Lazy eyes listen
Four news organisations strongly denied having prior knowledge of Hamas’ Oct. 7 terror attack on Thursday, after the Israeli government demanded answers from the press and cast doubt on their credibility following a thinly sourced report from an agenda-driven media monitoring group that insinuated news organisations were aware of the impending attack.
The Associated Press, Reuters, The New York Times, and CNN all issued strong statements in response to a report published late Wednesday by HonestReporting, a staunchly pro-Israel media watchdog, that claimed photographers for the news outlets were present during the initial attack, citing screenshots posted on social media.
The Associated Press and CNN, on the other hand, said they had severed ties with freelance photographer Hassan Eslaiah after he was identified in the report as being present with Hamas militants during the heinous attack on Israel.
“The Associated Press had no knowledge of the Oct. 7 attacks before they happened,” Lauren Easton, the Associated Press’s director of media relations, said in a statement. “The first images received by AP from any freelancer were taken more than an hour after the attacks began.” No AP personnel were on the border at the time of the attacks, and no AP personnel crossed the border at any time.”
“We are no longer working with Hassan Eslaiah, who had been an occasional freelancer for AP and other international news organisations in Gaza,” he said.
CNN said in a statement that Eslaiah was not working for them on the day of the attack.
“We had no prior knowledge of the October 7th attacks,” according to a CNN spokesperson. “On October 7th, Hassan Eslaiah, a freelance journalist who worked for us and many other outlets, was not working for the network.” We have severed all ties with him as of today.”
Reuters also pushed back on the insinuation that it was somehow aware of the Hamas’ planned assault on Israel.
“Reuters categorically denies that it had prior knowledge of the attack or that we embedded journalists with Hamas on Oct. 7,” a Reuters spokesperson said, adding, “The photographs published by Reuters were taken two hours after Hamas fired rockets across southern Israel and more than 45 minutes after Israel said gunmen had crossed the border.”
“Reuters staff journalists were not on the ground at the locations referred to in the HonestReporting article,” the spokesperson added.
The New York Times also issued a statement about accusations made against another freelance photographer, Yousef Massoud, who was mentioned in HonestReporting’s report.
“Though Yousef was not working for The Times on the day of the attack, he has since done important work for us,” the company said. “There is no evidence for Honest Reporting’s insinuations. Our review of his work shows that he was doing what photojournalists always do during major news events, documenting the tragedy as it unfolded.”
When covering war, it is typical for news organizations to acquire video and photographs from freelancers who are in the region. Freelancers work as independent contractors and are not employees of the companies in which they provide services or their material to.
HonestReporting has a history of making serious — and often misleading — accusations against the news media.
The Israeli government, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been combative with the press, attempted to use HonestReporting’s story to support the false notion that news organisations were aware of the terror attack before it occurred.
“These journalists were accomplices in crimes against humanity; their actions were contrary to professional ethics,” the Israeli prime minister’s office said on X, formerly known as Twitter, on Thursday. “Overnight the [Government Press Office] issued an urgent letter to the bureau chiefs of the media organisations that employed these photographers and sought clarifications on the matter.”
A request for comment from Netanyahu’s office was not immediately returned.
Benny Gantz, a member of Israel’s war cabinet, also made use of the report.
“Journalists found to have known about the massacre, and still chose to stand as idle bystanders while children were slaughtered – are no different than terrorists and should be treated as such,” he wrote.
The Committee to Protect Journalists condemned the Israeli government’s rhetoric, warning that it could endanger media workers.
“Attempts to smear, delegitimize, and criminalise journalists doing their jobs are outrageous and irresponsible, and they put journalists in even greater danger,” said Gipsy Guillén Kaiser, CPJ’s advocacy and communications director, in a statement. “Targeting journalists with disinformation only endangers them.”