US Media Cut Ties With Hamas-Linked Journalist, But Questions Remain

Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar, freelancer Hassan Eslaiah (@visegrad24 Twitter)
November 9, 2023

American media outlets cut ties Thursday with a freelance photojournalist accused of having links to Hamas, but questions remain about their knowledge of those alleged associations.

Photos emerged Wednesday that purportedly showed Hassan Eslaiah, who did freelance work for the Associated Press during the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks on Israel and also worked for CNN, receiving a kiss from Yahya Sinwar, the leader of Hamas in Gaza whom Israel believes masterminded the attacks.

The photos surfaced hours after the publication of a report from HonestReporting, a pro-Israel media watchdog, that raised ethical questions over the outlets' association with Eslaiah and other freelancers who documented the attacks. The report asked whether the journalists' presence at the scene of the attacks to document them was "coordinated with Hamas."

Eslaiah did not wear a press vest or helmet as he filmed himself in front of a burning Israeli tank during the attack, according to the report, which alleged that he crossed the border into Israel during the attack. HonestReporting also included screenshots of now-deleted X posts on his account, one of which has an Arabic caption that describes him as "live from inside the Gaza Strip settlements."

Both the Associated Press and CNN issued statements announcing that they severed ties with Eslaiah.

"We are aware of the article and photo concerning Hassan Eslaiah, a freelance photojournalist who has worked with a number of international and Israeli outlets," CNN said in a statement. "While we have not at this time found reason to doubt the journalistic accuracy of the work he has done for us, we have decided to suspend all ties with him."

"We are no longer working with Hassan Eslaiah, who had been an occasional freelancer for AP and other international news organizations in Gaza," read a statement from the Associated Press. "AP uses images taken by freelancers around the world. When we accept freelance photos, we take great steps to verify the authenticity of the images and that they show what is purported."

The statement also denied that the Associated Press had "knowledge of the Oct. 7 attacks before they happened," noting that "the first pictures AP received from any freelancer show they were taken more than an hour after the attacks began." It also said that no AP staffers were at the border during the attacks, "nor did any AP staffer cross the border at any time."

Eslaiah wrote on Telegram that he fears for his life as he is "now the subject of a major campaign of incitement in the Israeli media, after covering the ongoing war in Gaza," the Messenger reported.

HonestReporting's report also names freelancers who worked for Reuters, which issued a statement Thursday that also denied prior knowledge of the attacks.

"Reuters categorically denies that it had prior knowledge of the attack or that we embedded journalists with Hamas on Oct. 7," the outlet said. "Reuters acquired photographs from two Gaza-based freelance photographers who were at the border on the morning of Oct. 7, with whom it did not have a prior relationship. The photographs published by Reuters were taken two hours after Hamas fired rockets across southern Israel and more than 45 minutes after Israel said gunmen had crossed the border."

Questions still remain about the freelancers' coverage of the Israel-Hamas war and their relationship to the outlets that accepted their work, such as how much knowledge the news organizations had of the journalists' actions and whether the outlets knew about Eslaiah's alleged Hamas ties.

This is not the first time a journalist doing work on the conflict for a major media outlet has had his reporting called into question. The New York Times last month reenlisted a Gaza-based freelance videographer who had previously praised Adolf Hitler. No material has appeared on his author page since the Times received criticism for employing him again.