On Wednesday, Youmna al-Sayed, a journalist in Gaza City, was reporting live from a rooftop for Al Jazeera, wearing a large bowl-shaped helmet and a bulky flak jacket with PRESS emblazoned across the front. She was right by the Al-Shorouk tower, which housed at least seven media outlets, including the Hamas-affiliated Al-Aqsa TV and a newspaper associated with the Palestinian National Authority—and which had just come under fire from Israel. These were “warning missiles,” Sayed said, “and right now they should be starting to bring down the entire tower.” Soon, that happened: Sayed flinched, said “Oh my God,” and ducked for cover, continuing to narrate as the camera pivoted to show twin plumes of smoke curling into the sky. “The destruction is massive,” she said. Later, she added, “Targeting such a building, which holds media offices, is a clear message by the Israeli occupation that it does not want any media to tell the truth of what is going on in the Gaza Strip.”
The Al-Shorouk tower wasn’t the first building that Israeli forces bombed this week; the day before, they’d destroyed the Al-Jawhara tower, which was home to at least thirteen media organizations, including the Qatari channel Al-Araby TV, the newspaper Felestin, and the Forum of Palestinian Journalists. The local office of Al Jazeera, in an adjacent building, also sustained damage. The International Federation of Journalists reported that the Al-Jawhara tower was evacuated and that no journalists were injured, though the Committee to Protect Journalists was unable to confirm that and noted that the BBC has reported civilian casualties. Israeli officials said they were targeting Hamas “weapons stores” and offices, including “the military wing’s public relations department.”
The Israeli military hasn’t attacked journalists just in Gaza City. A week ago, security forces fired rubber bullets at protesters in the Temple Mount Complex in Jerusalem, injuring at least five Palestinian freelancers, including Saleh Zighari, who also reported being hit with shrapnel from a stun grenade, and Atta Awisat, whom officers had also beaten with batons. Three journalists with Anadolu, a Turkish state outlet, were hit with rubber bullets; on Monday, two of them and another colleague were attacked again as they covered a raid by Israeli forces on the Al-Aqsa mosque, where at least six Palestinian journalists inhaled tear gas and another, Fatima al-Bakri, was physically assaulted by officers. (Israeli officials said they support press freedom, but not protesters documenting officers “in order to create a journalistic facade.”) A reporter named Ibrahim al-Singlawi said that he was assaulted by security forces at least four times while covering protests in Sheikh Jarrah, an occupied neighborhood whose Palestinian residents are facing forced displacement by Israeli settlers. On Wednesday, according to the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate, Hazem Nasser, a photojournalist, was arrested in the West Bank.
There have been protests in Sheikh Jarrah and elsewhere for weeks, but the situation became a major international story only on Monday: following a raid at Al-Aqsa, Hamas militants fired rockets into Israel and the Israeli government ordered air strikes on Gaza; so far, at least 119 people have been killed, 31 of them children, and hundreds more have been injured. Early this morning, Israeli ground forces fired shells into Gaza; a spokesperson said that troops also “entered” Gaza, but later claimed that was a miscommunication. Much of the top-line coverage in the United States has used fuzzy, passive language—“warlike violence erupts”; “the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, reignited”—that obscures who has done what to whom; after the Al-Aqsa raid, clashes was ubiquitous. “This is a straightforward attack by Israel on Palestinians,” Jack Mirkinson wrote, for Discourse Blog. Mehdi Hasan, a host on MSNBC and NBC’s streaming service Peacock, called the word a “journalistic shorthand” that “personally, I cannot stand.” He condemned Hamas for firing rockets, but added that “the fundamental, unavoidable reality at the heart of this conflict is that there is an asymmetry of power here. One side is the occupier. The other side is occupied.”
“Palestine/Israel coverage in American media has always been poor,” Rowaida Abdelaziz, a reporter at HuffPost, tweeted Monday, “but it is actually insane to me how egregious it currently is.” Nevertheless, Palestinian voices have made themselves heard in the US. Mohammed El-Kurd, a writer and resident of Sheikh Jarrah, was invited onto MSNBC and CNN, where he called out the press for distorting his experience: when an anchor referred to Kurd’s possible “eviction,” he replied, “Forced ethnic displacement”; when the anchor asked if Kurd supported “violent protests” in support of his cause, he asked back, “Do you support the violent dispossession of me and my family?” (There followed an awkward silence.) The clip went viral; Kurd told Vice that this was probably because “there’s not been this kind of articulation about Empire in the media in recent years. I wanted to make the joke that it’s because I’m good TV, but it’s not. More often than not, it’s the fact that what I’m saying sounds unprecedented.”
Vice asked Kurd if he feared repercussions for being outspoken. “In addition to the media attention,” he said, “there have been hundreds of people reaching out to me, saying, ‘may God protect you, please be careful, I hope nothing bad happens to you.’ ” Then, on Wednesday, Israeli forces kicked Kurd and his family out of Sheikh Jarrah.
Below, more on Israel and Palestine:
- “Unheard of”: The Daily Beast’s Maxwell Tani and Lloyd Grove assessed the coverage of MSNBC’s Hasan and Ayman Mohyeldin, who, Tani and Grove wrote, have spent “the past several days challenging the US-media status quo by doing something practically unheard of on an American television outlet”—devoting “substantial airtime to the Palestinian point of view.” (Mohyeldin interviewed Kurd this week.) Their coverage “has prompted cheers among some within the network who have been pleased to see MSNBC elevate voices seemingly skeptical of Israeli military force,” though it has also prompted some “eye-rolling among a few of their NBC colleagues.”
- The regional angle: The BBC rounded up how the week’s events have been covered in Middle Eastern media. “The news remains relatively low down the running order of Syrian TV news, and in Iran it only started topping bulletins on Tuesday. In both countries—key members of the so-called ‘axis of resistance’ to Israel—domestic issues have taken priority,” the BBC reports. “Qatari Al-Jazeera’s Arabic channel, a traditional supporter of the Palestinian cause, gives the story full coverage. It is also the lead story on Saudi-funded Al Arabiya, which is pressing its guests and correspondents on claims by both sides.”
- Bibi: This week’s events have taken place against the backdrop of another round of domestic political wrangling in Israel, where negotiations to form a new government are in flux, and the ongoing trial of Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister, who stands accused of corruption, including in his dealings with media outlets. Reporters Without Borders has the latest on the trial; for more background, read Ruth Margalit in CJR.
Other notable stories:
- Yesterday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that fully vaccinated Americans need not wear masks or socially distance in most settings—not just outdoors but indoors, too. Tighter recommendations will remain in place for medical facilities, prisons, and public transit; still, the extent of the new guidelines came as a surprise—including to the White House—and a debate quickly played out in the media as to whether the CDC had gone too far. After the recommendations were confirmed, the White House lifted its requirement that fully vaccinated people—including members of the White House press corps—continue to wear masks on site.
- Adam Goldman and Mark Mazzetti report, for the Times, that Project Veritas, James O’Keefe’s right-wing sting operation, worked, during the Trump administration, “to discredit perceived enemies of President Trump inside the government.” The group aimed to use undercover operatives to expose anti-Trump sentiment within the FBI, and even planned a sting on H.R. McMaster, Trump’s onetime national security adviser. (That plan was abandoned after McMaster resigned; Project Veritas, which last year sued the Times for defamation in a different matter, called this latest report defamatory, too.)
- Robert Mackey, of The Intercept, profiled “the Riot Squad,” a group of eight journalists who, since the police murder of George Floyd last year, have roamed “from city to city, feeding the conservative media’s hunger for images of destruction and violence on the margins of left-wing protests.” The impact of their work “is hard to overstate,” Mackey writes. “Even as they remain relatively unknown, this tight-knit group has produced many of the most viral videos of Black Lives Matter protests over the past year.”
- Ariana Pekary, CJR’s public editor for CNN, considers whether journalists at the network should unionize. Cable news has been “conspicuously missing” from the recent trend of organizing at legacy and digital news organizations, Pekary writes. “As a former producer who has worked in both union and non-union newsrooms, I can attest to the value collective negotiation provides individual workers as well as the editorial process.”
- This week, after announcing that her eponymous talk show will end next year, Ellen DeGeneres sat for an interview with Savannah Guthrie, of NBC. DeGeneres denied that the show is ending over allegations, which BuzzFeed reported last year, of a toxic workplace culture, and assailed the negative coverage she’s received as “too orchestrated, too coordinated.” She continued, “I’m a woman, and it did feel very misogynistic.”
- Following bombshell reports—in the Hollywood Reporter and LA Times, respectively—of misconduct by the producer Scott Rudin and at the talent agency ICM, Liz Alper and Deirdre Mangan, of the campaign group #PayUpHollywood, examine, also in the Hollywood Reporter, whether the press is “the new HR.” Studios, they write, protect abusive staff and take action only when they learn a negative story is coming.
- A cyberattack on the Colonial Pipeline, which carries various types of fuel to the East Coast, has led to gas shortages in the Southeast, and media companies are among those to have been affected. In recent days, outlets including the Charlotte Observer and the Raleigh News & Observer, in North Carolina, and The State, in South Carolina, have reported delays in delivering print newspapers to subscribers.
- According to internal emails exposed by hackers and reviewed by Block Club Chicago, Lori Lightfoot, the city’s mayor, canceled her subscription to the Chicago Tribune last year in response to critical coverage of her actions on parking tickets. She planned to tell the public of her decision and to urge them to “consider the source” the next time the paper “comes out with some big expose or a screaming headline,” but ultimately did not.
- And Bill McCreary, a longtime television journalist with WNEW (now WNYW), in New York, has died. He was eighty-seven. McCreary was “one of the first Black television journalists in New York,” Sam Roberts reports, for the Times, and his “perspective helped fill a noticeable gap in local public affairs reporting.”