The Media's Shameful Lack of Objectivity on Civilian Casualties in Gaza
On his Fox News show on Saturday night, Geraldo Rivera conducted a "two-way" with John Huddy, one of the network's reporters in Gaza. During their exchange, Huddy matter-of-factly stated that 40 percent of those killed in Gaza as a result of Israel's Operation Protective Edge were children. He didn't cite a source, and he didn't say “Hamas claims….” He just rattled off the number as if it were the Dow Jones closing figure – final and indisputable. (The clip is here – click on the 10:33pm segment if it doesn't play straight off.) Having failed to question or verify the 40 percent claim, Rivera then repeated it in an exchange with Danny Danon, who resigned as Israel's deputy defense minister last week after opposing a proposed ceasefire with Hamas.
Rivera is far from most conservatives' favorite Fox presenter, and he can be hard to take seriously as he veers between Kent Brockman-esque pomposity and Ron Burgundy-esque histrionics. However, he's normally solidly pro-Israel, so it was troubling that he didn't challenge Huddy's 40 percent figure, which seems implausibly high – even Gaza's notoriously exaggeration-prone, Hamas-controlled Health Ministry puts the figure at around 25 percent. Fox, along with the rest of the media, has a duty to ensure that casualty figures are reliably sourced and as accurate as possible, given the key role that civilian deaths, and those of children in particular, play in shaping attitudes towards any conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.
No-one knows exactly how many Gazans have been killed, nor how many of the dead are civilians, nor how many of those civilians are children. As well as ensuring that health officials stick to the party line, Hamas also keeps a tight grip on information coming out of the territory from other sources. The New York Times, for one, appears to be tailoring its coverage to suit the demands of the terror group. There are suspicions that the Times is playing ball with Hamas in order to be allowed to continue operating in Gaza – not that it would need much encouragement, given the Times's legendary anti-Israel bias, but the one-sidedness of its reporting this time is particularly egregious.
Israel is unable to produce its own estimates of casualties inside Gaza. It only releases its own casualty figures for operations like the one currently underway after they've been concluded, and, as this Times of Israel Report details, it concedes that it can do little to counter the likely exaggerated figures from Hamas.
Of course, one dead civilian, let alone a child, is one too many. But innocent people will inevitably be killed and injured when Hamas launches its rockets from densely populated residential areas, and stores them in UN-run schools. And in conflicts between Israel and the Palestinians, as in no other conflict anywhere in the world, the body count is the most important factor in the propaganda war, with Israel's opponents pointing to the disproportionality in dead and injured as proof in itself that Israel is in the wrong.
Unfortunately, the same media that unquestioningly broadcasts Hamas's civilian-heavy death tolls seems far less interested in examining why so many civilians are dying. On Sunday, the BBC aired a typically harrowing report from inside a Gaza hospital. While the reporter was talking to medics, there was a deafening roar as a salvo of Hamas rockets passed over the hospital, clearly launched from close by. To his credit, the clearly startled reporter said something to the effect of “but that doesn't help the situation.”