NYT Not Much Concerned About Israel’s Mass Murder of Journalists

A devoted New York Times reader might get the impression that the paper cares deeply about protecting journalists from those who seek to suppress the press.

After all, the Times runs sympathetic features on journalists like Evan Gershkovich, a Wall Street Journal reporter who was detained by Russia over a year ago. The paper (6/3/22) has written stingingly of Russia’s “clamp down on war criticism,” including in a recent editorial (3/22/24) headlined “Jailed in Putin’s Russia for Speaking the Truth.”

It has castigated China for its “draconian” attacks on the press in Hong Kong (6/23/21). The Times has similarly criticized Venezuela for an “expanding crackdown on press freedom” (3/6/19) and Iran for a “campaign of intimidation” against journalists (4/26/16).

Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger, in his keynote address at the 2023 World Press Freedom Day, spoke forcefully:

All over the world, independent journalists and press freedoms are under attack. Without journalists to provide news and information that people can depend on, I fear we will continue to see the unraveling of civic bonds, the erosion of democratic norms and the weakening of the trust—in institutions and in each other—that is so essential to the global order.

‘Targeting of journalists’

 Israel-Gaza war takes record toll on journalists

More journalists have been killed in the first 10 weeks of the Israel/Gaza war than have ever been killed in a single country over an entire year,” the Committee to Protect Journalists (12/21/23) reported.

Yet since October 7—as Israel has killed more journalists, in a shorter period of time, than any country in modern history—the Times has minimized when not ignoring this mass murder. Conservative estimates from the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) estimate that 95 journalists have been killed in the Israel/Gaza conflict since October 7, all but two being Palestinian and Lebanese journalists killed by Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). Other estimates, like those from the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate (4/4/24), place the number closer to 130. All told, Israel has killed about one out every 10 journalists in Gaza, a staggering toll.

(Two Israeli journalists were killed by Hamas on October 7, according to CPJ, and none have been killed since. Other tallies include two other Israeli journalists who were killed as part of the audience at the Supernova music festival on October 7.)

CPJ (12/31/23) wrote in December that it was “particularly concerned about an apparent pattern of targeting of journalists and their families by the Israeli military.” It noted that, in at least two instances, “journalists reported receiving threats from Israeli officials and IDF officers before their family members were killed.” This accusation has been echoed by groups like Doctors Without Borders. Israel has demonstrably targeted reporters, like Issam Abdallah, the Reuters journalist who was murdered on October 13 (Human Rights Watch, 3/29/24).

In a May 2023 report, CPJ (5/9/23) found that the IDF had killed 20 journalists since 2000. None of the killers faced accountability from the Israeli government, despite the incidents being generally well-documented. Despite its demonstration that Israel’s military has targeted—and murdered—journalists in the past, important context like this report is generally absent from the Times. (The CPJ report was mentioned at the very end of one Times article—12/7/23.)

We used the New York Times API and archive to create a database of every Times news article that included the keyword “Gaza” written between October 7, 2023, and April 7, 2024 (the first six months of the war). We then checked that database for headlines, subheads and leads which included the words (singular or plural) “journalist,” “media worker,” “news worker,” “reporter” or “photojournalist.” Opinion articles, briefings and video content were excluded from the search.

Failing to name the killer

 Pan-Arab News Network Says Israeli Strike Killed Two of Its Journalists

In the only two New York Times headlines (e.g., 11/21/23) that identified Israel as the killer of journalists, Israeli responsibility was presented as an allegation, not a fact.

We found that the Times wrote just nine articles focused on Israel’s killing of specific journalists, and just two which examined the phenomenon as a whole.

Of the nine headlines which directly noted that journalists have been killed, only two headlines—in six months!—named Israel as responsible for the deaths. Both of these headlines (11/21/23, 12/7/23) presented Israel’s responsibility as an accusation, not a fact.

Some headlines (e.g., 11/3/23) simply said that a journalist had been killed, without naming the perpetrator. Others blamed “the war” (e.g., 10/13/23).

During this same six-month period, the Times wrote the same number of articles (nine) on Evan Gershkovitch and Alsu Kurmasheva, two US journalists being held on trumped-up espionage charges by Russia.

From October 7 until April 7, the Times wrote 43 stories that mentioned either the overall journalist death toll or the deaths of specific journalists. As noted, 11 of these articles (26%) either focused on the death of a specific journalist or on the whole phenomenon. But in the vast majority of these articles, 32 out of 43 (74%), the killing of journalists was mentioned in passing, or only to add context, often towards the end of a report.

Many of these articles (e.g., 10/25/23, 11/3/23, 11/21/23, 12/15/23) contained a boilerplate paragraph like this one from November 4:

The war continues to take a heavy toll on those gathering the news. The Committee to Protect Journalists said that more news media workers have been killed in the Israel/Hamas war than in any other conflict in the area since it started tracking the data in 1992. As of Friday, 36 news workers—31 Palestinians, four Israelis and one Lebanese—have been killed since Hamas attacked Israel on October 7, the group said.

Saying that “the war” was taking a heavy toll, and listing the number of journalists “killed in the Israel/Hamas war,” the Times‘ standard language on the death toll for reporters omits that the vast majority have been killed by Israel. It does note, however, that these deaths occurred “since Hamas attacked Israel,” suggesting that Hamas was directly or indirectly to blame.

 The war has led to the deadliest month for journalists in at least three decades.

The first New York Times article (11/10/23) to focus on the killing of journalists—after 40 media worker deaths—blamed “the war” in its headline, rather than Israel.

It took a month for the Times to write a single article (11/10/23) focused on what had become “the deadliest month for journalists in at least three decades.” This November article, published on page 8 of the print edition, and apparently not even deserving of its own web page—named “the war” as the killer, managing for its entire ten paragraphs to avoid saying that Israel had killed anyone.

Again, the writing subtly implied that Hamas was to blame for Israel’s war crimes (emphasis added):

At least 40 journalists and other media workers have been killed in the Israel/Hamas war since October 7, when Hamas launched a surprise attack on Israel, making the past month the deadliest for journalists in at least three decades, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

There was no mention of Israel’s long pattern of targeting journalists.

Obscuring responsibility

It took until January 30, nearly four months and at least 85 dead journalists into the war, for the New York Times to address this mass murder in any kind of comprehensive manner. This article—“The War the World Can’t See”—aligned with the Times practice of obscuring and qualifying Israeli responsibility for its destruction of Gaza. Neither the headline, the subhead nor the lead named Israel as responsible for reporters’ killings. Israel’s responsibility for the deaths of scores of reporters appeared almost incidental.

 The War the World Can’t See

“Nearly all the journalists who have died in Gaza since October 7 were killed by Israeli airstrikes, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists”: We had to wait until the 11th paragraph of a story on the 116th day of the slaughter for the New York Times (1/30/24) to publish this straightforward admission.

The lead positioned the mass death of journalists and the accompanying communications blackout as tragic consequences of “the war”:

To many people outside Gaza, the war flashes by as a doomscroll of headlines and casualty tolls and photos of screaming children, the bloody shreds of somebody else’s anguish.

But the true scale of death and destruction is impossible to grasp, the details hazy and shrouded by internet and cellphone blackouts that obstruct communication, restrictions barring international journalists and the extreme, often life-threatening challenges of reporting as a local journalist from Gaza.

Remarkably, we have to wait until the 11th paragraph for the Times to acknowledge that Israel is responsible for all of the journalists’ deaths in Gaza. Palestinian accusations that Israel is intentionally targeting journalists were juxtaposed, in classic Times fashion, with a quote from the Israeli military: Israel “has never and will never deliberately target journalists,” spokesperson Nir Dinar said, and the suggestion that Israel was deliberately preventing the world from seeing what it was doing in Gaza was a “blood libel.”

This rebuttal was presented without the context that, as discussed earlier, Israel has for decades been accused by human rights groups and other media organizations of intentionally targeting journalists. The article leaves the reader with the general impression that a terrible tragedy—not a campaign of mass murder—is unfolding.

This review of six months of the New York Times’ coverage exposes a remarkable selective interest in threats to journalism. Despite Sulzberger’s lofty rhetoric, the Times seems to only care about the “worldwide assault on journalists and journalism” when those journalists are fighting repression in enemy states.

By May 1, 2024