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Attack on Gaza: Western media 'went out of the way' to obscure, protect perpetrators

By Sonali Kolhatkar* 

Israeli forces killed more than a hundred Palestinians and wounded more than 700 on February 29, 2024 during a distribution of food aid in Gaza city, pushing the Palestinian death toll to 30,000 since October 7, 2023. The food aid massacre was straightforward in its deadliness as armed Israeli forces aimed weapons at desperate, hungry Palestinian civilians and killed many of them. It was also plausible within the context of who has firepower and who doesn’t, and wholly consistent with Israeli atrocities, especially those committed since October 7, 2023.
And yet, Western media headlines went out of their way to obscure and protect the perpetrators of this awful crime. CNN reported there was a “Carnage at Gaza food aid site amid Israeli gunfire,” as if the victims had little to do with the gunfire. The outlet didn’t even bother to mention Palestinians.
The Washington Post was worse, declaring that, “Chaotic aid delivery turns deadly as Israeli, Gazan officials trade blame.” The use of the word “chaotic” suggests things were out of everyone’s control. And, either Israeli or Gazan authorities could be to blame.
The New York Times took a poetic approach, listing a series of events seemingly unconnected, with its headline, “As Hungry Gazans Crowd a Convoy, a Crush of Bodies, Israeli Gunshots and a Deadly Toll.” If sentences had shoulders, this one practically shrugged in helpless ignorance at the curious mystery behind the massacre.
Some news outlets left Israelis and Palestinians out of the headline altogether to seemingly avoid placing blame. Reuters reported, “More than 100 killed while seeking aid in Gaza, overall death toll passes 30,000,” and the supposedly liberal NBC News claimed, “Dozens killed in attack on crowd waiting for aid, Gaza health officials say.” Even PBS couldn’t bring itself to identify the perpetrators or victims with its headline, “More than 100 killed in Gaza while trying to get food from aid convoy.”
The use of the passive voice, of language designed to obscure and give the perpetrator the benefit of the doubt, is a popular trick employed by major news outlets when reporting on Israeli atrocities. When contrasted with how the media reported Hamas’ attack on Israelis in early October 2023 by using the active voice and clearly naming perpetrator and victim, it becomes even more embarrassingly apparent that Western corporate media have a powerful political allegiance to Israel in spite of claims of objectivity.
Take the New York Times as an example. In three reports on three separate days about the same October 7, 2023 incident, the paper’s editors showed that they do indeed know how to write simple and straightforward headlines. “‘We Are at War,’ Netanyahu Says After Hamas Attacks Israel,”(October 7), “How the Hamas Attack on Israel Unfolded,” (October 8), and “Hamas Leaves Trail of Terror in Israel,” (October 10). There is use of the active voice and clear identification of perpetrator and victim.
There is a strong parallel between news coverage of Palestinian victims of Israel and Black and Brown victims of racism, white vigilantism, and policing in the U.S. In my 2023 book, Rising Up: The Power of Narrative in Pursuing Racial Justice, I analyzed the dominant narratives that media outlets perpetuate when covering race and racism. A failure to center the humanity of people of color has been a standard weakness in U.S. media coverage. The Pulitzer prize-winning journalist Wesley Lowery, in a scathing op-ed in the New York Times in July 2020 pointed out that, “the mainstream has allowed what it considers objective truth to be decided almost exclusively by white reporters and their mostly white bosses.”
It’s not surprising that white supremacy, which continues to infect newsrooms, finds common cause with pro-Israel bias. The state of Israel is built on ethnic and religious hierarchy. The added weight of the U.S. government’s long-term political favoritism toward Israel means that we have been in a proxy war against Palestinians. And so, U.S. newsrooms are loathe to identify Israel as an overt perpetrator of death, destruction, and genocide.
The media watchdog group, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), has for years pointed out the media’s double standards on Israelis and Palestinians. Writing in early February, Julia Hollar analyzed the New York Times’s and Washington Post’s coverage of Israel’s war on Gaza, showing exactly how pro-Israel both papers are and how both “leaned heavily toward a conversation dominated by Israeli interests and concerns.”
US journalists signed an open letter calling for moral clarity, urging their colleagues to tell the full truth without fear or favour
While the recent Israeli massacre of Palestinians at the food aid distribution is merely one example of how news outlets skew their coverage, research shows that this is indicative of a broad trend. Studies of news media bias, including large-scale surveys conducted using artificial intelligence, point to a persistent anti-Palestinian strain across major outlets. In that sense, not only is the U.S. in a proxy war against Palestinians, but is an active participant in perpetuating genocidal propaganda.
Thankfully the U.S. public is not having it. Hollar wrote in FAIR, “Clear calls for an unconditional ceasefire, while widespread in the real world, were vanishingly rare at the papers.” It is striking that in spite of this clear attempt at skewing the debate, Americans are largely in favor of a ceasefire. Data for Progress’s latest poll found “Around two-thirds of voters (67 percent) -- including majorities of Democrats (77 percent), Independents (69 percent), and Republicans (56 percent) -- support the U.S. calling for a permanent ceasefire and a de-escalation of violence in Gaza.” The news media are shaped by, and shape public opinion. In the case of Israel’s war on Gaza, media outlets appear to be starkly out of step with the American public.
Lowery wrote in his 2020 op-ed that in order for newsrooms to rise above dehumanizing bias, “it will take moral clarity, which will require both editors and reporters to stop doing things like reflexively hiding behind euphemisms that obfuscate the truth, simply because we’ve always done it that way.”
Just as changing demographics in the nation and its newsrooms have initiated a reckoning in how media outlets cover racial justice, there is a slow sea-change transpiring in media coverage of Palestinians. In December 2023, more than a thousand U.S. journalists signed on to an open letter calling for “moral clarity,” urging their colleagues “to tell the full truth without fear or favor,” and to “use precise terms that are well-defined by international human rights organizations, including ‘apartheid,’ ‘ethnic cleansing,’ and ‘genocide.’”
Obscuring the criminality of elites and giving cover to genocide requires effort and a commitment to the power of elites. How much easier would it be to call a spade a spade and simply tell the truth?
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*Award-winning multimedia journalist; founder, host, executive producer of Rising Up With Sonali, a weekly television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations; writing fellow for the Economy for All project at the Independent Media Institute; racial justice and civil liberties editor at Yes! Magazine; co-director of nonprofit solidarity organization Afghan Women’s Mission; sits on the board of directors of Justice Action Center, an immigrant rights organization. Author: Rising Up: The Power of Narrative in Pursuing Racial Justice (City Lights Books, 2023), co-author: Bleeding Afghanistan. This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute

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