six.

The Reuters headline and lede bring to mind the text of a New York Times editors’ note, published after its bungled coverage of a blast at the Ahli hospital. That note admitted that “early versions of the coverage — and the prominence it received in a headline, news alert and social media channels — relied too heavily on claims by Hamas, and did not make clear that those claims could not immediately be verified. The report left readers with an incorrect impression about what was known and how credible the account was.” The newspaper concluded that, “[g]iven the sensitive nature of the news during a widening conflict, and the prominent promotion it received, Times editors should have taken more care with the initial presentation, and been more explicit about what information could be verified.”

Surely this should apply doubly to wild, unsubstantiated allegations by a doctor in no position to know that Israel found “nothing,” and in even less of a position to substantiate the insinuation that Israel has fabricated evidence.

The issue has been brought to the attention of Reuters editors, who have not as of this writing amended the piece. 

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