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Ira Straus

How honest media would report on Gazan casualties

Here is how honest Western news outlets would cover the daily Hamas statistics on Gazan casualties:

“15,500 Gazans, counting military not just civilian casualties, have reportedly died in this war, from a combination of Israeli bombs and the more than 1,200 Hamas allied rockets that have landed in Gaza.

“The 15,500 figure, we must clarify, is according to Hamas-provided statistics. Their reports have two fatal inaccuracies: they conflate military deaths with civilian deaths, presenting them all as if they were civilian; and they conflate people hit by Israel with people hit by Hamas, presenting them all as if killed by Israelis.

“Hamas does not tell how many of these people were hit by Hamas rockets. We can only guess how many Gazans have been killed by the 1200+ Hamas-allied rockets that, according to IDF reports, have landed on them. It could easily be higher than the total number of Gazan deaths that Hamas is claiming from the entire war.

“We also do not know how many were civilians. Israel’s most recent estimate was that 5500 of the deaths, or 40% of the 13,300 that Hamas was then claiming as the total dead, have been Hamas fighters and operatives who were killed, not civilians.

“A pro-Israel legal NGO, UKLFI, has stated (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q-y4SByv4QA , 1:11:20ff) that Hamas instructed its medical authorities in 2014 to henceforth conflate all deaths, military and civilians, under the category of civilians. This indicates that the misinformation has been deliberate on the part of Hamas. We have not verified this.

“For comparison, a UN paper in 2021 found that, in this kind of asymmetric urban warfare, 10 civilians are killed for every 1 combatant. The ratio from Israel’s side of today’s war is almost miraculously low by comparison, 1.5 to 1 if we use the figures given above. Of the killings by Hamas, however, a radically disproportionate number have been civilian. This means Israel is taking almost miraculously strong measures to prevent civilian casualties, and Hamas is taking strong measures specifically to cause civilian casualties.

“We must apologize for having constantly given an impression opposite to this reality. It is this reality that we should be reporting. We will try henceforth to report this reality every day we give the latest death numbers.

“We have not verified any of the numbers above, neither the ones from Hamas nor the ones from the IDF. We should state this every time we give the numbers. We should also state that the information that we have in fact received from IDF has generally proven accurate, and the information from Hamas frequently inaccurate, sometimes entirely false and the opposite of reality. Otherwise we are still disinforming, by implying falsely an epistemological equivalence.

“We have not made estimates of the deaths from the 1200+ Hamas-allied rockets that have fallen in Gaza, although we could probably find forensic experts to do so if we wanted to make a ‘thing’ of this number.

“In a single one of the crashed Hamas-allied rockets, which landed in a hospital parking lot, Hamas had stated that more than 500 people were killed by it. It had said this, to be sure, when it was blaming the attack, falsely, on Israel. It was a blaming of Israel that most of us in the media repeated uncritically. We kept repeating it until after it was proved false several times over and had been shown to have been actually a rocket of the Hamas ally PIJ that killed these people. The numbers may not have been 500, but certainly many. Multiply that by 1200, and we would get far more Gazans killed by Hamas than the entire Hamas statistic from deaths in this war.

“We continue every day, implicitly, to misinform the world about this particular incident. We do this by reporting uncritically the Hamas reports on the number of deaths from the war, in a manner that implies that they are all civilian deaths and all killed by Israel. The old 500 are probably included in the daily numbers we give.

“We misinform the world daily, on a much larger scale, simply by repeating daily the Hamas releases on the number of people killed, in a manner that always leaves the false impression that these were all civilians and that they were all killed by Israel.

“We apologize for the misinformation that has come from us on this. As a powerful public institution, it is intolerable that we should be a vehicle of chronic misinformation.

“In the case of the 500, like many other cases in this war, it was a dangerous piece of misinformation that we spread. It inspired mass and often violent demonstrations in the West in the name of this falsehood. It inspired violence and deaths in the West Bank. It would not be hard to detect, in the tone and demeanor of some of our journalists such as on BBC, speculating about a potential for a new intifada there because of this, a wish to stir up such an intifada. This indicates that the misinformation was probably made with motivation and culpability. Our agencies must be held accountable for it.

“We owe considerable compensation to the victims of our collective lie. The appropriate legal institutions must not be shy about charging us for it. It may have to be a large number of us. Most of our colleagues in the media are not going to be forthcoming about wanting to truthfully accuse ourselves about this and pay up for it, without legal prodding.

“We understand that this is more than a problem of individual information-processing failures. It can only be explained by a systemic institutionalized bias in our subculture. The institutionalized bias is probably becoming worse, because it has evidently grown self-perpetuating in the education, training, and selection of our personnel. This is a troubling trend. It could be changed only by having far more powerful correctives: stronger negative feedback loops, better checks and balances; and external ones, comprising people who are free of our biasing subculture, not just internal ones.

“Accordingly, we are opening an investigation into this problem and its cure. We will look at two main parts of it:

“First. We must figure out why we – not just our own news agency and journalists, but the entire institution of the Western media — spread this misinformation about the hospital strike. Why we stuck to it for days, after it has been proven false beyond any reasonable doubt. Why some prominent outlets, such as BBC, continue to misinform the world about it, under the guise of not knowing whether the Hamas story is true. And why we all still misinform the world about it, implicitly, since this 500 number is presumably included within the Hamas death count that we blame on Israel.

“Second, and much more importantly – the context for this particular piece of misinformation. Why our institution has been inclined to uncritically spread and emphasize myriad unverified claims that serve to point the finger of blame at Israel, and more broadly at all Western and West-aligned countries, and to make demands on the blame-target to cease and desist what we are reporting as if it were fact, and to threaten consequences if they do not. Conversely, why our institutions have often been inclined to neglect to give prominent coverage, or sometimes any coverage at all, to verified reports that show blame from Hamas and anti-Western actors, to make demands on Hamas and those actors to cease and desist, and to threaten them with consequences if they don’t.

“This will be a difficult task, frankly, for us to complete. It is a problem of our subculture and collective mentality, one that we will be poorly equipped and little motivated to recognize and overcome. We will have to hire outside psychologists and sociologists as guides on it. We will also need to take on critical media studies organizations, most of which we have hitherto disdained and falsely dismissed as dishonest. We will have to study the writings of scholars such as Richard Landes (Can the Whole World be Wrong? Lethal Journalism and Antisemitism, and Heaven on Earth), the late Lewis Samuel Feuer (Psychoanalysis and EthicsConflict of Generations, The Anti-Imperialist Mind) and the late James Burnham (Suicide of the West). They have written careful books on the problem of what has brought about the predominance of a self-deceptive and societally-destructive subculture within the mainstream institutions of Western countries, and how this subculture perpetuates itself through the circularities of ideological reasoning and the mechanisms of social group exclusions and reinforcement.

“We will need to achieve a level of understanding that can enable us to overcome the problem, not just make a few palliative correctives. We will need to find a way to act on it. It will not be easy. We will need consistent pressure from outside structures in order to carry it through.”

NOTE TO READERS. The media have defaulted on making these simple honest self-corrections. External outfits — legal outfits and media analysis organizations — will have to step in and make an intervention.

About the Author
Chair, Center for War/Peace Studies; Senior Adviser, Atlantic Council of the U.S.; formerly a Fulbright professor of international relations; studied at Princeton, UVA, Oxford. Institutions named above for identification purposes only; views expressed herein are solely the responsibility of the author.
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