Media Reported UN Accusation Israelis Killed Truck Driver, Ignored Israeli Denial

A year ago today, when U.N. officials accused the Israeli military of killing the driver of a vehicle delivering relief aid to Gaza during the Israeli campaign against Hamas, all the broadcast and news networks reported the accusation on January 8, 2009, noting the U.N.'s resulting cessation of relief aid deliveries. But, after the Israeli military conducted an investigation and charged that Hamas was responsible for the killing, very few of the shows that reported the initial charges by the U.N. updated viewers on this important development. An examination of the morning and evening newscasts on ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, FNC, and PBS – including American Morning and The Situation Room on CNN; as well as Fox and Friends, the Fox Report, and Special Report with Bret Baier on FNC; and PBS's NewsHour – between January 8 and January 12, 2009, found that all these shows – with the exception of ABC’s Good Morning America – reported on the truck driver’s death at least once, with nearly all shows also directly relaying the U.N.’s charge of Israeli military culpability.

But only CNN's The Situation Room, on the January 9 show, took the time to briefly inform viewers that the Israeli military had denied responsibility for the incident as correspondent Nic Robertson related: "[The U.N.] said that two of their workers were killed by Israeli tank and machine gun fire. Israeli Defense Forces say they have investigated it. Now, they say it wasn't them, which implies that it must have been Hamas."

CBS, NBC, FNC, and PBS each ran at least one story on the subject again either on January 9 or afterwards which did not mention the Israeli denial, and in some cases even repeated the original accusation. ABC’s World News only ran one story on the incident – which aired on its January 8 show – and, like the other networks, World News did not update viewers with the Israeli military’s account.

Additionally, even after the New York Times reported on Sunday, January 11, that "Israel issued a statement on Saturday saying it was certain that the shooting had not come from its forces, adding that the drivers were treated in an Israeli hospital," these news shows still did not revisit the issue to update viewers.

Other newspapers like the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post also relayed the Israeli military's response (see transcripts further down).

The following transcripts document how the various morning and evening newscasts reported the story, as the account of how many men were killed and by what means varied from show to show, and that a number of major newspapers did at some point report on the Israeli military's response:

ABC’s Good Morning America never mentioned the story, while ABC’s World News with Charles Gibson mentioned it in one report on January 8, filed by correspondent Simon McGregor-Wood, contending that Israeli fire was responsible as if this claim were fact: "There was another three-hour humanitarian cease-fire, but this one didn't work very well. Hamas used it to fire rockets into Israel, causing panic, and two U.N. truck drivers were killed by an Israeli shell. In protest, the U.N. stopped the distribution of aid. These days almost everyone in Gaza depends on that aid to survive."

On NBC, the January 8 Today show twice aired the U.N.’s claims as Ann Curry related: "On day 13 of the war in Gaza, the U.N. says Israel fired on a truck carrying humanitarian aid, killing the driver."

She later repeated the report: "In the war in Gaza, the U.N. says Israeli forces fired on a truck carrying humanitarian aid today, killing the driver. The Israeli military says it is now investigating that incident."

On the January 8 NBC Nightly News, correspondent Martin Fletcher reported: "And more anger and pressure on the Israelis today. The United Nations suspended its food delivery program today after one driver in a clearly marked U.N. vehicle was shot and killed and two were wounded. The U.N. accuses Israeli troops. 750,000 Gazans rely on the U.N. to supplement their food."

Curry repeated the charges on the January 9 Today show: "The biggest U.N. organization operating in Gaza has suspended the distribution of aid today after one of its drivers was shot, it says, by Israeli forces, yesterday."

On the January 10 Saturday Today show, correspondent Tom Aspell mentioned the incident, but without relaying the U.N.’s original claim that Israel was behind the killing, and also without informing viewers that the Israeli military had denied responsibility: "The United Nations will take part after pulling out because one of its drivers was killed."

On the January 8 CBS Evening News, correspondent Mark Phillips aired a soundbite of U.N. official Christopher Gunness blaming the death of the driver on Israel:

MARK PHILLIPS: Among the latest victims was the driver of a U.N. vehicle. And now the U.N. says it's suspending aid deliveries to Gaza's hungry and cowering civilians until the safety of its employees can be guaranteed.

CHRISTOPHER GUNNESS, UNITED NATIONS RELIEF AND WORKS AGENCY: The Israelis have the exact coordinates of all of our movements, and they know who's going where. There is simply no excuse.

PHILLIPS: The Israelis say they are investigating the incident as they continued to sweep through the fringes of Gaza's populated areas, searching for Hamas fighters.

The weekday version of CBS’s The Early Show never mentioned the story, but, on the January 10 Saturday Early Show, Phillips relayed the U.N. accusation as if it were not in dispute, not mentioning the Israeli military’s investigation of the matter: "If there's any little bit of good news in this, it's that the U.N. says it's going to resume aid shipments within Gaza. It had suspended those shipments after one of its drivers was killed by an Israeli tank shell."

On the January 8 American Morning on CNN, anchor John Roberts twice reported the story, as he cited the Associated Press. Roberts: "Also this morning, the United Nations says the Israelis fired on a truck that was delivering aid this morning killing the driver. That's according to the Associated Press." He later repeated: "Also this morning, the United Nations says the Israelis fired on a truck delivering aid this morning, killing the driver."

Correspondent Christiane Amanpour noted: "We've been hearing about this since this morning from the U.N. in the Gaza. And we're trying to track down the IDF version of what happened. We haven't yet had any luck on that."

On the January 8 The Situation Room, CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer twice reported the claims: "But the United Nations says Israeli forces opened fire on one of its convoys, killing an aide worker." Correspondent Nic Robertson added: "Well, the U.N. has said that it will suspend its relief operations, that they have lost their confidence in the Israeli security forces, despite the fact they have agreements on the cease-fire to deliver aid. Their workers, at least one, quite possibly two aid workers, killed while delivering relief supplies. That means, with that suspension, that three-quarters-of-a-million Gazans – and there are 1.5 million Gazans – so that means half the population of Gaza – won't get U.N. relief supplies."

On the January 9 The Situation Room, Robertson appeared again and briefly relayed that the Israeli military was denying responsibility for the killing: "The U.N. hopes to get its convoys moving again. They stopped them yesterday because they said that two of their workers were killed by Israeli tank and machine gun fire. Israeli Defense Forces say they have investigated it. Now, they say it wasn't them, which implies that it must have been Hamas."

On the January 8 Special Report with Brit Hume, FNC correspondent Reena Ninan treated the accusation as fact that Israel was responsible for the killing: "The International Red Cross announced today it would stop all aid shipments into the Gaza Strip after one of its drivers was killed today by Israeli tank fire as he drove to the border crossing to pick up aid shipments."

Also on January 8 Special Report, Jeff Birnbaum, one of the panelists in the "Fox All Stars" segment, claimed: "Today, for example, [the Israelis] blew up a U.N. convoy truck, and the U.N. is pulling out some of its forces from Gaza."

On the January 8 Fox Report, as anchor Trace Gallagher and correspondent Mike Tobin informed viewers of the death of the truck driver, neither directly repeated the U.N.’s accusation that the Israeli military was at fault. Gallagher: "We now know the United Nations has stopped delivering aid into Gaza after one of its delivery trucks, or truck drivers, was killed."

Tobin soon added: "And it has been a tough day all around in the effort to get aid to the Palestinian people, Trace. That three-hour window period of calm that they called for to allow the aid trucks to get out into the neighborhoods of Gaza, it wasn’t respected by either side. Both Israel and Hamas militants firing during that three-hour period. In the end, the people of Gaza suffer. You’ve got 1.5 million people in this strip of land. No natural resources, no real manufacturing. There is food in the warehouses, but it won’t get out to the people. They’ll run out of supplies pretty quickly, Trace."

On the January 9, 2009, Fox and Friends, anchor Gretchen Carlson relayed that a U.N. convoy had been "fired on," without directly citing the U.N.’s accusation that the Israeli military was responsible, though viewers might have concluded from the context that the Israeli military was believed to be responsible since most of the news brief was about Israeli military activity: "The Israeli government says it will not suspend military operations in Gaza, despite the U.N. calling for the ceasefire. ... This is Israel bombing Gaza during the block of time that’s supposed to be the ceasefire. ... The Security Council has called for that ceasefire and Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, plus opening the border to aid, and an end to weapons smuggling to Hamas. The U.S. abstained from that vote. And the daily truce, well, so far, the Israelis carried out attacks on 30 targets, including a five-story building. Hamas says 30 people were killed. The U.N. and Red Cross have stopped aid shipments into Gaza because one of their convoys was fired on."

Carlson soon read a similarly worded news brief: "We’re 90 minutes into the daily truce between Israel and Hamas, but, as you can see, it’s anything but peaceful right now as smoke billows out from the other side of Gaza now. Israel firing rockets into Gaza. We don’t yet know why they have decided to violate the agreement or what they are targeting. This agreement was for three hours every day so that aid, humanitarian aid could be brought into Gaza without the threat of any kind of rocket activity. The Security Council has called for a ceasefire, an Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, plus opening the border to aid, and an end to weapons smuggling to Hamas. The U.S. abstained from that vote. And the U.N. and Red Cross have stopped aid shipments into Gaza as well because one of their convoys was fired upon."

On the January 9 Special Report with Bret Baier on FNC, like correspondent Ninan on the previous day’s show, FNC anchor Baier treated as fact the accusation that the Israeli military was responsible for the killing: "The U.N. says it plans to resume humanitarian operations to Gaza now that Israel has given assurances that aid workers will be protected. Israeli tank fire killed a supply truck driver Thursday, and it appears there will be plenty of reason to keep the flow of aid coming because the fighting continues despite international efforts to stop it."

On the January 9 Fox Report, anchor Shepard Smith relayed that "Israel has apparently promised better protection for aid workers," though it might have been unclear to the viewer whether he was alluding to the accusation that the Israeli military had caused the driver’s death – without directly stating it – or whether he meant that the Israeli military would provide security for U.N. convoys. Smith: "So much for the United Nations calling for a ceasefire in the Middle East. Both sides ignored that demand today. Israel pounding away at Gaza from the air and on the ground, and Hamas firing more rockets into Israel. The United Nations reports it plans to start bringing relief supplies into Gaza again as soon as it’s practical. It stopped deliveries yesterday after reportedly saying one of its drivers had been killed. Israel has apparently promised better protection for aid workers."

On the January 8 NewsHour with Jim Lehrer on PBS, anchor Jim Lehrer reported: "Israel came under sharp new criticism today over its actions in Gaza. The U.N. suspended aid deliveries after a truck was attacked."

Correspondent Jonathan Rugman treated the U.N.’s accusation against Israel as fact: "There was another three-hour lull today to let in badly needed U.N. aid, but in a bitter irony, the U.N. says it`s now too dangerous to deliver it. That`s because Israeli forces shot and injured two Palestinian drivers and killed another while they were on their way to pick up U.N. supplies today."

On the January 9 NewsHour, Lehrer reported: "Aid deliveries to Gaza were on hold again today after Israeli tank fire killed a driver. U.N. officials said they plan to resume the shipments after getting assurances from the Israelis."

The Friday, January 9, Washington Post article, "As U.S. Abstains, U.N. Security Council Calls for Cease-Fire," by Griffe Witte and Colum Lynch, reported: "Israeli military spokesman Ilan Tal, a reserve brigadier general, said that he was looking into the accusations but added that Israel had not targeted aid workers. ... Tal accused Hamas of targeting humanitarian convoys for attack and then blaming Israel. He also said the group is hoarding food and other supplies."

In the Friday, January 9, New York Times article, "Aid Groups Rebuke Israel Over Conditions in Gaza," Ethan Bronner reported: "Israeli officials said that they were examining all the allegations, that they did not aim at civilians and that they were not certain that the source of fire that killed and wounded the United Nations drivers was Israeli."

He also reported: "The Jerusalem Post's Web site quoted an Israeli medical worker as saying that the killing of the United Nations driver that contributed to the suspension of aid delivery was the work of a Hamas sniper."

In the Saturday, January 10, New York Times article, "30 Confirmed Dead in Shelling of Gaza Family," Alan Cowell reported: "Israeli officials said that they were examining all the allegations, that they did not aim at civilians and that they were not certain that the source of fire that killed and wounded the United Nations drivers was Israeli."

In the Sunday, January 11, New York Times article, "As Talks Falter, Israel Warns Gazans of Stepped-Up Attacks," Ethan Bronner reported: "Israel issued a statement on Saturday saying it was certain that the shooting had not come from its forces, adding that the drivers were treated in an Israeli hospital. "

The January 10, Los Angeles Times article, "Israel, Hamas rebuff U.N. truce call," by Jeffrey Fleishman and Yasser Ahmad, quoted an unidentified Israeli spokesperson as denying that the Israeli military was behind the attack: "‘We did not attack the truck, this is unequivocal,’ said an Israeli army spokesman. ‘The driver was not killed by IDF fire, period.’"

The January 11, 2009, Washington Post article, "Combat May Escalate in Gaza, Israel Warns; Operation in Densely Packed City, Camps Weighed," by Craig Whitlock and Reyham Abdel Kareem, reported: "The Israeli military said Saturday that an investigation had found no evidence that its soldiers were involved."

The January 10 Washington Post article, "Israel, Hamas Reject Efforts to Reach Truce," by Craig Whitlock and Sudarsan Raghavan, reported: "The U.N. Relief and Works Agency had suspended shipments Friday, a day after a U.N. driver was shot and killed, and another U.N. convoy of vehicles came under fire from Israeli forces, according to the agency. The International Committee of the Red Cross also curtailed its aid programs Friday, limiting its work to Gaza City after officials said an ambulance driver came under fire."

As documented by the pro-Israel group the Committee for Accuracy in Middle Eastern Reporting in America, the Wall Street Journal, after initially ignoring the Israeli response, ran a correction on January 18. On January 29, CAMERA related:

The Wall Street Journal initially relayed a United Nations claim that Israel fired on and killed a UN worker without pointing out that an Israeli investigation showed otherwise. The newspaper commendably corrected this error of omission as follows:

Error (Wall Street Journal, Charles Levinson, 1/12/09): The U.N. resumed aid deliveries in the Gaza Strip on Sunday, two days after it halted them following an incident in which Israeli soldiers fired on U.N. workers in two separate incidents, killing one and injuring two, a spokesman said.

Correction (1/18/09): Israel's military investigated an incident in which a United Nations spokesman alleged Israeli forces fired on a U.N. truck on Jan. 8. Israel said the investigation showed its forces had not fired on the truck. A Jan. 12 World News article citing the U.N. allegation didn't include Israel's statement on the event.

Notably, on February 7, 2009, the New York Times article, "Gaza: U.N. Agency Stops Its Imports," by Ethan Bronner, reported that the U.N. was accusing Hamas members of stealing from its supply trucks:

The United Nations agency that distributes food to a majority of Gaza's refugees said Friday that it was suspending imports of goods because Hamas, the militant group that controls Gaza, had twice stolen aid from it. The agency said that it would not import any more until the stolen goods were returned and assurances were given that the theft would not recur.