In the clearest moral test in a generation, much of the U.S. media is failing. And not just by a little — they are failing spectacularly.
On Oct. 7, the Palestinian terrorist organization Hamas murdered an estimated 1,400 Israelis, many of whom were civilians, and kidnapped nearly 250 others to use as hostages. From the air, land and sea, Hamas terrorists targeted men, women, children, infants and the elderly.
Some Israelis were shot. Some were burned to death. Some were killed with explosives. Some were tortured and maimed. Some were raped and then murdered. The list of atrocities, many of which have been confirmed independent of Israeli officials, goes on and on.
Israel has since responded with military force, vowing to root out and destroy Hamas.
In this specific moment, when Israel is responding militarily to the greatest single-day slaughter of Jews since Adolf Hitler’s suicide, the question of who committed evil and who is justified could not be any clearer. Indeed, it is rare that a story as clear-cut as this falls into one’s lap.
Yet despite the uncomplicated nature of this precise situation, and despite the universally shared principle that murder and terrorism are, in fact, wrong, many journalists and editors appear to be morally confused.
Some scribes seem to be losing sleep, agonizing over such deep ethical dilemmas as, “Is ethnic cleansing — sorry, ‘decolonization’ — a legitimate form of protest?”; “does the terrorist organization that rules the Gaza Strip really owe it to the people it governs to provide basic utilities, including clean water?”; “can we really say that an Israeli infant was ‘beheaded,’ when it’s probably more accurate to say that the infant’s head was blown off by a rifle or a grenade?”; “is there a way around the idea that the Palestinian slogan, ‘From the river to the sea’ is an explicit call for a genocide?”; “do we really need to vet or fact-check statements and accusations that come from Hamas?”
The approach of many journalists to the current moment — a combination of “both-sides-ism” and kid-gloves treatment for Hamas terrorists — is not just morally repugnant; it’s absurd. It’s absurd because many of these same journalists spent the last several years boasting about their own moral clarity and willingness to speak out against evil, while scolding the rest of us for failing to do the same. It wasn’t so long ago that many of these same journalists laid out, in explicit detail, why it’s so dangerous to say there are “very fine people on both sides” when the story is one of civilians versus violent extremists.
To be sure, as many say, the Oct. 7 attack did not occur “in a vacuum.” And Israel’s response to this massacre has already and will cause more loss of innocent life. There is, however, a key difference between Israel’s military-state struggle for self-preservation against armed enemies on the one hand, and Hamas’s wanton, intentional massacre of helpless civilians on the other.
War happens and can even be justified under certain circumstances. But the Oct. 7 atrocities were not acts of war that just had unfortunate side effects. They were deliberate, targeted atrocities. For anyone with a moral compass, there is nothing that could ever excuse or even explain them.
Yet many in our media would play nice with a group composed of rapists and killers who routinely use human shields in conflict to maximize civilian casualties, insisting that we appreciate the “context” of their atrocities and taking their word as fact. As for stateside supporters of Hamas, it is difficult to see the coverage of their activities as anything other than sympathetic.
Consider, for example, the New York Times’s recent coverage of the desperate plight of Palestinians misgoverned by Hamas since 2006. Gazans suffer greatly, in large part due to the terrorist group’s hoarding of all the humanitarian aid they are supposed to receive — the food, water and fuel — in underground tunnels, in preparation for a long conflict with Israel. In any other scenario, this would be recognized as an obvious evil. Yet, shockingly, a New York Times reporter deadpans: “Hamas’s stockpiles raise questions about what responsibility, if any, it has to the civilian population.”
What questions would those be, exactly? From any reasonable perspective, there is no question that Hamas owes it to the people it rules to provide them with the clean water, fuel and food that outsiders generously send in for humanitarian purposes. And as a government that has refused to allow another election since it took power in 2006, Hamas arguably bears even more responsibility than a legitimately elected government would for providing utility services and other things governments are supposed to provide.
So why is this a question? Better yet, how is it a question?
Elsewhere at the New York Times, an equally shocking headline states, “For decades, Iran has vowed to destroy Israel. Now that its ally Hamas is at war with Israel, will Iran and its proxies follow through?” The subhead reads, “With Israel bent on crushing Iran’s ally Hamas, Tehran must decide whether it and the proxy militias it arms and trains will live up to its fiery rhetoric.”
Aside from the euphemisms — “militia” for terrorists and “fiery rhetoric” for calls for genocide — the New York Times presents as a “Sophie’s Choice” Iran’s dilemma of whether to follow through with the promise to kill more Jews. Won’t someone please think of the poor ayatollah and the immense pressure he must be experiencing right now?
These stories appear against the backdrop of the New York Times re-hiring a Palestinian video journalist known chiefly for his publicly stated admiration for Adolf Hitler on social media. It’s almost as if the newspaper’s problems are deeper than mere ignorance.
At the Washington Post, the in-house fact checker sprang to life this week to scold President Joe Biden for saying, “I have no confidence in the number that the Palestinians are using.” The fact-check argues this is a “remarkably uninformed” position, given that the United Nations has, in the past, independently corroborated figures reported by the Hamas-controlled Ministry of Health. It’s worth pointing out, however, that the UN concedes of the current conflict that it “has so far not been able to produce independent, comprehensive, and verified casualty figures,” and that the numbers it currently cites come directly from the Hamas-controlled Ministry of Health. In other words, Biden is correct to be distrustful of uncorroborated figures. It’s strange certain journalists feel differently.
At smaller news outlets, there has been more of the same, including a piece from Vice, which includes the astonishing lines: “Hamas as an organisation is often compared to ISIS. Israel, the U.S. and multiple countries in Europe define it as a terrorist movement. However, Hamas defines itself as an Islamic resistance movement with a political party and military wing, and is seen that way by Palestinians and other Arab states.”
Note that use of “however.” Never before has that word been asked to do so much work for so little.
The piece continues, adding, “After all, Hamas has been running Gaza for 17 years, providing many regular services like any governmental administration would.”
Considering the well-documented lack of fuel, water, food and basic utilities inside Gaza, one cannot help but wonder which “regular services” Hamas has been providing. The author of the Vice article never says.
Tinier newsrooms have likewise engaged in this bizarre pro-Hamas crankery. This includes the Daily Dot, where an article asks whether it’s part of a Jewish conspiracy for people to put up missing persons posters for the 200 hostages that Hamas captured on Oct. 7. And no, this is not an ungenerous paraphrase. The headline reads, “‘Like a trap’: Are posters of Israeli hostages drawing awareness or baiting pro-Palestinians into getting canceled when they tear them down?”
No serious newsroom would play it this way if the story involved, say, the Westboro Baptist Church. No serious newsroom would tolerate similar behavior if the people tearing down missing persons posters were supporting white supremacist terrorism rather than Hamas terrorism. No one ran straight-faced news coverage pondering the “root causes” and “nuances” of the Charlottesville car attack, asking readers to keep an open mind and consider all points of view to “contextualize” the grievances on both sides.
In fact, Vice is downright irritated that people even notice the substantial overlap between the pro-Hamas crowd’s rhetoric and the “Kill the Jews” rhetoric of honest-to-goodness white supremacists.
Yet, for whatever reason, these same journalists who unflinchingly challenged white supremacism believe that Hamas and its supporters stateside deserve a gentle, understanding approach. “Let’s hear them out — they may have a point!”
They would rather play the fool, asking questions they would never ask in any other story involving an extremist group, than contemplate the possibility that Palestinian terrorists are in the wrong, and Israel justified in its response.
For an industry that thinks so highly of itself, and for one that boasts so often of its own bravery and clear-eyed morality, one would think it would be better prepared to meet this moment.
But one would be horribly, horribly wrong.
Becket Adams is a writer in Washington and program director for the National Journalism Center.
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This story originally Appeared on The Hill