The War on Gaza and The Rise of the Inquisitor Reporter

Image by Ehimetal or Akhere Unuabona.

Since October 7, the start of Hamas’ “Al-Aqsa Flood operation”, the western media went into a new phase of performative theatrical ethics over media and political discourse. They started a frenzy of highly dramatized sympathies with the Israeli victims, bestowing exclusively used labels of “innocent”, and “civilian”, turning a blind eye to Palestinian victims, then ran into a moral marathon of one direction, that is of an ahistorical, non-contextual, and single-eyed judgment of war ethics. As a Palestinian academic Watching BBC, CNN, Sky News, DW, France 24, and the likes I felt as if I was living in a parallel reality. As if many Western journalists woke up in the morning and found that there are civilians under fire. The whole episode of attacks by Hamas and Israel is indeed new on various fronts, including the level of disinformation and polarization. Yet, the sudden awakened consciousness of journalists and politicians to the price of war civilians pay is astonishing.

Dramatized sympathies and outrage

Becky Anderson of CNN anchor of the CNN flagship show Connect, appeared on Camera holding the hands of the father of Noa Argmani the young Israeli woman taken by Hamas saying “I am sorry. I am very sorry”. Showing a deep sense of grief on her face. The video was soon removed from both the anchor’s and CNNs’ accounts on X and Instagram and edited to remove the super dramatic ending of it showing her holding the hands of Noa’s dad and apologizing. The same day and as a result of her reporting “Anderson Cooper Breaks Down on TV Hearing About Israeli Hostage Situation,” As reported by MSN.

Sympathy is no doubt a great quality for journalists, especially those reporting people under war, disasters, and stress. Yet sympathy as a humane sentiment should be based on humanity rather than nationality or religion.

Thought inquisitors

The BBC host starts the interview by asking Hussam Zolmut, the head of the Palestinian Commission to the UK, “Do you support what Hamas launched on Saturday morning?” When Hussam responded that “this is not the rights question”, the BBC journalist reiterated,”no this is the right question, “do you support Hamas?”. He repeats the question two more times, interrupting Hussam before he asks him to condemn Hamas’s actions. In the same way, Palestinian politician Mustafa Barghouti was interviewed by CNN anchor Fareed Zakaria. Although Zakaria allowed Barghouti to respond without interruption, he asked him to clarify his animosity with Hamas from the very beginning.

When the leader of the British Labor Party 2015-2020, Jeremey Gorbyn, was stopped by a reporter from Channel 4 News to comment on the war and he said “Yesterday, I sent a statement calling for ceasefire, calling for peace and calling for an end to the occupation of Palestine […]. Obviously, all attacks are wrong.” The reporter asks him, “but, do you condemn Hamas?” Corbyn says, I think I made my point”. The reporter kept asking him to condemn Hamas. “Jeremy Corbyn refuses to condemn Hamas after militant group carries out deadly attack on Israel,” the Independent reported.

Field marshals of ethics but failing journalists

Although many other journalists followed suit in interrogating Palestinians or those who are seen as pro-Palestinian politicians to condemn Hamas, none of them asked Israelis to show sympathy to the Palestinians or condemn their own government’s attacks on Gaza. In more than 4 days of watching the news, I have not come across any interview with any Israeli citizen or politician who was interrogated over their thoughts on the Palestinians or Israel’s military behavior in Gaza or the West Bank or even the settlers’ attacks on Palestinians in the West Bank. Even when neighborhoods were erased from the face of the earth in Gaza, 15 families with all their members were killed; Israeli commentators were not asked to question or condemn the Israeli bombardment of Gaza. The Israeli Defense Minister Israel Yoav Gallant repeated twice on camera We fight “human animals, and we act accordingly,” in reference to the Palestinians. No Israeli was asked to condemn this.

I am used to years of biased reporting. Bias is not acceptable, yet it is not news to me and to any observer of Western news media. Experts know that there is much statistical and qualitative research evidence on this.

Political Analyst Rami Khouri told the Inside Story on AlJazeera Inside Story on October 9 that if much of the Western media were in any journalism classroom of his in the United States, they would get an F, a failing grade for the quality of their reporting.

For decades, I witnessed the biased, dominantly single-framed reporting of American and Western European reporting of Palestinian rights and Israeli crimes. The past few days have shown me a new level that even could mount to performative theatrical ethics. This is why I am writing, though I intended not to write anything on media in this war as I expected the business of Western news media to go as usual.

Abeer Al-Najjar is an Associate Professor of Media and Journalism Studies at the American University of Sharjah. Abeer was a Visiting Scholar at the Westminster School of Media, Arts and Design (2018–19) and a Visiting Senior Fellow at the LSE Middle East Centre (2016–17). Abeer is an Editorial Board Member of Journalism Studies, The International Journal of Communication. She was the Dean of the Jordan Media Institute 2011–12. Received her PhD from the University of Edinburgh. Abeer has several articles and book chapters on media, society and politics.