What's behind the skepticism from some in the press about atrocities inflicted by Hamas on Israel
October 15, 2023
Dateline: The week we got to see what was always bubbling below the surface, in the U.S., in Europe, and around the world
Watching this week…
— Skeptical about Hamas atrocities on Israelis
— The New Misogyny from WashPost
— Press speaks at “Stop Trump” event
— Sports as a unifier - Fourth Watch Pod with Curt Menefee
— Great Moments in Praising Nick Fuentes Journalism
Some journalists suddenly decide to be skeptical and curious once Jews start getting murdered
It’s hard to pick a single most ridiculous instance of the thinly-sourced Trump Era nonsense that counted as reporting for four years, but here’s an example. In April 2019, two weeks before the Mueller report was published, the New York Times quoted “government officials and others familiar with their simmering frustrations,” which referenced that investigators working with Mueller had “told associates” about these frustrations. Later in the piece, just a single “official” tells the NYT that members of Trump’s campaign were “manipulated by a sophisticated Russian intelligence operation.” This, of course, did not end up being true.
But like all reporting about Mueller, or the Steele dossier, or Russiagate stories generally, each time some report quoting a single anonymous source was published promising this would be the end of Trump, it became a snowball effect — CNN and MSNBC ran with it and aired it incessantly, other outlets picked up the reporting citing the New York Times, or whoever had the “exclusive” to begin with. No skepticism, no standards.
I thought about this dismal era of reporting as we began to get the second and third day stories after the horrific Hamas terror attack in Israel. Despite the fact that the atrocities leveled against innocent people — women, children, the elderly, young people from all over the world at a music festival — were on video and essentially being celebrated by the evil Hamas terrorists, there was an effort by some in the corporate press to begin an instant fact-check of the news coming out of the country.
There have been reports about all sorts of close-to-unspeakable acts of violence and inhumanity from Hamas. 40 babies murdered in one town, beheadings of both adults and children, people burned alive, women raped. Story after story backing up so much of this horrifying terrorism against innocent people. (Just one example, if you can stomach it.)
But then comes the skeptics — the suddenly and curiously very curious about nailing down the exact details. Take Adam Elmahrek of the Los Angeles Times, who has really distinguished himself for his sudden skepticism aimed only one direction during this brief conflict so far. “There has been no verification of some of the most heinous allegations, including rape and baby beheadings,” he tweeted Wednesday. “Skepticism in this moment is the brave and right thing to do.”
Yes Adam, so brave. He would later cite one eyewitness to a rape at the music festival. He implied that wasn’t enough to prove the claim.
The “baby beheading” story is one that has gotten perhaps the most attention. CNN for example initially reported it citing a spokesperson for Israel’s prime minister, before walking it back the next day because it couldn’t “confirm” the claim. The Jerusalem Post reported it had seen photos. But apparently without physically seeing it for themselves — and only seeing the charred remains and bullet-ridden bodies of babies — that simply wasn’t enough for some in the press.
The skepticism is sometimes less overt and more subtle. Take a look at Washington Post reporter Evan Hill’s tweets on the topic. When he’s describing the horrors at the Israeli town of Kfar Azza, he couches it as “claims of violence” against citizens. But when he’s talking about those who have been killed in Gaza, he takes the word of the Palestinian Ministry of Health without any reservation (and I assure you, it’s worth being very skeptical about that source). Or he tweets about the Palestinian journalists who have been killed, and not about the, say, occupations of the thousands of innocent Israelis killed.
Here’s a worthwhile flashback, from 2014, the last time Hamas was in the national news for its terroristic tactics against Israelis. Matti Friedman wrote in The Atlantic about the very specific ways Hamas plays the press, particularly the American and Western media. “Hamas understood that journalists would not only accept as fact the Hamas-reported civilian death toll—relayed through the UN or through something called the ‘Gaza Health Ministry,’ an office controlled by Hamas—but would make those numbers the center of coverage,” he wrote. “Hamas understood that reporters could be intimidated when necessary and that they would not report the intimidation.” (And it goes on to go in-depth about the way the AP specifically bought into the propaganda of the terrorists, at the expense of bringing their audience the truth.)
There will be questions in the days and weeks ahead as war between Israel and Hamas heats up. Israel will have to begin a challenging hostage rescue of more than 100 civilians. There will be questions about whether Hamas planted an IED, for example, that killed Palestinians, or whether it was an Israeli strike that did it. There is value in being skeptical — in war, certainly, and in general.
But it’s clarifying what some in the press are skeptical about, suddenly, and what they aren’t. Today Richard Engel, the excellent NBC News foreign correspondent, cited the Israeli military in reporting “Hamas likely boobytrapped the road heading south from northern Gaza, causing an explosion on Friday that killed 70 Palestinians, many on a flatbed truck.”
And in comes Adam Elmahrek again, who has less journalistic integrity in his entire body than Engel has in his pinky finger, to quote-tweet and put on his skeptic hat again. “I’m not saying this is false. But again, journalists repeating these statements need to vet them or at least qualify them with something like, ‘NBC News has not verified the Israeli military’s claim,’” he wrote. “Otherwise, you’re just amplifying possible misinformation.”
So what’s really at the core here with the sudden skepticism? It stems from an overriding skepticism about Israel, and Jews generally. It’s knee-jerk disdain for Israel, and a casual anti-Semitism — and another sign not just to Jews here in America but everyone that it’s worth being very skeptical of those who purport to be objective purveyors of information.
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The New Misogyny: WashPost gives trans “sorority sister” the puff profile treatment
Let’s say you’re scrolling on the platform formerly known as Twitter and see this story from The Washington Post:
This sounds horrible. So what’s the story? You also stumble on the framing from the reporter of the piece, William Wan, who sets it up in a series of tweets. “When Artemis became the 1st trans woman to join sorority in Wyoming, she thought she’d finally found a place to belong after years of loneliness. Instead, she became a target,” he wrote. “Right-wing pundits portrayed her as a predator — a perverted man who faked his way into a sorority to leer at women. Death threats flooded her phone. Strangers began stalking her.”
Ah ok. So it’s starting to make a little more sense. Perhaps you’d wonder how we got to a place where this person is a sorority sister in the first place. Or maybe you’d just feel tremendous sympathy for this person. Certainly you’d want to know more. The link takes you to a lengthy Washington Post puff profile about “Artemis” that was published yesterday. And it tells, at best, a very incomplete story. After Artemis joined the sorority, seven of the women already in the house filed a lawsuit against the national Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority. This lawsuit is only nodded to in the Post profile. “Many passages felt deeply personal, as though those filing the lawsuit could sense her deepest anxieties,” wrote Wan. “Other accusations homed in on the social awkwardness that Artemis says was partly a symptom of her autism.”
While it does briefly address one of the biggest accusations — that Artemis got sexually aroused while watching the women change — it ignores all the other details. Like, according to the lawsuit, Artemis “repeatedly questioned the women about what vaginas look like, breast cup size,” as one example. And yes, the lawsuit was dismissed in August — mainly because the judge said the sorority charter didn’t properly define what a woman was. I guess it didn’t consider the possibility it would have to.
The sorority sisters and their lawyer were guests for a lengthy segment on The Megyn Kelly Show (which I produce) in May of this year. These women were not bigots, or transphobes. They were college students who expected to be in a female-only space when they joined the sorority, and were now having to deal with a situation that made them feel unsafe.
But for The Washington Post’s reporter, the safety of these women was insignificant. It couldn’t be that they had legitimate concerns. It was “believe no women” now — at least not biological women. No, it was just those “right-wing pundits” who got in their head, apparently.
There is a nuanced, respectful way to tell this story, that doesn’t erase the legitimate feelings of the women who were affected by this situation. The Washington Post chose a different route. We are in a bizarre cultural time — and in a few years, I have a feeling we’ll look at this moment, and this profile, and have a totally different perspective on the framing, one that will embarrass supposed “allies” who write and read this without a second thought for the women being erased in the process.
Members of the media speak at a “Stop Trump Summit” and prove they are utterly shameless
The New Republic is a media outlet, but it makes no secret of its leftward tilt. Still, it’s a little jarring to see it holding what it called the “Stop Trump Summit” this week in New York City, featuring activists and “historians” …all, you know, chatting about how we can stop Trump! Robert De Niro showed up, sort of — he had that guy Miles Taylor who was “Anonymous” read a statement from him warning that democracy “won’t survive” another Trump election.
You can watch the full seven-hour event over on TNR’s YouTube channel, if you’re into that sort of thing. But what caught my eye most was the panel featuring “journalists” — who apparently had no problem showing up to chat about “stopping” the likely GOP candidate for president in order to save democracy, or whatever.
A panel titled “Trump Vs. The Media” featured Don Lemon, who at one time was a journalist and for a while after was positioned as one, Tara McGowan, who oversees a bunch of Democratic PR operations masquerading as local news publications, and NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen. Here’s a bit of Jay Rosen talking about how he wants to press to be more “aggressively pro-democracy” (click the screenshot to watch the clip):
“You’ve got to fight fire with fire,” says Lemon at one point, to applause from the crowd.
How can no one on this panel feel shame for appearing at an explicitly political “summit”? How does anyone in the broader media take people like Jay Rosen seriously?
But they still do — despite embarrassing appearances like this one.
Sports as the great connector, NFL ratings dominance: Fourth Watch Pod with Curt Menefee
“80% of everything, people agree on. It's the 20% we disagree on that winds up getting exploited...from politicians, the news media…”
That was just one of the moments I found particularly revelatory — and true — in my recent conversation with the NFL on Fox’s lead studio anchor Curt Menefee. (Watch it here.)
Menefee was my guest on the latest episode of the Fourth Watch Podcast, and we did talk football (and Kelce and Swift, of course), but we also spent a lot of time talking about the communal nature of sports, and where it fits in the culture of America today, which you can see in full here.
We talked about his lengthy career at FOX and longevity in the media world, the megamerger of Travis Kelce and Taylor Swift as a cultural moment, NFL's linear ratings dominance, Tom Brady's giant broadcasting deal, market value of announcers, how streaming affects viewership, the mainstreaming of sports gambling, and more.
WATCH IT… All Israel links today… Powerful, heartbreaking, but necessary reporting from CNN’s Anderson Cooper Friday night, bringing out new details from the Nova music festival site that had not yet been reported. Excellent to have this Anderson Cooper back in the field and bringing facts, and emotion, to the story as he’s done for decades.
HEAR IT… Great to hear an actual debate on the issue on the Will Cain Podcast this week, between Dave Smith and Ben Domenech. In some ways it just scratched the surface of the extremely complicated story — and Smith tried to avoid the question so he could stick to his talking points at times — but a worthy effort that I hope we see more of in the days and weeks ahead.
READ IT… The headline “The Left Abandoned Me” was powerful on its own. But the column in The Atlantic by Gal Beckerman is a must-read from start to finish, as he came to grips with the reality that some of the loudest voices on the progressive left would twist themselves into knots to never support Israel, even after the horrific terror attack.
Fantastic beginning to Saturday Night Live last night, with Pete Davidson talking to camera about the power of comedy in the face of tragedy.
Semafor looks into the possibility that MSNBC sidelined its three most prominent Muslim journalists from hosting their shows (although they have appeared on the network, just not hosted their shows).
Spicy moment when Sean Hannity got into it with GOP presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy on his show this week.
Speaking of spicy — things got real heated between Robby Soave and Briahna Joy Gray on the set of HillTV this week about Israel as well.
Israel’s President got into it with British CNN International host Becky Anderson over her insinuation Israel had committed war crimes.
Switching gears, CNN’s new CEO Mark Thompson started this week, and had some positives and negatives to share with his staff on his opening message.
And for something light to close us out — always read Taffy Brodesser-Akner, but especially when she’s writing about Taylor Swift’s Eras tour.
⏪ REWIND // FAST FORWARD: Jada Pinkett Smith Edition ⏩
⏪ Remember all the ink spilled dissecting the Will Smith slap of Chris Rock at last year’s Oscars?
⏩ Well now Jada Pinkett Smith is speaking out as her memoir is set to be released, and telling People magazine she and Will have been… separated for seven years. Plus a lot more about “the slap” — which makes the whole ordeal even stranger now in retrospect.
Behind the Puck News paywall is an interesting Tara Palmeri piece contrasting the Trump 2016 campaign — and the leak machine chaos involved — and the 2024 campaign, which is much more buttoned up. It’s a storyline to watch as the media coverage of the general election heats up, as it could potentially play to Trump’s advantage if he has a team of people who don’t keep handing the press material to run with.
GREAT MOMENTS IN JOURNALISM
Oh, just a host over on TheBlaze praising literal white supremacist Nick Fuentes for his “balanced” take on Israel. Some real “Hitler had some good ideas” vibes.
Thanks for reading. Back later this week with a bit of an “announcement” post (plus a new Fourth Watch Podcast coming!)…