In the Guise of a Tribute to Dead Children, the “New York Times” Offers a Mixture of Half-Truths, Distortions, and Propaganda

June 1, 2021 | Robert Satloff
About the author: Robert Satloff is the executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and the author of several books on the Middle East, including Among the Righteous: Lost Stories from the Holocaust’s Long Reach into Arab Lands.

Last week, the New York Times published a graphic on its front page, titled “They Were Only Children,” made up of thumbnail portraits of children killed in the recent fighting between Israel and Hamas. This was accompanied by a lengthy feature about the 69 children who had lost their lives—67 Gazans and two Israelis. Shortly thereafter, the Times issued a correction: one of the pictures was misidentified; it was not of Rahaf al-Masri, but of a random photo of an Arab child that had been circulating the Internet for years. In a separate story, published on Sunday, the Times noted that among those included in the list was a seventeen-year-old Hamas fighter—technically a child, but not a civilian. Yet these corrections do little to fix the fact that the report, masquerading as a neutral memorial to war’s most horrific effects, was little more than carefully crafted propaganda. Robert Satloff writes:

[First], readers have a right to know if the blandly referenced “Palestinian officials” cited as sources for the “identities of the children killed, their photographs and the circumstances of their deaths” were, in fact, Hamas officials, members, or sympathizers. Readers have a right to know if the reporters traveled to Gaza and interviewed family members face-to-face, inspected sites where children reportedly died, and assessed claims and counterclaims about the precision of Israeli bombing that allowed the story repeatedly to ascribe responsibility to Israel and what role, if any, Hamas minders played in this effort.

In “They Were Only Children,” Israel is characterized as the aggressor and initiator of the entire Gaza conflict, as the article states “An average fifteen-year-old [in Gaza] would have lived through four major Israeli offensives.” Whatever one’s view of the 2021 Gaza conflict, it was certainly not “an Israeli offensive,” as Israel’s May 10 airstrikes were a response to Hamas rockets fired on Jerusalem and there was no attempt to retake territory.

To these Satloff adds many other examples of how the report was misleading or mendacious. But the heart of the problem, he suggests, is the use of a format normally reserved for “singular events for which the cause is clear and the perpetrator is readily identifiable,” such as natural disasters or mass shooting, for something very different:

As tragic as the deaths of the Gaza children certainly are, . . . “They Were Only Children” brought together images for what was not a singular event but eleven days of fighting; it provided no substantive, independent accounting for the cause of individual deaths, and offered an implicit free pass to the terrorist groups that, at least in some cases, were responsible for placing children in harm’s way and, in all cases, chose to provide no basic defense for civilians (e.g., bomb shelters) as they launched their own attacks from heavily populated areas. By applying a format normally reserved for the black-and-white of terrorist attacks or natural disasters to the gray, unknowing reality of Gaza, New York Times editors debased its use.

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