• Too Little, Too Late: On American Media Executives’ Hypocritical Support of Palestinian Journalists

    “Is collaborating with the soldiers killing our Palestinian colleagues a good way to be in ‘solidarity’ with them?”

    When it comes to righteous causes, I generally believe it is important to leave space for people to have an onramp to join at any time. If someone has not been actively supporting campaigns against racism, transphobia or injustice of various kinds, I do not want stigma or shame to keep any individual from joining the cause.

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    The best response when someone shows up for the first time at an activism meeting or organizational space is not to embarrass them but to say, “Welcome aboard!”

    However, I do not extend the same grace to welcoming people nor institutions in positions of enormous power, especially when they are still causing and benefiting from the unjust conditions people with less power than they wield are organizing against.

    It is in this spirit in which I read an open letter, “News outlets express solidarity with journalists in Gaza” to be too little, too late, and too hypocritical. The letter was published on February 29 by the Committee to Protect Journalists and was originally signed by about 30 high-ranking editors and publishers of news organizations from around the world. (A week later, the list of organizers has swelled to more than 100.)

    In one sense, it is of course a good thing that news publishers are speaking out and signing their commitment to publicly “stand united with Palestinian journalists in their call for safety, protection, and the freedom to report.” I am glad they are championing journalists in Gaza, currently the bravest in the world, as they “continue to report despite grave personal risk” and “despite the loss of family, friends, and colleagues, the destruction of homes and offices, constant displacement, communications blackouts, and shortages of food and fuel.”

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    I have no criticism at all of many of the signatories, such as Sami Al-Haj from organizations like Al Jazeera. Multiple journalists from the Qatari broadcaster have been killed and wounded by US-backed Israel, and the network has spoken out forcefully for months against the murder of tens of thousands of civilians in Gaza in general and the targeted assassination of journalists in particular.

    But many of the signatories—specifically those from the Los Angeles Times, CNN, Associated Press, and the New York Times—have a lot of gall signing such a letter, given their personal and institutional silence as so many journalists have been killed over five months, their role in manufacturing the consent which facilitated the genocide in the first place, and/or the way they have punished their own employees for signing similar letters.

    Let’s start with Terry Tang, interim executive editor of Los Angeles Times. In early November, I signed and helped solicit signatures for a letter titled “A statement by journalists: We condemn Israel’s killing of journalists in Gaza and urge integrity in Western media coverage of Israel’s atrocities against Palestinians.” Signed by more than 1,000 journalists, our “Protect Journalists” letter expressed similar sentiments to the news publishers’ letter (though it went further in calling  for journalists to use “precise terms that are well-defined by international human rights organizations, including ‘apartheid,’ ‘ethnic cleansing’ and ‘genocide.’”) I was pleasantly surprised to see the names of more than a dozen Los Angeles Times journalists. Yet within a week, Semafor reported that the journalists who’d signed the letter were barred from reporting on Gaza.

    Is collaborating with the soldiers killing our Palestinian colleagues a good way to be in “solidarity” with them, Mr. Thompson?

    Tang had yet to be appointed interim executive editor when this happened. Still, why is the person in charge of the whole newsroom allowed to express solidarity—a word news publishers typically spit out their mouths with as much disdain as they do activism—with our colleagues being killed, yet reporters cannot?

    Mark Thompson, chairman and CEO of CNN Worldwide, also signed the publishers’ letter. I found his among the most offensive of signatures, given CNN’s role in not just laundering propaganda for the Israeli military, but in literally riding along with its soldiers as they threaten, injure and kill people.

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    That’s right: the very same week CNN fired a freelance photojournalist it accused of having been embedded with Hamas in November, CNN reporters began proudly embedding with the Israeli military. They did so at a time when US-backed Israel was killing more than one journalist a day and their family members, usually in targeted airstrikes in their homes or cars.

    Like so many people, I was repulsed when I saw the image circulating online of a Palestinian who had been run over by an Israeli tank, subjecting the most intimate parts of their body to so much force that their internal organs were exposed to the world like bright red water balloons. It made me think of CNN reporters riding around with the Israeli military.

    Were any journalists aboard as such horrors happened in tanks? We may never know. But we do know that the chairman and CEO of CNN has no business declaring that “Journalists are civilians and Israeli authorities must protect journalists as noncombatants according to international law” while he is not only sending his reporters out with Israeli authorities who kill our Palestinian colleagues, but laundering all the “news” CNN produces in the region through the filter of the Israeli propaganda machine.

    For as Daniel Bugoslaw reported in the Intercept in early January, “Whether reporting from the Middle East, the United States, or anywhere else across the globe, every CNN journalist covering Israel and Palestine must submit their work for review by the news organization’s bureau in Jerusalem prior to publication.” The bureau, and all the journalism that passes through it, is “shaped by journalists who operate under the shadow of the country’s military censor.”

    Is collaborating with the soldiers killing our Palestinian colleagues a good way to be in “solidarity” with them, Mr. Thompson?

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    Julie Pace, the executive editor of the Associated Press, was another signatory. A representative of the AP should have signed a letter demanding safe treatment of its reporter, given Israel blew up its Gaza bureau in 2021. Yet, to return to the first essay I wrote in this series, let’s recall the case of Emily Wilder, a young, Jewish American AP journalist covering state politics in Arizona. Wilder was fired the very same week Israel dropped that rocket on the AP office because—after a targeted campaign by her alma mater’s Republican club—the AP determined a history of college activism about Palestine meant a journalist could not be objective covering politics in Phoenix, nearly 7,500 miles away.

    I am glad Julie Pace wants to protect our colleagues in Gaza. Yet surely Pace affects news coverage more than Wilder ever could have.

    Why is the executive editor of the AP allowed to signal solidarity with our colleagues—who are being killed by an apartheid, occupying army—yet a news associate not even working in the region is not allowed to have expressed any opinions about that murderous occupying colonizer in her college years, prior to her job? 

    Then, there’s probably the most galling signatures of all, A.G. Sulzberger’s, the publisher of the New York Times.

    From trans rights to speaking against war, the Times is among the most vicious in forbidding its journalists—even its magazine staff who write in the first person about their lived experiences—to express opinions. Sulzberger, the sixth member of his family to run the paper, has enormous sway over arguably the most influential English-language publication in the world. In his position of editorial power, he gets to publicly declare that “Attacks on journalists are also attacks on truth” and to declare a commitment “to championing the safety of journalists in Gaza, which is fundamental for the protection of press freedom everywhere.” Good!

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    Sulzberger also has little claim to say he wants to protect journalists, when his paper has played such a vile role in dehumanizing Palestinians.

    And yet, as I wrote about in my last essay, when New York Times feature writers Jazmine Hughes, a Black lesbian, and Jamie Lauren Keiles, a Jewish transgender journalist, expressed the very same sentiments seeking to protect the humanity of our colleagues, they were pushed out the door. (Around the same time, Thomas Friedman, who cast people in the Middle East as insects and larvae, received no public punishment from the “paper of record.”)

    Sulzberger also has little claim to say he wants to protect journalists, when his paper has played such a vile role in dehumanizing Palestinians and fomenting support for the war against them. As the writer Hussein Omar, who is part of the group Writers Against the War on Gaza and who has published in the New York Times himself, put it, “A.G. Sulzberger signs a letter in support of reporters in Gaza with one hand, while he green lights genocidal propaganda in his rag with the other.”

    On March 6, Max Blumenthal published a fascinating account of how Israeli lobbyists are urging “US officials to justify war on Gaza with ‘Hamas rape’ claims,” complete with leaked slides from a presentation. Rationalizing Israel’s increasingly unpopular genocide is reliant upon a campaign to whip up fear of allegedly rapacious Arab men—and nothing has been more central to that claim than the Times December 28 story “‘Screams Without Words’: How Hamas Weaponized Sexual Violence on Oct. 7.”

    The problem is that “Screams Without Words” has collapsed, thoroughly and repeatedly debunked by Electronic Intifada, Mondoweiss, Zei Squirrel, the Intercept and us. But now, as Times employees are blowing the whistle that they do not stand behind the story of systematic mass rape—especially at their flagship podcast, The Daily—the internal fights over this incredibly high stakes story  are spilling into more mainstream publications like Vanity Fair and NPR.

    And what is the management of the Times—a publication which, like most breaking news publications, relies upon truth-seeking whistleblowers for many of its most important storie—doing? As people inside and outside the Grey Lady register an understandable alarm about its poor sourcing and relying upon a journalism neophyte and Israeli military veteran to write “Screams Without Words”?

    Times management is not bringing back the role of the public editor, nor are they engaging in any transparent, good faith accounting of self-reflection.

    Rather, they are trying to hunt out who among their staff is leaking, so that they can punish them.

    And they appear to be using racial profiling to do so.

    In a letter to Sulzberger, News Guild president Susan DeCarava, who represents Times employees, wrote with “great concern” about how “management has engaged in an ‘investigation’ into an alleged leak of information from the newsroom to The Intercept about The Daily’s production process in relation to its reporting on the conflict in Gaza.”

    In a “shocking” example of what she called “racial targeting,” DeCarava wrote that “Rather than simple information-gathering, the meetings became a vehicle for the harassment and intimidation of our members.” And, “Worse yet, Times management specifically chose to subject members who are part of the internal Times Middle Eastern and North African Times Employee Resource Group.”

    That’s who the Times wanted to talk to, even though, according to DeCarava, “Some of the employees interrogated had no connection to the production of The Daily episode, except for the fact that they raised concerns to Standards about the original reporting.”

    How can Sulzberger write in good conscience that he cares about the “journalists and media workers in Gaza” who “have been working in unprecedented conditions” when his paper is racially profiling Arab and North African Times employees? Who may or may not have “leaked,” as Daniel Ellsberg once leaked the “Pentagon Papers” to the Times but—if  any of them had—would have been as justified in trying to stop the colonial war crimes in Palestine as Ellsberg was justified in trying to stop the colonial war crimes in Vietnam.

    Sulzberger can’t do this in good conscience. Neither he nor his colleagues Julie Pace, Mark Thompson, and Terry Tang at the AP, CNN, or Los Angeles Times respectively can undo any harm their publications may have done over the previous months, years or even decades which has helped usher into being the relentless hellscape in Gaza.

    But at the very least, they could stop publishing propaganda and laundering lies which kill Palestinian journalists—and they could stop punishing their own employees for simply doing what journalists are supposed to do: tell the truth.

    Steven W. Thrasher
    Steven W. Thrasher
    Steven W. Thrasher, PhD, CPT, a journalist, social epidemiologist, and cultural critic, holds the Daniel Renberg chair at the Medill School of Journalism, and is on the faculty of Northwestern University’s Institute of Sexual and Gender Minority Health and Wellbeing. A former writer for the Village Voice, Scientific American and the Guardian, Thrasher is the author of the critically acclaimed book The Viral Underclass: The Human Toll When Inequality and Disease Collide. [Photo by C.S. Muncy]

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