CNN Goes To Gaza

Listen to a reading of this article (reading by Tim Foley):

CNN’s Clarissa Ward and her crew became the first western journalists to enter Gaza independent from Israeli forces since October 7, briefly visiting a 150-bed hospital that was recently constructed in a soccer stadium by the United Arab Emirates in the southern part of the enclave before leaving to report on the footage from Abu Dhabi.

Overall the segment on Ward’s visit is beneficial, providing some much-needed visuals to a mainstream audience for whom the human butchery in Gaza has largely been more of an abstract idea. CNN shows maimed victims of Israeli airstrikes in all their suffering and distress, and Ward interviews them with compassion, noting correctly that “record numbers of civilian casualties” have been inflicted by “Israel’s frenzied bombardment”. Ward emphasizes the “heroic, extraordinary work” of Palestinian journalists who’ve been covering what’s been happening in Gaza over the last two months, accurately noting that these reporters have been getting killed at an unprecedented rate in this onslaught.

So it’s an objectively good thing that this segment was made and that Ward and her crew did the work that they did. But because it’s CNN, there was also a lot of narrative distortion thrown on what people were shown which happens to benefit the information interests of the US empire.

Ward rightly stresses the fact that the hospital she and her crew visited is “not a microcosm” of the conditions of healthcare facilities in the rest of Gaza because it’s so new and has been supplied by the UAE, noting that other hospitals in Gaza are barely functioning at all. What Ward does not say is that this problem is largely due to the fact that Israel has been systematically attacking hospitals in Gaza since October 7, rendering dozens of them nonfunctional.

In fact, in a CNN segment about the death and suffering that’s being caused by an Israeli military operation, Israel itself plays a surprisingly small role. By my count the word “Israel” or “Israeli” was only mentioned six times in the entire 14-minute segment, with long stretches going by where the death and destruction is discussed more as a passive occurrence like the weather, rather than as a deliberate act of mass-scale violence.

For example, as CNN is arriving at the hospital an Israeli bomb goes off nearby, which a doctor says happens “at least twenty times a day”. But the word “Israel” never comes up, even when discussing it after the fact — when wounded are brought in from the bombing that happened ten minutes earlier, Ward refers to it as “the strike”, not “the Israeli strike”.

We’ve been seeing this bizarre divorcing of attacker and attack all the time in Gaza since October 7, with news outlets sometimes going entire articles speaking only of “blasts” and “bombings” without ever actually mentioning the state who is inflicting them. This failure to attribute the source of an attack is not something you see in places like Ukraine, where the words “Russian” and “Putin” always punctuate the reporting like freckles, and it’s certainly not something you ever see in discussions about October 7. At no time will you ever go minutes watching a news report about the Hamas attack without hearing any mention of who the attackers were.

While mentions of Israel are scant in CNN’s reporting, mentions of the United States are missing altogether. At no time in the 14-minute segment does Ward or anyone else make any mention of the fact that this relentless massacre can only happen because it is being backed by the US, and that the Biden administration could end it at any time by withdrawing that backing. It’s downright surreal watching an American outlet talking about the US-sponsored destruction of Gaza as though it’s some separate foreign conflict that Washington is just passively witnessing.

Contrast this type of missing attribution with the ubiquitous use of the phrase “Iran-backed” in the mainstream western press when talking about non-US-aligned forces in Iraq, Syria and Yemen. The fact that the US is backing Israel’s assault on Gaza is much, much more well-evidenced than any claims of Iranian backing ever are, but you never see phrases like “US-backed airstrike” or “US-backed bombing campaign” in western reporting on Gaza.

Another distortion in the CNN clip comes when Ward talks about civilian casualties in Gaza.

“The death toll in Gaza as a result of Israel’s frenzied bombardment currently hovers at roughly 18,000,” Ward says. “If you do the math, extrapolating as the UN says that two-thirds of the casualties are civilians, that is about 11,800 civilians who have been killed in just over two months.”

This of course incorrectly assumes that all the men being killed in Gaza are Hamas fighters. Ward’s segment is full of footage that shows her surrounded by men who are plainly noncombatants, and if they’re killing women and children in Gaza then they’re also necessarily killing a lot of civilian men. Pointing out the number of women and children being killed in this operation is useful because it shows the indiscriminate nature of the killing, but this number should never be interpreted as the sum total of civilian deaths.

Watching the sloppy propagandistic spin of the western press reminds me of how grateful I am for all the real journalists in Gaza who’ve been doing the heavy lifting, even while their lives are in serious danger. Still, every little bit helps, and if the CNN segment opens one more pair of western eyes to what’s going on, I’ll take it.

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