Tamar Sternthal

Agenda-free? Bias-free? AP’s journalism deserves scrutiny

From citing unreliable casualty figures to implicitly adopting the Hamas narrative, the news agency has shown an anti-Israel slant

Julie Pace, executive editor of Associated Press, understandably is in full-on damage control mode.

Reams of careful analysis have documented the news organization’s tendentious coverage of Israel’s war with Hamas. Survivors of Hamas’s Oct. 7 massacre are suing the organization for hiring freelance photographers they say are affiliated with the terror organization and whom they accuse of having advance knowledge of the attacks. And two major customers, McClatchy and Gannett, recently dropped AP content as the media giant bleeds revenue.

So times are tough for the 42-year-old news executive. In her May 24 interview with The Marker’s Dafna Maor, the embattled Pace did her best to deflect criticism of the news organization and its documented failures.

But a comparison of her assertions versus AP coverage from recent days along with reporting from earlier in the war reveals that her best arguments are unfortunately detached from the news organization’s actual reporting.

“I completely reject the notion that we are biased or that there’s any kind of slant or agenda in our coverage,” Pace maintained, adding, “We’re committed to covering Gaza, committed to covering the West Bank and committed to covering Israel. To do that, we have to be on the ground in those places and we have to show perspectives from all sides.”

And yet, the dizzying pace of AP’s output of one-sided coverage skewed heavily against Israel tells a very different story. Take, for example, Sunday’s article by AP’s Yesica Fisch, “Scuffles erupt between police, protesters demanding return of Israeli hostages still held in Gaza.

Fisch wrote: “Netanyahu’s government has faced increasing pressure, both at home and abroad, to stop the war and allow humanitarian aid into the enclave,” as if humanitarian aid is not allowed into the enclave. [Emphasis added.]

According to COGAT, the Israeli authority responsible for handling aid to the Gaza Strip, since the start of the war, Israel has facilitated the entrance of more than 590,000 tons of humanitarian aid, totaling more than 30,000 trucks. In its weekly summary published Sunday, the Israeli military said 2,065 aid trucks entered Gaza through the Kerem Shalom and Erez West crossings last week, double the amount that entered the previous week. In addition, the IDF reported the entry of 1,806 pallets of food, totaling 127 trucks, via the new floating pier built by the Americans.

Failing to show “perspectives from all sides,” Fisch concealed the essential fact that a very significant quantity of aid is reaching the territory, writing:

Israel’s takeover this month of the Rafah border crossing, a key transition point for fuel and supplies for Gaza, has contributed to bringing aid operations to near collapse, the U.N. and relief groups say. . . .

Egypt said it agreed to send U.N. humanitarian aid trucks through the Kerem Shalom border crossing, Israel’s main entry point into southern Gaza. But it remains unclear if the trucks will be able to enter because fighting still rages in Rafah. [Emphasis added.]

Despite the fact Hamas has targeted Kerem Shalom with rocket fire several times this month, including just days ago (Fisch didn’t mention this Hamas belligerence jeopardizing aid), supplies have continued to flow through that crossing, as indicated by the figures cited above. Kerem Shalom was closed May 5-8 following a Hamas attack by the crossing which killed four soldiers, but otherwise it has been open. Indeed, trucks rerouted from Rafah Sunday have been coming through Kerem Shalom.

For all of Pace’s insistence of “perspective from all sides,” Fisch’s article persisted with AP’s longstanding concealment of the fact that Egypt refused to coordinate with the Israelis regarding the transfer of aid at Rafah Crossing, keeping its side of the crossing tightly shut since early May.

After repeated correspondence from this researcher with AP on the omission of this important point, the news agency finally — very belatedly — acknowledged later in the day: “Egypt refuses to reopen its side of the Rafah crossing until control of the Gaza side is handed back to Palestinians” (“Palestinian medics say Israeli airstrikes kill 35 in Gaza’s Rafah as displaced people are hit“).

Moreover, Fisch also grossly misled about the multiple sources of incoming aid, stating, “American officials hope the pier at maximum capacity can bring the equivalent of 150 truckloads of aid to Gaza daily. That’s a fraction of the 600 truckloads of food, emergency nutritional treatments and other supplies that USAID says are needed each day to bring people in Gaza back from the brink of famine and address the humanitarian crisis brought on by the 7-month-old Israel-Hamas war.”

But the pier is not the only source for bringing in the daily truckloads of needed goods. Indeed, just 127 trucks entered via pier last week, while more than 2,000 trucks came via Kerem Shalom and Western Erez. Why did AP’s commitment to all perspectives exclude the much more significant entry points for aid, falsely presenting the entire operation for Gaza Strip aid as dependent on the limited pier?

Separately, AP’s narrow lens literally cut out essential language contained in the ruling of the International Court of Justice. Numerous AP items, including coverage by Fisch and others, falsified: “International Court of Justice ordered Israel to end its military offensive in the southern Gaza city of Rafah…” In fact, per the ruling’s wording, it ordered Israel to “halt its military offensive and other action in the Rafah Governorate, which may inflict on the Palestinian group in Gaza conditions of life that could bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.” [Emphasis added.]

In other words, the ICJ did not categorically order Israel to end its military offensive in southern Gaza. As Times of Israel reported:

According to the interpretation of Sebutinde, Barak and two other judges on the court, the court’s ruling was not a direct and total order to stop the Rafah operation, but rather a limited order instructing Israel not to violate the Genocide Convention in that military campaign. The fifth of five judges who wrote separate opinions or declarations to accompany the ruling, South Africa’s Dire Tladi, took the opposite view, however, arguing that the ruling, in “explicit terms, ordered the State of Israel to halt its offensive in Rafah.

While some are reading the decision as a blanket order to halt the offensive, the wording appeared to include some conditionality that would allow Israel to continue operations in Rafah so long as it ensured that the conditions for Palestinians sheltering there do not deteriorate so as to risk their mass-destruction.

In its reporting, AP sides with the one judge against his four colleagues, falsely presenting the ruling as an unequivocal order to halt the Rafah operation. So much for the commitment “to show perspectives from all sides.”

In response to Haaretz’s question about citing unreliable casualty figures supplied by Hamas’ Ministry of Health, Pace argued:

“We don’t report [the Ministry of Health figures] every day. We also always make clear that this is a health ministry that is tied to Hamas and that they don’t distinguish between civilians and combatants.”

In fact, AP does cite Hamas’s ministry of health statistics on virtually a daily basis. More importantly, far from making clear that Gaza’s Ministry of Health is run by Hamas, AP’s standard operating procedure is to conceal this essential fact. Fisch’s article employed the usual AP formula: “More than 35,000 Palestinians have been killed in the war, according to the Health Ministry, which doesn’t distinguish between combatants and civilians.”

While the hyperlink over “according to the Health Ministry” directs readers of the digital article to a separate outdated article that acknowledged that the ministry is “an agency in the Hamas-controlled government,” most news consumers will read the AP copy in secondary media outlets, including print publications, without hyperlinks.

Monday’s repetition of the Health Ministry figure doesn’t even bother with the fig-leaf hyperlink:

The war between Israel and Hamas has killed nearly 36,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry, which does not distinguish between civilians and fighters in its count.


Fielding a separate query from interviewer Maor on the use of language that leads to particular conclusions, Pace insisted:

“I know this can be very unsatisfying, but our focus is to just describe what’s happening. We try to describe the scene as opposed to putting labels on things, because then they become almost political footballs. We don’t want to become politicized.”

Critics would dispute Pace’s claim that AP describes events without using labels subject to becoming political footballs. Sunday, the news agency labeled Hamas’s firing of rockets towards central Israel as an act of “resilience,” a very peculiar word choice:

“The airstrike was reported hours after Hamas fired a barrage of rockets from Gaza that set off air raid sirens as far away as Tel Aviv for the first time in months in a show of resilience more than seven months into Israel’s massive air, sea and ground offensive.”

Israeli soldiers in Rafah were closing in on the rocket launchers, leaving Hamas terrorists with the choice to use them or lose them. Whether or not the choice  to use them displays “resilience” is an open question — not precise and factual reporting.

Al-Ahli Hospital

Answering Maor’s question about AP’s coverage of Al-Ahli Hospital incident, in which many international media outlets unquestioningly reported Hamas’ false claim that an Israeli airstrike hit the hospital killing hundreds, Pace maintained:

[I]f you look at our initial coverage there, we completely attributed the statement to Hamas. We did not take it as fact. We said: This is what they said. …

There are plenty of examples of misinformation. But again, what they reported was a statement attributed to Hamas, and we also made clear what was not known. What we did is to continue to report the story and continue to say that Hamas had initially pointed a finger at Israel. I’m confident about the way we handled that story.

AP does not have clean hands with respect to the Al-Ahli hospital incident. Days after the Associated Press published its Oct. 21 investigation confirming Israeli findings that a failed Palestinian rocket fired at Israel was responsible for the carnage at the Al Ahli Hospital parking lot, and after American and British intelligence investigations likewise affirmed that Israeli information, an AP “Fact Check” continued to push the false narrative that “conflicting claims” about the tragic incident cannot be resolved.

Only following CAMERA’s intervention, did the AP revise the item to include the intelligence findings and AP’s own earlier conclusion that a Palestinian rocket was at fault.

Beyond the Al-Ahli hospital incident, AP routinely treats Hamas information as more credible than Israeli information. Regarding the latter, the news agency regularly qualifies that information originating with Israeli authorities “could not be independently verified,” a caution which it rarely applies to dubious Hamas claims.

Indeed, when earlier this month Hamas falsely alleged to have accepted a ceasefire proposal, AP published headlines that stated Hamas’ fallacious claim as fact, without attribution, “Hamas accepts Gaza cease-fire.” Meanwhile, State Department spokesman Matthew Miller had plainly said: “Hamas did not accept a ceasefire proposal.”

But in AP’s supposedly agenda- and bias-free journalism, even the State Department spokesman isn’t heard when his messaging contradicts Hamas’.

Addressing the evolving media landscape and the corrosive effects of social media driving traditional news outlets into “taking a side and promoting extreme and divisive stands,” Maor asked Pace: “Can you avoid not being swept up in the race to the bottom?”

With its dizzying output of articles skewed heavily against Israel, AP risks hurtling at breakneck speed to the bottom. And that’s without the help of social media.

About the Author
Tamar Sternthal is the director of the Israel Office of CAMERA