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The Associated Press better pray the Israel Defense Forces had bad intelligence.
If not, the global newswire just proved it can’t be trusted with the news.
The Israeli army this weekend targeted a high-rise in Gaza, leveling the 12-story structure within a matter of seconds. The building housed offices for multiple news agencies, including the Associated Press and the Qatari-owned Al Jazeera. More importantly, the al-Jalaa building also housed Hamas military intelligence assets, according to the Israeli army.
Associated Press President and CEO Gary Pruitt disputes this allegation, claiming, “We have had no indication Hamas was in the building or active in the building.”
He adds, “This is something we actively check to the best of our ability. We would never knowingly put our journalists at risk.”
Pruitt also strongly condemned the Israeli airstrike, calling it "an incredibly disturbing development."
“We narrowly avoided a terrible loss of life. A dozen AP journalists and freelancers were inside the building and thankfully we were able to evacuate them in time,” he said. "We are shocked and horrified that the Israeli military would target and destroy the building housing AP’s bureau and other news organizations in Gaza. The world will know less about what is happening in Gaza because of what happened today."
The White House has issued statements in support of the Associated Press.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressed his "unwavering support" for Pruitt on Saturday, noting the "indispensability of [the Associated Press’s] reporting in conflict zones."
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki added elsewhere the Biden administration had “communicated directly to the Israelis that ensuring the safety and security of journalists and independent media is a paramount responsibility.”
The IDF agrees.
The Israeli army warned the Associated Press, Al Jazeera, and the building’s other occupants of the airstrike about an hour before it happened, giving residents time to evacuate. No casualties have been reported.
IDF spokesperson Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus this weekend pushed back on news reports characterizing the since-pulverized structure as a “media tower.”
“[I]t's not a media tower and it's not a media center,” he said. “It is a tower that was used by Hamas for three main purposes.”
The first purpose, Conricus said, involved "officers of the military intelligence, basically collection and analysis of military intelligence, obviously used for military purposes, against us."
The second, he added, involved "research and development, where the best subject matter experts were operating from inside that building, using the hardware, computers and other facilities inside the building to develop weapons, military weapons against us as well."
Lastly, Conricus asserted, Hamas stored "highly advanced technological tools [in] or on the building."
“Hamas and Islamic Jihad, but mostly Hamas,” he said, “Islamic Jihad have an office there as well.”
The IDF alleged elsewhere in a statement Hamas "intentionally locates its military assets in the hearts of civil populations in the Gaza Strip.”
Now, as to whether the high-rise was a legitimate military target: We have a he said/she said between the Associated Press and the Israeli army (the IDF can clear this up quickly by providing its evidence, but that day may never come. After all, if the intelligence is good, revealing it in an unredacted form may jeopardize some of Israel’s intelligence-gathering operations).
So, who is telling the truth?
On the Associated Press’s side of things, we have the Associated Press’s word. It claims it has “had no indication” a terrorist organization operated from the same building as its reporters. Blinken also claims he has seen no evidence to support the Israeli army’s assertion Hamas used the al-Jalaa building for its operations.
On the Israeli side of things, we have not just the word of the IDF, but also multiple individuals.
Washington Free Beacon contributor Noah Pollack claims: “Spoke to a well-placed friend in the IDF just now. The bombed AP office building contained multiple Hamas operations & offices including weapons manufacturing and military intelligence. The building also housed an Islamic Jihad office. And AP's local reporters knew about it.”
Former Obama White House spokesman Tommy Vietor also claims he’s “sure” Hamas operated out of the since-destroyed structure.
How can he be so “sure”?”
“I talked to people who worked in the building,” Vietor said.
Israeli officials also claim they presented “smoking gun” evidence to the Biden White House justifying the attack.
“We showed them the smoking gun proving Hamas worked out of that building,” a senior diplomatic source said. “I understand they found the explanation satisfactory.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu confirmed the source’s remark this weekend during an appearance on Face the Nation.
“We share all the intelligence with our American friends,” Netanyahu said. “The intelligence we had is about an intelligence office for [Hamas] housed in that building that plots and organizes terrorist attacks on Israeli civilians. It is a perfectly legit target.”
Lastly, for necessary context, there’s former Associated Press reporter Matti Friedman, who claims Hamas has the international press wrapped around its little finger.
“[C]ertain Hamas spokesmen have taken to confiding to Western journalists, including some I know personally, that the group is in fact a secretly pragmatic outfit with bellicose rhetoric, and journalists — eager to believe the confession, and sometimes unwilling to credit locals with the smarts necessary to deceive them — have taken it as a scoop instead of as spin,” he said in 2014.
“During my time at the AP,” Friedman adds, “we helped Hamas get this point across … Around the same time, I was informed by the bureau’s senior editors that our Palestinian reporter in Gaza couldn’t possibly provide critical coverage of Hamas because doing so would put him in danger.”
He alleges specifically Hamas officials have coerced Associated Press staffers into reporting the terrorist group’s preferred narratives:
When Hamas’s leaders surveyed their assets before this summer’s round of fighting, they knew that among those assets was the international press. The AP staff in Gaza City would witness a rocket launch right beside their office, endangering reporters and other civilians nearby—and the AP wouldn’t report it, not even in AP articles about Israeli claims that Hamas was launching rockets from residential areas. (This happened.) Hamas fighters would burst into the AP’s Gaza bureau and threaten the staff—and the AP wouldn’t report it. (This also happened.) Cameramen waiting outside Shifa Hospital in Gaza City would film the arrival of civilian casualties and then, at a signal from an official, turn off their cameras when wounded and dead fighters came in, helping Hamas maintain the illusion that only civilians were dying. (This too happened; the information comes from multiple sources with firsthand knowledge of these incidents.)
To recap, the Associated Press claims it “had no indication Hamas was in the building or active in the building” the IDF leveled this weekend. U.S. Secretary of State Blinken likewise says he has seen no evidence Hamas used the high-rise to wage war on Israel. The Israeli army, Pollack, Vietor, and Prime Minister Netanyahu claim the exact opposite. Moreover, Friedman’s reporting suggests the Associated Press may even be lying about what it knows.
The only way the Associated Press escapes this episode without serious long-term reputational damage is if the Israeli army is wrong.
Because if the IDF is correct, and the Associated Press genuinely had no idea it shared office space with Hamas, then the news organization is inexcusably bad at its job. Imagine you’re a newsroom with the size and influence of the Associated Press and you honestly had no idea a terrorist group was running an intelligence operation right under your nose.
And if the IDF is correct, and the Associated Press is lying about what it knows, then the newsgroup is an irredeemably corrupt organization.
Put more simply, if the IDF is correct, then the Associated Press either is too stupid or too dishonest to be trusted with the news.
The Associated Press better pray the Israeli army is wrong.