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May 15, 2022 9:01 am

How AP Teaches Its Journalists to Whitewash the Bloody Truth About Hamas

avatar by Rachel O'Donoghue


Palestinian police officers loyal to Hamas march during a graduation ceremony in Gaza City, April 29, 2019. Photo: Reuters / Ibraheem Abu Mustafa.

HonestReporting has constantly criticized the Associated Press’ habit of using language to sanitize the actions of Palestinian terrorists and rioters.

A case in point was the global news agency’s use of the word “activists” in reference to arsonists in the Gaza Strip, who launched explosive balloons at Israel last year.

We called out this egregious linguistic distortion in print:

An activist is not a gun-toting rioter who seeks to cause bloodshed. Activists are also not those who fire crude weapons in the direction of Israeli towns and cities with the goal of killing innocent people and causing maximum property and ecological damage.

Another example we drew attention to was the AP’s rebranding of a Hamas lieutenant who had shot and killed an Israeli soldier as a “protestor.”

Again, we questioned why the AP softened its description of a gunman who was a member of a terrorist group, and murdered a man in cold blood.

To understand the AP’s tendency to whitewash terrorism, it is helpful to consider the guidance contained within the AP’s official stylebook for stories referring to Hamas:

Hamas: A Palestinian Islamic political party, which has an armed wing of the same name. The word is an acronym for the Arabic words for Islamic Resistance Movement.

However, before analyzing why the AP’s stylebook entry for Hamas is inadequate, it is illuminating to compare it to that of its competitor wire agency, Reuters:

Refer to it as the Islamist Hamas movement. Suggest we include following in most stories on Hamas: Its leaders have offered a long-term truce with Israel in return for a viable Palestinian state in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The Islamist group continues to say it will not formally recognize Israel and its 1988 founding charter calls for the destruction of the Jewish state.

While Reuters’ entry is not perfect, particularly because it fails to mention that Hamas is a designated terrorist organization by the entirety of the Western world, it still goes much further than the AP’s description.

First, by not advising its journalists to at least reference Hamas’ founding charter in articles, the AP is denying its readers crucial context that would help them understand the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and why peace in the region has proven so elusive.

Namely, Gaza is ruled by a militant group that is dedicated to destroying the world’s only Jewish-majority state.

Second, the explanation of Hamas as simply being a “Palestinian Islamic political party” that also has an “armed wing,” effectively re-imagines the terror group as a legitimate and democratic entity.

The fact is, since seizing power in the Gaza Strip in 2007, Hamas has not held any general elections in the coastal enclave, and has spent years consolidating its grip on power through the crushing of public dissent, including by detaining and torturing activists.

Finally, the AP fails to highlight the fundamentalist beliefs that form Hamas’ doctrine, such as its support for suicide attacks that are viewed as a legitimate means of achieving its goals; the subjugation of women; and the brutal mistreatment of LGBTQ individuals.

Yet, the AP has no issue with drawing attention to similarly unpalatable facts in its stylebook entry for Hamas’ fellow Islamist organization, the Taliban:

Extremist Islamic movement in Afghanistan … Historically, the Taliban have enforced a strict form of Islamic law that, among other things, limits the participation of women in education and other activities, and places draconian restrictions on the arts.

The Associated Press’ guidance for journalists on how to reference Hamas is therefore based on a grossly inaccurate description of the organization’s mission, vision, and bloody track record.

As a result, AP journalists are being taught to whitewash the actions of a terror group that seeks to wipe Israel off the face of the Earth.

The author is a contributor to HonestReporting, a Jerusalem-based media watchdog with a focus on antisemitism and anti-Israel bias — where a version of this article first appeared.

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