Lou's Views : Media Coverage

Destroying the AP and Al-Jazeera bureaus
Destroyed AP and Al-Jazeera bureaus

Like any of us, I could make a long list of things I know nothing about. This would include everything from the precise origins of Stonehenge to the role artificial intelligence might someday play in complex neurosurgery. On a more mundane level, I don’t know how to cook a quiche. I can’t figure out how the hell one “mines” a cryptocurrency when it’s just a bunch of digital ones and zeroes. And in terms of geopolitics, perhaps the greatest area of my ignorance centers on what’s currently the world’s most antagonistic clash: the conflict between Hamas and Israel.

I once contended—in a Chicago Tribune editorial, no less—that if you ran the same photo on page one with every new Middle East suicide bombing, no one would ever know. The stories even carried a stink of gruesome familiarity worthy of Mad Libs: “Today in _______, _______ people died in the town of _____ when a suicide bomber ran his ______ into a _______ in the center of town. The group ________ claimed responsibility.”

But some things go beyond the grinding gears that drive war, conflict and killing. And I believe that it is possible to take sides on a very granular issue without taking sides in a nearly intractable conflict, in a region that has known aggression and tension and bloodshed since before the time of Christ.

Still, I cannot comprehend Pontius Pilate, an insane burn-and-pillage Crusades general, or even the leaders of modern-day revolts telling a group of befuddled chroniclers, “Hey, you’ve got one hour to clear out of Dodge, or you’ll go down in flames with your office.”

While a fragile cease-fire between Israel and Hamas holds fast as I write this, no end to the conflict can ever bring back the Associated Press office in Gaza City, which was blown up by three Israeli missiles on May 15.

The attack did not injure or kill any of the 12 staff journalists. And yes, the attackers were so kind, if you can call it that, to give the armed-conflict equivalent of “I’ll huff, and I’ll puff, and I’ll blow your house down.” But if I have to wonder whether under any circumstances it’s OK to turn a news bureau into rubble–especially when said office belongs to one of the most respected news outlets in the world.

In one of those bizarre turns that only wars and alternate universes can make manifest, AP went from covering the news to making it and hence covering it. The news organization found itself in the ultra-ironic position of reporting on a major international story where it sat front and center.

“Shocking and horrifying” the May 15 headline read. Imagine, being a writer like Josef Federman, having to split emotional time between choking back waves of emotion and trying to take notes dispassionately to beat deadline.

Federman also put a human face on a brutal act. The bureau was:

“like a second home for AP journalists. … Most of the AP staff has been sleeping in the bureau, which includes four bedrooms in an upstairs apartment, throughout the current round of fighting, believing that the offices of an international news agency were one of the few safe places in Gaza.”

As the seconds ticked down, even the building’s owner wasn’t allowed to go back in to fetch a few more cameras and momentos for the reporters. In the equivalent of “your call is very important to us, please continue to hold,” Israeli officials all the way up to the top refused to hear any entreaties for a last-minute reprieve. Compare that to President Joe Biden, who spoke to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and “raised concerns about the safety and security of journalists and reinforced the need to ensure their protection,” the White House said.

Though Israel claimed the building housed Hamas military intelligence, not a shred of evidence has been produced to support this. As AP President and CEO Gary Pruitt put it, why on Earth would AP subject its journalists to risk by letting them occupy the same building as a militant group?

But AP wasn’t the only media presence there. Al-Jazeera also had offices in the building–and also covered the horrific act. An Al-Jazeera anchor, speaking to a colleague reporter on the scene, called it “an unsubtle, horrible attempt to silence the voice of journalism.” He drew out the last word–“jour-nal-ism”–with more than a little disgust in his voice.

Press-freedom groups have also condemned the attack. The Washington Post asked in bewilderment, “What happens when allies like Israel don’t respect the free press?” Might as well ask how the bromance between Donald Trump and Netanyahu played a foundational role in this. When Trump called the press, over and over, “the enemy of the people,” you can’t help but wonder whether his iron-fisted counterparts in Israel, China, North Korea and Russia were taking notes and trading high fives.

There are many things I don’t know about. Thus I would hear, and hear, and hear again all of the grievances Israeli’s leaders have with Hamas and vice versa. That is what journalists do. We gather information from all sides and give them a voice, except when we run the danger of promoting outright lies and fabrications.

This is different, though. With AP and Al-Jazeera drawn off the sidelines and into the news by an act of senseless, wanton destruction, reporters have been given a pass to go beyond dispassionate coverage. When the life, limb and livelihood of your colleagues is put at risk, there is no longer a need to kiss the ring of the Ethics God and stay silent.

With my own small voice, yet in strongest terms possible, I condemn the senseless, brutal attack on the Associated Press and Al-Jazeera offices in Gaza City. Israel wants the world to believe Hamas was hiding under the bed there. That claim, preposterous as it may sound, warrants investigation.

And yet, so does the contention that Israel, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, sought to silence the witness of cameras that do not blink and reporters who do not slant. When no one is watching and no one is taking notes, you can pretty much do whatever you want. Just ask the local sewer board that votes each member rock star health benefits. Ask the accountant who swindles his client, or the hotshot jet setter who peddles underage girls like personal candy.

It’s all the same, really. If the press is the enemy of the people, it’s people in positions of power who consider themselves beyond reproach as they do their evil deeds.

Lou Carlozo is Qwoted’s Editor In Chief. All opinions expressed are stronger than missiles and loud as love. Email lou@qwoted.com or connect on LinkedIn