The Media Know Hamas Is Lying. But They Report the Lies Anyway.

Hamas (Emmanuel Dunand/AFP via Getty Images)
October 27, 2023

Even after top news outlets admitted that the Gazan Health Ministry duped them into reporting falsehoods, those same media have continued to put the Hamas-controlled agency's dubious claims about Palestinian deaths at the center of their reporting.

The result has been that Hamas—a baby-murdering terrorist group with a long record of lying to the media—has been allowed to shape the story of its ongoing war with Israel. Never mind that Hamas started the war by committing the deadliest pogrom against Jews since the Holocaust.

Analyses by journalists and Western governments determined that the Health Ministry wrongly accused Israel of bombing a Gazan hospital on Oct. 17 and inflated the death toll by as much as five times. In reality, a Hamas-affiliated terrorist group was likely responsible. The New York Times was among those who this week acknowledged they were mistaken to have uncritically regurgitated the agency's claims.

During previous conflicts with Israel, some in the mainstream media similarly realized that the Health Ministry was misleading them, including by counting dead terrorists as civilians and attributing deaths to the Jewish state that were likely due to different factors—like the terrorist group itself.

Former Reuters Jerusalem bureau chief Luke Baker recently pointed to a new reason not to trust the Health Ministry.

But the Health Ministry's lies have apparently been forgiven or forgotten. The media have carried on prominently citing the agency's reported death tolls, which still include hundreds of dubious deaths from the hospital bombing.

While the Times has taken to caveating its reporting of the Health Ministry's figures, other outlets have gone so far as to defend the agency as reliable.

Associated Press, Oct. 26: "What Is Gaza’s Ministry of Health and How Does It Calculate the War’s Death Toll?":

Gaza’s most widely quoted source on casualties is Health Ministry spokesperson Ashraf al-Qidra. From an office at Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, al-Qidra receives a constant flow of data from every hospital in the strip.

Hospital administrators say they keep records of every wounded person occupying a bed and every dead body arriving at a morgue. They enter this data into a computerized system shared with al-Qidra and colleagues. According to screenshots hospital directors sent to AP, the system looks like a color-coded spreadsheet divided into categories: name, ID number, date of hospital entry, type of injury, condition.

Names aren’t always available, al-Qidra said. He and colleagues face disruptions because of spotty connectivity but say they call to double-check the numbers.

TIME, Oct. 26: "Biden Cast Doubt on Gaza’s Death Toll. Palestinian Officials Responded With 6,747 Names":

Although Gaza has been under Hamas’ rule since 2007, this is the first time that the reliability of the enclave’s health ministry has been so prominently called into question. News outlets and international organizations and agencies have long relied on Israeli and Palestinian government sources for casualty figures. While they do so partly because they are unable to independently verify these figures themselves, it’s also because these statistics have proven accurate in the past. ...

While keeping track of the numbers of dead and wounded may seem like a particularly arduous task amid the latest bombardment, which has seen thousands of buildings destroyed and more than 1 million of Gaza's 2.2 million people displaced, there is a process by which Palestinians track their casualties.

Washington Post, Oct. 26: "Why News Outlets and the UN Rely on Gaza’s Health Ministry for Death Tolls":

Many experts consider figures provided by the ministry reliable, given its access, sources, and accuracy in past statements.

"Everyone uses the figures from the Gaza Health Ministry because those are generally proven to be reliable," said Omar Shakir, Israel and Palestine director at Human Rights Watch. "In the times in which we have done our own verification of numbers for particular strikes, I’m not aware of any time which there’s been some major discrepancy." ...

Hamas received support in the 2006 elections in part by promising better social services, and some analysts say the group has improved certain areas of access.

The media's assurances that the United Nations relies on Hamas's death counts do not necessarily inspire confidence.