The mildest word I can come up with to describe US media coverage of the deadly Israeli assault on a Gaza aid flotilla would be “credulous.” But one could reasonably use far harsher terms.
The central preoccupation at our papers of record seems to be how Israel’s unprovoked commando operation in international waters, which my colleague Roane Carey appropriately calls “madness,” will rebound against Israel.
The outrageousness of the event itself is remarked only second hand, by noting the street protests the incident has sparked around the globe and the strong diplomatic retaliation from Turkey. The Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler is perhaps typical. He devoted most of his news analysis this morning to how this global condemnation will “complicate” Obama’s relationship with the Israeli prime minister. Gaza itself doesn’t merit a footnote.
An A1 story in the New York Times today likewise focuses almost entirely on the diplomatic fallout for Israel. Worse, it relies on one lone source on the contentious question of whether such a military assault is legal in international waters: the Israeli government. “Israeli officials said that international law allowed for the capture of naval vessels in international waters if they were about to violate a blockade.” No expert on international law; no UN spokeperson; just "Israeli officials." When, in the article’s final grafs, after the jump, the paper belatedly raises the question of why a flotilla bearing 10,000 tons of humanitarian aid for Gaza might have been necessary, the paper of record does it again: “Israel says it allows enough basic supplies through border crossings to avoid any acute humanitarian crisis.” Again, no effort to contact Palestinian leaders or international human rights groups, who have documented that a humanitarian crisis in Gaza has been acute for quite some time.
In some cases, we saw misinformation and an almost gleeful boosterism. Here’s what CNN national security contributor Frances Townsend said to guest host Suzanne Malveaux on The Situation Room last night (transcript here):
"But let's be honest, Suzanne. Clearly, the blockade was an intentional provocation of Israeli Defense Forces. I mean, imagine for a moment if you had videotape of a U.S. Navy SEAL being thrown by civilians off the side of a ship.
"We would be surprised if not everybody on that ship was killed as a result of that. And so this is really—you have to question what the motivation was here. This was not just about getting aid to Palestinians."
No reaction, incidentally, from Malveaux to this bizarre image of Terminator-style bloodlust on the part of the US Navy. Next question!
CNN's other in-house expert, foreign affairs correspondent Jill Dougherty, went on to explain the purpose of Israel’s Gaza blockade in these terms: “Essentially to stop weapons from being taken into Gaza, and to be used against Israel.”
Let's leave aside for the moment Dougherty's failure to note that the Gaza closure is an overt political effort to bring down the Hamas-led government there, not, at its base, an Israeli defense strategy. Let's focus on her assertion that the blockade's function is to stop weapons from entering Gaza. This is one element of the blockade, for sure. But the blockade also bars the importation of many basics of life, such as fuel to power hospital generators and building materials, including iron and cement, necessary for rebuilding after the devastation of Operation Cast Lead. It bans pesticides and spare parts for farming equipment, which has debilitated the agricultural sector. According to the Israeli human rights group B’tselem, some 4,000 goods were allowed into Gaza before the siege, and only 150 are allowed in now. (And the guidelines for what may join the list of acceptable items is a tightly guarded secret.) The blockade has severely limited access to electricity, leaving the vast majority of Gazans facing blackouts for eight to ten hours a day. It has cut off students from their university educations and severed family ties. It has left a stunning 70 percent of the population dependent on international food aid just to survive.
It is this far-reaching blockade, not simply a border check for weapons, as CNN’s expert implied, that motivated the activists of the Free Gaza Movement.
One has to turn to the international press to get a taste for the outrage the brutal Israeli assault on the group’s Freedom Flotilla has inspired. As a useful roundup in the UK Telegraph shows, France’s Libération called the attack absolutely unjustified and called Israel’s explanations “pathetic.” Turkish publications ran headlines like “State Terror” and “Bullets Against Humanity.” Egypt responded by opening the one Gaza border crossing it controls, at Rafa, and Turkey withdrew its ambassador from Israel and canceled joint military exercises. The UN Security Council has called for an investigation.
It is notable, in contrast with the New York Times and the WashPost, that every single columnist in one of Israel’s leading papers, Ha’aretz, condemns the attack in the strongest possible language. It is a “fiasco,” a “failure,” a “horror film,” the result of a “flawed policy” guided by “seven idiots in the cabinet." Unlike high-profile news outlets in the United States, they feel no need to tiptoe around this debacle.