• 14 Jul, 2024

Watchdog: US media coverage of Gaza

A recent CNN report from a field hospital in Gaza illustrates the strengths and weaknesses of American television reporting.

Rami G Corey
Fellow Emeritus at the American University of Beirut, journalist, and author with 50 years of experience in the Middle East

On December 14th, I came across an article on the CNN website titled "See Clarissa Ward's Gaza report for the first time since the war began" and, as good headlines often do, it caught my attention. Additional titles piqued my interest. "CNN's Clarissa Ward witnessed the horror and humanitarian crisis in Gaza when she visited the UAE-run field hospital in Rafah".

American journalists did not report from Gaza, except for some with ties to the Israeli military. Because Israel, as the occupying force that controls the border with Gaza, has denied access to foreign journalists and has also put pressure on Egypt. So I was interested in how Ward managed to gain access and saw his report as an opportunity to see if this kind of on-the-ground reporting could make up for the terrible Western media coverage of the past nine weeks.

In the last couple of months, we have seen a lot of distorted and incomplete reporting that is very pro-Israel, especially on American television. I've seen many news anchors and talk show hosts express strong opinions about Israel through their words, tone of voice, and editorial choices. Military analyses by retired senior US officers have focused equally on Israel and Hamas. The flow of humane, personal, warm, and emotional reporting about Israeli hostages and victims contrasts with the much shallower and narrower reporting about Palestinian victims and prisoners.

So it occurred to me that the report from the field hospital in Gaza could be better, more balanced, and more humane. So I clicked on the CNN article link to learn about the genocide and human suffering in Gaza. Below are some observations about the report's strengths and weaknesses. It is important to point this out as an example of US media practices in covering the war in Gaza.

The strength of this report is that CNN, Ward, and his team went into Gaza, saw firsthand the human and material conditions there, and worked to share the images, words, and emotions of many Palestinians in Gaza with the world. I salute and thank them and hope they will encourage other journalists to enter Gaza safely.

The report also exposes viewers to the extent of human suffering, fear, and helplessness that defines the Gaza Strip. It contains excerpts from the stories of many victims, including young children and orphans.

The video also captures the Israeli shelling of an area near the hospital. This reflects the fear that Palestinians in Gaza feel when they hear the impact of grenades or bombs they experience every hour. Ward maximizes a powerful combination of images, quotes from interviewees, and descriptions of what makes for the best television. He told the audience that he felt the same way we saw his account when he told the audience that everyone visiting the hospital "feels in shock in every bed." He calls the ongoing mass suffering and death in Gaza "one of the greatest horrors of modern warfare" and "a window into hell."

But elsewhere, the report falls short of its journalistic duty to give the public a fairly complete picture of the situation in Gaza. Here are some examples of how a phrase, a sentence, or a few extra words can help more viewers understand the full context of the lives of young Palestinian internees, including the causes, victims, and participants in the wider conflict.

Ward has only once before mentioned Israel's more than 22,000 military strikes and their "intensity and brutality." But he failed to mention that the Israeli bombardment was so horrific and lethal that legal scholars consider what is happening in the Gaza genocide and that several major lawsuits are pending in the United States and Europe to try to stop him.

According to the report, most patients are women and children, and two out of three people die. But that doesn't mean that Israeli bombardment has left more than 80,000 Palestinians dead, injured, or missing, many of them civilians who have taken refuge in their homes, hospitals, and UN-run schools.

The report said UAE hospitals were accepting patients from other overcrowded medical facilities but did not say why, as Israel regularly bombs and raids most hospitals in the Gaza Strip, forcing them to close. It also fails to mention that Israel has killed hundreds of medical workers, creating a shortage of medical personnel.

The report shows that a makeshift tourniquet was applied to an injured man taken to hospital. Still, it does not indicate that this was due to Israel's failure to save lives or even deliver basic medical supplies. Camera interviews with all those who have suffered—limbs amputated, relatives killed, bones broken, faces disfigured—are generally conducted in a passive, almost abstract context that does not reveal their full humanity or the full nature of the conflict. As a result, most of the Palestinians we meet in the story seem like one-dimensional caricatures that symbolize nothing but fear, misery, and anxiety. Our audience often feels sorry for the Palestinian people, but they don't know them. Because no emotion binds us to them other than sympathy.

We're told one of the patients, 20-year-old Lamar, who lost his leg, was studying engineering. But what we are not being told is that Israel destroyed Gaza's universities, destroying not only their bodies but also their dreams, making it impossible for Gazan youth to pursue higher education for years to come.

The report clearly states that Rama and his family fled their home on Israeli orders, but were later bombed from the house where they had sought refuge. However, it is not known that 80% of Gaza's 2.3 million residents have become refugees and live in poor conditions. The situation has been made worse by Israel's total blockade, which cuts off food, electricity, water, and medicine.

Although the report discusses Gaza in the context of other conflicts in Europe and the Middle East, it does not cite it as the latest episode in Israel's 75-year ethnic cleansing, colonization, and occupation of Palestine. Most Gazans do not mention that they are refugees or descendants of refugees who were forced to leave their homes in 1948 to avoid being killed by Jewish militias.

The report said it was "almost impossible" for Israel and Egypt to access the Gaza Strip, but noted that this was due to Israeli bombardment threats. This reasoning is particularly surprising given that Western journalists were on the front lines against Russian bombing during the Ukraine war. The report avoids saying that Israel wants to control the narrative of the war and has banned foreign journalists from entering the Gaza Strip. I don't know Clarissa Ward personally, but I have known many CNN reporters since the channel's inception and know they are true professionals dedicated to quality journalism. Therefore, my comment is not aimed at the correspondent or CNN as a whole, but rather to point out the weaknesses of such reporting, which shows bad American reporting of the Israeli attack on Gaza. We raised the issue of media distortion of our region because we have seen the damage the media has done to the US, UK, and other Western countries by promoting the views and governments of Israel and Western countries, among others.

With the mass media being the public's main source of information about the Middle East, decades of misinformation have left citizens uninformed. This continued the government's support for Israel's colonial apartheid regime, which is now trying to expel more Palestinians from Gaza to the Sinai Peninsula. This, in turn, allows Israel to oppose all meaningful peace efforts and refuse to adhere to the standards of international law. The result is the prolonged and increasingly horrific war we see today.

Our common struggle to create a world of justice and peace continues. We must act quickly and boldly to play a constructive role in the world of journalism, using the tools we know best to convey the truth across borders.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the editorial position of Voice of Urdu.