CNN admits it runs all Gaza coverage through bureau monitored by Israeli military censor

"War-crime" and "genocide" are taboo words, network insider tells The Intercept

Published January 5, 2024 1:15PM (EST)

CNN logo distorted on cracked phone screen (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
CNN logo distorted on cracked phone screen (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

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CNN has long been criticized by media analysts and journalists for its deference to the Israeli government and the Israel Defense Forces in its coverage of the occupied Palestinian territories, and the cable network admitted Thursday that it follows a protocol that could give Israeli censors influence over its stories.

A spokesperson for the network confirmed to The Intercept that its news coverage about Israel and Palestine is run through and reviewed by the CNN Jerusalem bureau—which is subject to the IDF's censor.

The censor restricts foreign news outlets from reporting on certain subjects of its choosing and outright censors articles or news segments if they don't meet its guidelines.

Other news organizations often avoid the censor by reporting certain stories about the region through their news desks outside of Israel, The Intercept reported.

"The policy of running stories about Israel or the Palestinians past the Jerusalem bureau has been in place for years," the spokesperson told the outlet. "It is simply down to the fact that there are many unique and complex local nuances that warrant extra scrutiny to make sure our reporting is as precise and accurate as possible."

The spokesperson added that CNN does not share news copy with the censor and called the network's interactions with the IDF "minimal."

But James Zogby, founder of the Arab American Institute, said the IDF's approach to censoring media outlets is "Israel's way of intimidating and controlling news."

CNN staffer who spoke to The Intercept on condition of anonymity confirmed that the network's longtime relationship with the censor has ensured CNN's coverage of Israel's bombardment of Gaza and attacks in the West Bank since October 7 favors Israel's narratives.

"Every single Israel-Palestine-related line for reporting must seek approval from the [Jerusalem] bureau—or, when the bureau is not
staffed, from a select few handpicked by the bureau and senior management—from which lines are most often edited with a very specific nuance," the staffer said.

Jerusalem bureau chief Richard Greene announced it had expanded its review team to include editors outside of Israel, calling the new policy "Jerusalem SecondEyes." The expanded review process was ostensibly put in place to bring "more expert eyes" to CNN's reporting particularly when the Jerusalem news desk is not staffed.

In practice, the staff member told The Intercept, "'War-crime' and 'genocide' are taboo words. Israeli bombings in Gaza will be reported as 'blasts' attributed to nobody, until the Israeli military weighs in to either accept or deny responsibility. Quotes and information provided by Israeli army and government officials tend to be approved quickly, while those from Palestinians tend to be heavily scrutinized and slowly processed."

Meanwhile, reporters are under intensifying pressure to question anything they learn from Palestinian sources, including casualty statistics from the Palestinian Ministry of Health.

The Ministry of Health is run by Hamas, which controls Gaza's government. The United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees said in October, as U.S. President Joe Biden was publicly questioning the accuracy of the ministry's reporting on deaths and injuries, that its casualty statistics have "proven consistently credible in the past."

Despite this, CNN's senior director of news standards and practices, David Lindsey, told journalists in a November 2 memo that "Hamas representatives are engaging in inflammatory rhetoric and propaganda... We should be careful not to give it a platform."

Another email sent in October suggested that the network aimed to present the Ministry of Health's casualty figures as questionable, with the News Standards and Practices division telling staffers, "Hamas controls the government in Gaza and we should describe the Ministry of Health as 'Hamas-controlled' whenever we are referring to casualty statistics or other claims related to the present conflict."

Newsroom employees were advised to "remind our audiences of the immediate cause of this current conflict, namely the Hamas attack and mass murder and kidnap of Israeli civilians" on October 7.

At least 22,600 people have been confirmed killed in Gaza and 57,910 have been wounded in Israeli attacks on Gaza since October 7. Thousands more are feared dead under the rubble left behind by airstrikes. In Israel, the death toll from Hamas' attack stands at 1,139.

Jim Naureckas, editor of the watchdog group Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting, noted that the Israeli government is controlling journalists' reporting on Gaza as it's been "credibly accused of singling out journalists for violent attacks in order to suppress information."

"To give that government a heightened role in deciding what is news and what isn't news is really disturbing," he told The Intercept.

Meanwhile, pointed out author and academic Sunny Singh, even outside CNN, "every bit of reporting on Gaza in Western media outlets has been given unmerited weight which not granted to Palestinian reporters."

"Western media—not just CNN—has been pushing Israeli propaganda all through" Israel's attacks, said Singh.

By Julia Conley

Julia Conley is a staff writer for Common Dreams.

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