Why U.S. Media Don't Trust Palestinian Journalism
The answer isn't as complex as you think
More than 80 reporters have been killed covering the war in Gaza—most of them Palestinian.
This is a record-number of media workers losing their lives covering a conflict, but there doesn’t seem to be any alarms going off in western capitals over this high, ever-rising death toll. Major news networks aren’t leading with coverage challenging Israel to better ensure their safety. And there aren’t any apparent signs of solidarity among reporters in the U.S. with their fallen Palestinian colleagues and those still risking their lives to tell us what is happening from the ground.
I have an idea why: U.S. media don’t consider Palestinians colleagues—nor do they truly value their lives.
It’s pretty clear these disproportionate killings are happening because of Israel’s reckless response to Hamas’s brutal attacks on October 7 that claimed more than 1200 lives. Human Rights Watch alluded to as much in its letter to the White House calling on the administration to press Israel to protect media workers. The United Nations is calling for the deaths to be investigated. Al Jazeera, the only large media outlet providing comprehensive coverage on the war in Gaza and who has suffered the most deaths in their newsroom, flat-out accuses Israel of targeting reporters.
I’m lead to believe Al Jazeera’s assertion. The news network can look to examples dating before Oct. 7, in fact. There is plenty of evidence to conclude an Israeli sniper targeted Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, a U.S. citizen, on purpose. Israel has not faced any consequences over that shooting.
Given how reckless Israel has been in its response that’s claimed 25,000 lives in Gaza, can we blame anyone who figures the government is targeting folks providing media reports that would document their actions? The least we can do in the U.S. media world as colleagues is use our social media accounts to challenge Israel’s simplistic media narrative that directs all blame to Hamas.
This has yet to happen in a meaningful way.
Wael Al-Dahdouh, who leads Al Jazeera’s Arabic-language coverage, lost his wife Amna, son Mahmoud, daughter Sham and grandson Adam in October after an Israeli air raid hit the home they were seeking refuge in after being displaced out of their home in Gaza City. Al-Dahdouh’s son, Hamza and Al Jazeera reporter, was killed in an Israeli airstrike this month. Al-Dahdouh is now in Egypt.
Outside of MSNBC’s Ayman Mohyeldin’s touching interview with Al-Dahdouh, few notable media hosts are extending Palestinian reporters their platforms on a regular basis to speak to American audiences about what is happening to them and their families. Most importantly, few journalists in the west are calling on Israel to ensure the safety of Palestinian reporters.
Why is that? Well, as I told MSNBC’s Ali Velshi, it comes down to narratives.
When I was in Ukraine covering Russia’s invasion, it was easy to paint Russia as the bad guy because a. they are. b. Putin makes it easy to do so c. we’ve had decades of Cold War history and post-Cold War coverage of Russia’s very real imperial foreign policy and colonial conquests in Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine to inform us who U.S. audiences should see as adversarial. Most importantly, we know that Ukraine and its people are those to whom we should extend our moral support and implore our government to aid financially and militarily.
To be clear, the U.S. should back Ukraine and give it all of the aid it needs. I’d also be remised if I didn’t acknowledge the racist coverage of African refugees fleeing Ukraine. Or course, most of the media reporting on Ukraine come from white men who covered Ukrainian refugees as if they were their own flesh and blood. Basically, they saw themselves in Ukrainians. This isn’t the case for Palestinians.
In contrast, Palestinians have been marginalized in the media discourse since 1948, when more than 700,000 of them were displaced out of their homes and have not been allowed to return since. Any critique of Israel’s policies are immediately met with accusations of anti-Semitism and congressional witch-hunts. The very complicated history of Palestinian politics and their relationship with Israel make things difficult to follow at times.
But my point is that Muslims and Arabs have long been stereotyped negatively in the U.S.—especially since Sept. 11. In short, Muslims are viewed via a “national security” framework as threats and Israelis (or, more loosely, Jews) are viewed as people who need protection from Islamic extremism. This all makes it easy for American audiences to form biases and animus against Palestinians.
(Note: for a more comprehensive understanding of Palestinian politics and history, please follow Marc Lamont Hill on YouTube. He’s an expert on this issue I highly respect.)
Keep in mind the U.S. has spent decades waging colonial policy towards the Middle East. In the case of Iran, Washington helped depose its democratically-elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh, in 1953, and propped up a dictator in his place that did the West’s bidding—until he couldn’t. Then we have decades of U.S.-lead invasions in Iraq and other military operations that target Muslim-majority countries.
Arabs and Muslims have long been viewed as those we must fight, not protect.
All of this factors into how we distrust Palestinian voices. And journalists tend to create narratives around Muslims and Arabs as national security threats because that’s an easy (and intellectually lazy) story to tell. It leads to very poor coverage and negatively influence public perception, however. The New York Times, for example, admitted in 2004 that its coverage of the 2003 Iraq Invasion was informed by U.S. government officials pushing an interventionist agenda.
Many newsrooms are making similar mistakes with their coverage of Israel’s response to Hamas’ attack that does little to hold the Netanyahu administration accountable for civilian life in Gaza, his administration’s genocidal statements or settler violence in the West Bank. Though South Africa is very bravely challenging Israel at the International Court of Justice, few newsrooms in the West are seriously engaging its claims because they aren’t a “world power.”
The U.S. government has written off South Africa’s claims and the mainstream political punditry isn’t taking Arab-American voters’ concerns seriously, as I discussed in a previous article. The latter part makes sense, though. America’s foreign affairs press corps is recruited from mostly white newsrooms that have long been criticized for its coverage of people of color at home. That they would be equally ignorant of non-white peoples abroad should come as no surprise.
All of this comes down to western hegemony and how the mostly white, male foreign policy reporting corps acquiesce to it in their journalism. They lack the emotional intelligence to gauge with their fellow non-white Americans and lack the interest to challenge U.S. foreign policy because it doesn’t threaten their own personhood stateside or abroad, as was the case for their empathetic coverage of Ukraine.
Palestinian-American journalist and Laila Al-Arian wondered in The Nation if her fellow Americans see the same carnage she sees on television and social media.
“I know that if this were happening somewhere else, it would merit wall-to-wall coverage in the United States,” Al-Arian wrote. She’s right.
However, the coverage won’t change any time soon because our social power structure doesn’t penalize killing innocent Arab lives. Hell, It took the killing of Mike Brown and the recorded murder of George Floyd for white America to respect Black death. The U.S. has yet to experience an inflection point for dead Arabs.
They are disposable because, too often, western imperialism is the main perpetrator of their deaths.
Neither Palestinians nor Arabs index in white America’s empathy scale.
So long as this is the case, one hundred more Palestinian reporters and 50,000 additional civilians can be killed and the U.S. media establishment will continue to be as indifferent as they’ve always been.