Four news organizations strongly denied on Thursday having had prior knowledge of Hamas’ Oct. 7 terror attack, after the Israeli government demanded answers from the press and stoked questions about their credibility over a thinly sourced report from an agenda-driven media monitoring group that insinuated news organizations knew about the looming assault.
The Associated Press, Reuters, The New York Times, and CNN all swiftly issued statements strongly pushing back against the report published late Wednesday from the staunchly pro-Israel media watchdog, HonestReporting, that claimed photographers for the news outlets were present during the initial attack, citing screenshots posted on social media.
Two of the outlets, the Associated Press and CNN, however, said they had severed ties with the freelance photographer Hassan Eslaiah after he was identified in the report as having been present with Hamas militants during the heinous attack on the Jewish state.
“The Associated Press had no knowledge of the Oct. 7 attacks before they happened,” Lauren Easton, the director of media relations for the Associated Press, said in a statement. “The first pictures AP received from any freelancer show they were taken more than an hour after the attacks began. No AP staff were at the border at the time of the attacks, nor did any AP staffer cross the border at any time.”
“We are no longer working with Hassan Eslaiah, who had been an occasional freelancer for AP and other international news organizations in Gaza,” Easton added.
In a statement, CNN said Eslaiah was not working for the network on the day of the attack.
“We had no prior knowledge of the October 7th attacks,” a CNN spokesperson said. “Hassan Eslaiah, who was a freelance journalist working for us and many other outlets, was not working for the network on October 7th. As of today, we have severed all ties with him.”
Reuters also pushed back on the insinuation that it was somehow aware of the Hamas’ planned assault on Israel.
“Reuters categorically denies that it had prior knowledge of the attack or that we embedded journalists with Hamas on Oct. 7,” a Reuters spokesperson said, adding, “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.”
“Reuters staff journalists were not on the ground at the locations referred to in the HonestReporting article,” the spokesperson added.
The New York Times also issued a statement about accusations made against another freelance photographer, Yousef Massoud, who was mentioned in HonestReporting’s report.
“Though Yousef was not working for The Times on the day of the attack, he has since done important work for us,” the company said. “There is no evidence for Honest Reporting’s insinuations. Our review of his work shows that he was doing what photojournalists always do during major news events, documenting the tragedy as it unfolded.”
When covering war, it is typical for news organizations to acquire video and photographs from freelancers who are in the region. Freelancers work as independent contractors and are not employees of the companies in which they provide services or their material to.
HonestReporting has a history of making serious — and often misleading — accusations against the news media.
The Israeli government, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been combative with the press, nevertheless sought to use HonestReporting’s story to give credence to the false notion that news organizations were aware of the terror attack prior to it taking place.
“These journalists were accomplices in crimes against humanity; their actions were contrary to professional ethics,” the Israeli prime minister’s office posted Thursday on X, formerly known as Twitter. “Overnight the [Government Press Office] issued an urgent letter to the bureau chiefs of the media organizations that employed these photographers and sought clarifications on the matter.”
A spokesperson for Netanyahu’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
A member of Israel’s war cabinet, Benny Gantz, also used the report to question whether journalists had prior knowledge of the attack.
“Journalists found to have known about the massacre, and still chose to stand as idle bystanders while children were slaughtered – are no different than terrorists and should be treated as such,” he posted on X.
The Committee to Protect Journalists denounced the Israeli government’s rhetoric, warning it could put media workers in harm’s way.
“Attempts to smear, delegitimize and criminalize journalists who are doing their job, are outrageous and irresponsible, and they put journalists at further risk,” Gypsy Guillén Kaiser, CPJ’s advocacy and communications director, said in a statement. “Targeting journalists with disinformation only endangers them.”