I have watched every Israeli assault on Gaza play out on CNN’s US domestic network since 2008-09 except for 2012 when I was in the occupied West Bank.
Generally, there’s a certain order to it.
Israeli spokespeople get a few days or a week to make their case and establish the narrative. Then some Palestinian guests are invited on so that the network can make a nod towards balance.
This time has been the worst to date.
Palestinian speakers have been almost entirely absent. Hani Almadhoun, director of philanthropy at UNRWA USA – which represents the UN agency for Palestine refugees in Washington – was a repeat guest to discuss the humanitarian situation and there was some discussion of the horrors suffered by his family.
But for weeks since, Palestinian guests discussing Gaza have scarcely been present, though the West Bank was recently a different story. Instead, CNN domestic is largely feeding viewers military analysts and politicians keen on a violent escalation in the region.
Though not Palestinian, Abdullah Hammoud – the mayor of Dearborn, Michigan – has been one recent Arab American exception to the narrative driven by CNN.
He told Bash, “We know what it’s like to live overseas, under siege, under apartheid, under occupation.”
This clear assertion about Palestinians’ lived reality of apartheid and occupation required pushback from Bash.
“As you know, there are a lot of people who don’t agree with the notion that there’s apartheid or occupation. That’s another conversation.”
Hammoud was not deterred.
“I would just push back on that and say that international law recognizes the occupation. United Nations resolutions recognize the occupation. And the fact what’s unfolding is apartheid. Every apartheid expert across the globe recognizes this crisis for what it is.”
“There are a lot of people who disagree with some of those conclusions,” she said. “And the notion of occupation is, again, we’re not having this debate right now, but I will just say that there are a lot of people who say you can’t occupy a land that you came from initially. And that’s why that label, and also the question of so-called apartheid, is very much hotly debated.”
More than 100 days into the Israeli onslaught on Gaza and there’s yet to be a lengthy, meaningful discussion on CNN domestic, not even a debate, about Israeli occupation and apartheid.
Strikingly, Hammoud, in invoking the United Nations, was clearly citing Israel’s 1967 occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip and not referring to Israel’s taking of Palestinian land in 1948 when it dispossessed and forced out 800,000 Palestinians. The “so-called apartheid” reference from Bash is her attempt to downplay the inferior rights Palestinians endure under Israeli rule from the river to the sea.
Internal division at CNN
Days after the Abdullah Hammoud interview, The Guardian’s Chris McGreal reported that “CNN is facing a backlash from its own staff over editorial policies they say have led to a regurgitation of Israeli propaganda and the censoring of Palestinian perspectives in the network’s coverage of the war in Gaza.”
In January, The Intercept’s Daniel Boguslaw had also reported on CNN’s coverage of the conflict. He noted that “CNN’s Gaza war coverage, regardless of where it originates, has been subject to the news organization’s internal review process for reporting on Israel and Palestine.”
Last July, according to Boguslaw, Jerusalem Bureau Chief Richard Greene emailed CNN staff that this policy is in place “because everything we write or broadcast about Israel or the Palestinians is scrutinized by partisans on all sides. The Jerusalem bureau aims to be a safety net so we don’t use imprecise language or words that may sound impartial but can have coded meanings here.”
To avoid that policy slowing down CNN’s work, Greene said they had created “The Jerusalem SecondEyes alias!”
CNN’s spokesperson noted to The Intercept that Jerusalem SecondEyes “was created to make this process [of review] as swift as possible as well as bring more expert eyes to staff it across the day, particularly when Jerusalem is dark.”
A CNN insider told me that the recent Guardian article was broadly accurate.
Story scripts regarding Israel indeed do go through multiple reviews, including Jerusalem SecondEyes (known internally as “JSE”). Such stories receive more scrutiny than any other topic or story du jour.
In fact, until this week, even the introductory material that anchors read had to go through Jerusalem SecondEyes.
Israel, I was told, is unique in this regard. Other anchor “intros” are checked by staff copy editors as a routine matter of course, but only anchor scripts pertaining to Israel and Gaza were required to go through the extra layer of the “JSE” process when it came to what the anchors read.
All “package” or reporter scripts rightly go through CNN’s editorial oversight team, “The Row,” for fact checking, and sometimes – depending on the sensitivity of the topic – also are reviewed by “Standards and Practices” or “legal.” But only Israel-related material must traverse the additional layer of “JSE.”
The CNN staffer said most “JSE” reviewers don’t change much, but a couple do have their own “ideology” which can prove difficult to overcome.
My sense from this is that such problematic reviewers hold a political position and they actively work against stories that would shine a negative light on Israel and its policies. There are also, outside of “JSE,” some individual managers who are “roadblocks” to some content being aired.
The most infuriating aspect, according to my source, is the lack of balance – less what’s aired than what’s not. Some correspondents and other editorial staff make enormous efforts to try to tell the Palestinian side, but often such accounts fail to go anywhere or are suffocated or diluted by the multiple reviews, and some stories just don’t survive the process through to publication.
Conversely, the vast majority of Israeli government and even Israeli military “information” easily passes through the process with little questioning. But anything providing a Palestinian viewpoint can lag for days as it awaits approval, often with numerous alterations if approved at all.
The CNN staffer confirming The Guardian’s account said there are both “Israel” and “Palestinian” internal discussion groups that keep track of the mountain of material coming in. But much of the material showing the reality for Palestinians or the activity of the Israeli military in Gaza that turns up on the Palestinian group never reaches viewers.
The material is often vigorously pushed within the group but generally fails to reach a CNN program or even the CNN website.
And so it goes.
This is not just a concern with CNN but, as documented by William Youmans, a media studies professor at George Washington University, a widespread problem. Youmans has recently examined the biased coverage by ABC, CBS, Fox News and NBC.CNN domestic, for its part, repeatedly refers to the Hamas attack of 7 October as “horrific.” On 7 February, Jake Tapper said it had been four months since that “appalling and barbaric attack.”
Meanwhile, Israel is carrying out a genocide against the Palestinian people and the devastation of much of the tiny strip of land.
The moral outrage from anchors voiced about 7 October is not routinely brought to bear for the horrors confronting Palestinians for well over 100 days. Nor is there any significant awareness from CNN domestic anchors that the conflict did not begin on 7 October but that Palestinians have been suffering from Israeli violence and forced dispossession for over 75 years.
I do not expect Dana Bash to invite back Mayor Hammoud of Dearborn – or anyone else – for a substantive discussion of Israel’s occupation and apartheid policies. It is, however, long overdue, and her anti-Palestinian bias is part and parcel of the hate gripping media and inspiring anti-Palestinian sentiment in the US.
Shortly after Bash’s interview, an inflammatory op-ed in The Wall Street Journal labeled Dearborn as “America’s jihad capital.”President Joe Biden seized the opportunity to clarify for Muslim- and Arab-American voters that his military support for genocide against Palestinians in Gaza doesn’t mean he supports Islamophobia and anti-Arab hate at home.
“Vote for me,” he seems to be saying, “I only support killing Palestinians overseas and not at home.”
It’s hardly a winning message.Yet Biden’s policy isn’t protecting Palestinians even in the US. Just hours after his empty tweet, Palestinian American Zacharia Doar was stabbed in Austin, Texas in an incident viewed as a hate crime. The attack came just two days after Thomas Friedman’s blog post in The New York Times comparing the Middle East to the “animal kingdom,” namely by suggesting Iran, Arab states and Muslim groups are like wasps, caterpillars, wasp eggs and larvae. The International Court of Justice took very seriously South Africa’s concerns over genocidal rhetoric from Israeli officials. The sort of dehumanizing language that makes genocide possible has now reached readers of the newspaper of record, shared by perhaps the newspaper’s most well-known – and unapologetic – columnist.
The anti-Palestinian and Islamophobic environment of hate in the US may well be every bit as intense today as it was in 2001. And with crowded Rafah in Gaza’s south facing the prospect of an Israeli ground invasion, the perils faced by Palestinians are very real.
Biden and the American news media have exacerbated both situations.
- Hani Almadhoun
- UNRWA USA National Committee
- Abdullah Hammoud
- Dana Bash
- Chris McGreal
- The Guardian
- Daniel Boguslaw
- Richard Greene
- Jerusalem SecondEyes
- William Youmans
- George Washington University
- ABC News
- CBS News
- Fox News
- NBC News
- Jake Tapper
- The Wall Street Journal
- Joe Biden
- Zacharia Doar
- Thomas Friedman
- The New York Times
- Gaza genocide
- International Court of Justice
- South Africa