With the fighting between Israel and Hamas halted – for now – it’s important to look at the role media played aiding Palestinian terrorists. Network news shows embraced a new narrative – moral equivalency. Hamas and Israel were treated as equals. Reporters and anchors almost never called Israel’s enemy Hamas a “terrorist” organization.
ABC, CBS and NBC journalists referred to Hamas as “militants,” “fighters” or “soldiers” 13 times more often than they called them “terrorists.” (65 stories to 5 stories.) All three networks were almost equally bad – ranging in coverage from 12-to-1 to 15-to-1, calling Hamas militants/fighters/soldiers vs. terrorists.
There’s only one problem with that. The United States has recognized Hamas as a terrorist organization since 1997. According to the Designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations list, Hamas has been listed by the State Department as terrorist since Oct. 8, 1997. Hamas was one of 21 different groups – from al-Qaida to Hezbollah – all listed on that first day.
You’d never know it from the networks’ coverage of the Gaza war. Each broadcast news show allowed journalists to call Hamas “terrorists” once, except for ABC’s “World News,” which never let staff use the term.
The July, 26 CBS “Evening News” was a typical example. Correspondent Don Dahler told how Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu said Israeli forces had found “handcuffs and sedatives. “He described an underground infrastructure with fortifications, electricity and cables designed to carry out large-scale attacks and kidnappings. One such plot involved hundreds of militants attacking Israeli farm communities,” explained Dahler. So attacking civilians didn’t reach level of “terrorism.”
The night before, “Evening News” anchor Scott Pelley white-washed his report of another attack on civilians in the same way. “The militant group, Hamas, has launched thousands of rockets from Gaza into Israel demanding that the Israelis lift a seven-year blockade of Gaza,” he explained. However, none of those rockets has advanced guidance systems. They are simply aimed at Israeli population centers and fired – hoping for maximum civilian body count.
In one especially embarrassing July 24 piece, veteran correspondent Barry Petersen called Hamas “militants” and then mentioned how Hamas claimed “more women and children have been killed than Hamas soldiers.”
Overall, CBS morning and evening news shows chose other terms than “terrorist” by a factor of 13-to-1. (26 stories to 2 stories).
ABC was even worse – the worst network overall – calling Hamas “militants” and “fighters” by a factor of 15-to-1 over “terrorist.”
During the July 23 ABC “World News,” Mideast correspondent Alex Marquardt didn’t even call Hamas “terrorists” when discussing possible war crimes. “Israel says it’s targeting militants and accuses Hamas of using innocent people as human shields, itself a war crime,” he told viewers. He even went on and explained how “Israel’s main airport, once again empty,” because Hamas rocket fire had shut it down.
NBC was the best of the three networks, but barely. The network chose “terrorist” just twice out of 24 stories or a factor of 12-to-1.
Though NBC’s chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel has done a decent job covering the conflict, he was not immune to spin. “Israel is finding the fight in Gaza tougher than it expected. The militants better trained, streets booby-trapped. Their tunnels extensive,” he explained on the “Nightly News” July 21.
He repeated the error the next day on “Today. “A Hamas fighter may have been hiding downstairs. To get him, Israel sent its missiles through his apartment,” he said.
The networks did allow others to say that Hamas was a terrorist organization, including Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu, a total of six times. Five of those were either Israeli officials or citizens. But the way the statements were used, they were typically in the Israeli side of a he said/she said debate.
Methodology: The Culture and Media Institute analyzed morning and evening news broadcasts on ABC, CBS and NBC from July 17, when Israeli forces entered Gaza, until Aug. 4. All stories describing Hamas members were included in the tally.