Kent Osband

Biases in the AP’s ‘Factual Reporting’

The Associated Press (AP) calls itself “an independent global news organization dedicated to factual reporting” and “the most trusted source of fast, accurate, unbiased news”. While I do not doubt the AP’s dedication and do not know its relative reputation, its coverage of Israeli-Palestinian conflicts is plagued with bias. My previous article referenced exposés here and here by a former AP reporter. It also pointed to ridiculous euphemisms for masking Hamas’s genocidal aspirations and terror. Here I would like to note a bias that pervades most AP reports on Gaza. It concerns less the information they give than the information they withhold and the questions they refuse to raise.

I will focus here on a single AP report filed on December 22 under the long title “Israel’s military campaign in Gaza seen as among the most destructive in recent history, experts say”. Although the qualifiers “seen as” and “experts say” nominally distance the AP from the conclusions, the article presents clear comparisons of destructiveness, including:

  • 33% of Gazan buildings destroyed, compared with 10% of German buildings destroyed in 1942-45.
  • 22,000 air strikes in Gaza, compared with 15,000 strikes against the Islamic State in Iraq in 2014-17.
  • 20,000 deaths in Gaza, compared with 10,000 civilians killed in the 2017 battle for Mosul.
  • extensive comments about the destructive characteristics of Israeli bombs

The article adds references to damage to schools and mosques, to threats inadvertently posed to the hostages, and to allegations of “indiscriminate bombing”.

These claims seem factual. I share the sympathy they arouse for Gazan suffering and do not fault the AP for reporting them. However, I do fault the AP for a narrowness in reporting that is crafted to blame Israel and absolve Hamas.

Let’s start with some comparisons not made. The AP does not mention the devastation of Nagasaki and Hiroshima by atomic bombs, which was orders of magnitude worse than in Gaza but saved millions of Japanese and American lives by bringing World War II to a quick close without ground combat in Japan. The AP does not mention the 350,000 people killed in intra-Arab conflict in Syria over the past dozen years or the 5.2 million Syrian refugees registered by the UN. The AP does not mention that Israel gave advance notice of its bombing campaigns and urged evacuations in order to reduce civilian casualties. The AP does not mention that the ratio or estimated civilian deaths to buildings destroyed ranks among the lowest in any military campaigns. The AP does not mention that the far larger West Bank was not bombed. Evidently, Israel’s “indiscriminate bombing” is rather discriminate.

Why is Israel bombing in this way? The article defers one main reason– “Hamas’ tunnels”– to the last sentence, where it is phrased as an Israeli claim, with no evidence offered in its favor.  The article never mentions that the destroyed buildings overlie the largest and best protected tunnel system in world history, built over 15+  years with billions of dollars of foreign aid  by the ruling Hamas party. The article never mentions that this tunnel system could provide substantial refuge to Gaza civilians. It never mentions that Hamas expressly forbids civilian refuge there and disclaims responsibility for provide it.

Imagine that Israel built and controlled the Gaza tunnel system but explicitly prohibited Arab civilians from seeking refuge there; would the AP have even considered remaining silent? Of course not. Hence, the only plausible motive for the AP remaining silent about Hamas is to shield it from blame.

The other main reason for Gazan bombardment is Hamas’s proud reaffirmation of its long-stated genocidal aims. While the AP mentions the “Oct. 7 cross-border rampage” that triggered the war, it doesn’t mention that Hamas’s attacks came close to maximizing the ratio of civilian massacres and terror to soldiers killed or buildings destroyed. The AP doesn’t mention subsequent Hamas pledges to repeat and extend whenever possible.  Does the AP ask Hamas how much destruction it is willing to bear in Gaza before it surrenders unconditionally or rescinds its genocidal charter? Of course not; it knows the answer but chooses not to report it.

As I respect the freedom of the press, I don’t insist that AP take Israel’s side or even that the AP curb its pro-Hamas bias. However, I do object to third parties like the News Literacy Project describing the AP as an unbiased news source about the conflict. And I am appalled that any Holocaust museum, much less the Alabama Holocaust Education Center that I have donated to, let the News Literacy Project lead a discussion about misinformation without offering a platform for dissent.

On a positive note, I’d like to see American Jewish-related organizations unite in open affirmation of two core points. The first is that Hamas’s aims are genocidal. The second is that Israel’s aims are not. Neither affirmation requires approval of Israeli policy, hostility to Palestinians, or judgment on long-term solutions. All that’s needed is a willingness to acknowledge one big truth and one big lie in a global frenzy that is inverting both.

About the Author
Kent Osband graduated Harvard magna cum laude and received a PhD in economics from UC Berkeley. He worked for major financial institutions including the IMF, the World Bank, and Goldman Sachs, with primary focus on early warnings of major crises and recovery efforts after. He has published three books on financial risk analysis and one book on calculus for kids.
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