New York Times reporters seem to have neglected to engage in investigative journalism when reporting on last week’s attack by Israeli forces on a school in Gaza.
The school in Beit Hanoun, which was being run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), was shelled on July 24. At least sixteen people were killed and about 200 people were wounded in the attack, which occurred when the UN agency was trying to evacuate people. Palestinians have said that Israeli forces shelled the courtyard area where the bloodshed occurred and the Israeli military has now put out two versions of events intended to contradict the stories of survivors.
Rather than get to the bottom of why the accounts of what happened are so different, Isabel Kershner and Ben Hubbard, reporters for the New York Times, printed the new claims from the military and wrote, “It was not immediately possible to reconcile the accounts.”
But is it not the job of journalists to get to the bottom of any claims before passing them off as truth?
The headline for the Times’ story unambiguously read, “Israel Says Its Forces Did Not Kill Palestinians Sheltering at UN School.” That imputes some measure of credibility to the claims of Israel. So, was this headline from editors reasonable given the fact that Israel’s claims are rather incredible or, at best, impossible to verify?
The Israeli military forces immediately claimed that “rockets launched by Hamas had landed in the Beit Hanoun area during fighting with its forces, and that those rockets may be responsible for the deaths.” Then, a spokesperson for the military said it did not know if the school was hit by a “stray shell” from the military or “Hamas fire.” Then, the military indicated it had been coordinating with the UNRWA to evacuate the school, the UNRWA had given the Israeli military coordinates for the school and the military had “fired mortars in the area of the school.” The military additionally claimed Hamas had fired at the school, though no survivors had reported such fire.
However, NBC News’ Richard Engel tweeted:
IDF suggests Hamas rocket/rockets hit school. it would mean five inaccurate rockets all hit a small location in rapid succession. likely?
— Richard Engel (@RichardEngel) July 24, 2014