Sat 02 Mar 2024 4:31 pm - Jerusalem Time

Christiane Amanpour challenges CNN for its double standards in Israel coverage

CNN employees, including world-renowned news anchor Christiane Amanpour, confronted network executives over what employees described as myriad leadership failures in coverage of Israel's war on Gaza, according to a leaked recording of a recent all-hands meeting obtained by The Intercept.

At the hour-long meeting at CNN's London office on February 13, staffers took turns grilling a panel of executives about CNN's protocols for covering the war in Gaza and what they described as a hostile climate for Arab journalists.

Many CNN employees both young and old described feeling devalued, embarrassed and shamed by CNN's coverage of the war.

The panelists — CNN Worldwide CEO and CNN Editor-in-Chief Mark Thompson, CNN Americas Executive Editor Virginia Mosley, and CNN International General Manager Mike McCarthy — responded with broad assurances that employees' concerns had been heard, while also defending CNN's work and policies, Pointing to the continuing obstacle to access to the Gaza Strip.

One issue that has come up repeatedly is CNN's long-standing process of routing almost all coverage related to Israel and Palestine through the network's Jerusalem bureau. As The Intercept reported in January, the protocol — which has been around for years but was expanded and renamed SecondEyes last summer — slows reporting on Gaza and filters news about the war through journalists in Jerusalem who work under military censorship. Extreme Israeli.

“You heard from me, you heard my real struggles with SecondEyes — the copy-changing, the double standards, and all the rest,” said Amanpour, who was identified in the recording when an executive called her name. “I heard that, I hear your response and I hope it goes a long way.”

CNN spokesman Jonathan Hawkins declined to comment on the meeting and pointed to the network's previous statement about SecondEyes, which described it as a process to bring "more experts" into around-the-clock coverage. Hawkins said: “I would like to add to this that the employees in this group include Arab employees who reside outside Israel, and this is what has happened since the group was founded.”

Amanpour did not respond to The Intercept's request for comment.

The site says, “Like other major news organizations, CNN has faced a torrent of internal and external criticism for its coverage of Israel and Gaza since October 7, accused of belittling Palestinian suffering and uncritically exaggerating Israeli narratives. Just this week, CNN described the Israeli massacre of more than 100 starving people (in the flour massacre) who gathered to get food was described as a "chaotic incident."

Earlier, The Guardian published an extensive story sourced from several CNN employees who described the network's coverage of Gaza as "journalistic malpractice."

During the February 13 meeting, six staff members spoke frankly about concerns about CNN's coverage of the war. They said the coverage weakened the network's standing in the region and made Arab employees, some of whom were in fatal situations covering the war, feel as if their lives were dispensable.

One of the journalists said: “I was in southern Lebanon during the months of October and November.” “And it was more painful for me to turn on CNN than the bombs falling nearby.”

The meeting began as an effort by leadership to discuss editorial priorities. In his opening remarks, Thompson spoke at length about his vision for balanced journalism and emphasized his personal openness to critical exchange and investigation. “There's something about the essence of CNN — its brand, what it stands for — that to me is great breaking news, where in the middle of the frame is a human being, someone you trust and whose background you know, acting as a person and as your guide to what's going on.”

Once the senior officials opened the discussion to staff questions, the questioning began.

“My question is about our coverage of Gaza,” said the journalist, who worked from Lebanon in the fall. “I think it's no secret that there's a lot of dissatisfaction with how the newsgathering process worked — and how things worked.”

Instead of finding solace in CNN's coverage of the war, the employee continued, "I find my colleagues and my family taking advantage of people over and over again, either calling for my death, or using very insulting language against me and people who look like me. And this is clearly having an impact." "It is great for our credibility in the region."

The journalist asked the officials: “I also want to ask: What have you done, and what are you doing, to confront the hate speech that fills our air and shapes our coverage, especially in the first few months of the war?”

Thompson responded that he was generally satisfied with the way the network covered Israel's war on Gaza, while acknowledging that it was "impossible to do this kind of story where there are people with incredibly strong opinions on both sides," without "making mistakes sometimes." He added that CNN had become better at admitting mistakes and trying to correct them, and suggested, in response to staff concerns about dehumanization, that gaps in coverage were a result of limited access to Gaza.

“I think the fact that it was very difficult for us until relatively recently, and even today, to have full access to the ground inside Gaza, made it difficult for us to provide these kind of individual, personal stories of what it was like for the Gaza Strip,” said Thompson, who answered most questions: “The Gaza issue, the way it has become, has become easier for us by talking about the narrative of the families of (Israelis) who were killed and kidnapped by Hamas in the original Hamas attack on Israel.”

If the network had the same access to Gaza as it does to the families of Israeli hostages, he continued, “I think we would have done the same thing,” citing a story the network ran about one of its producers who was arrested in Gaza. “I think for the most part we tried too hard to capture...our job is not to be moral arbiters, but to report what is happening.”

Another newsroom employee intervened to object to the network's uncritical coverage of statements by Israeli officials, including Defense Minister Yoav Galant. “I think a lot of us felt very strongly about the fact that there were high-profile broadcasters who wouldn't challenge people like, comments like, the Secretary of Defense using what is considered under international law, the language of genocide, 'human bestiality,' and all that stuff.” Which constituted the first seven pages of South Africa’s legal case before the International Court of Justice,” referring to the International Court of Justice.

The employee then turned to the SecondEyes editor: “If we want a culture that truly values diversity, we have to be really honest. No one gets it right.” But we didn’t have our main producers in Jerusalem on Second Eyes for Jerusalem – and we didn’t have (one) Arab on the show for some time.”

The employee went on to say that Muslim or Arab journalists at CNN were made to feel they had to condemn Hamas to clear their names and be taken seriously as journalists. “I've heard this, as a number of younger colleagues now feel like they don't want to raise their hand to speak even at a local office meeting,” the employee said. “People were removing their names from the bylines.”

Thompson chimed in, saying that people seemed to be talking now and that he welcomed editorial discussions.

Another employee disagreed with this characterization and noted that Arab and Muslim journalists walk a difficult line between feeling proud to work for CNN and facing pressure from their families and communities for working for a network with a clear pro-Israel bias.

“I think it's very important for you to know that the degree of racism that we of Arab and Muslim origin face inside Israel, which covers Israel, has been disproportionate — our targeting by pro-Israel organizations is what we had to hear,” another employee added.

Amanpour entered at the end of the meeting. She praised the reporting of Clarissa Ward, Nada Bashir, and Jumana Karadsheh, and suggested that CNN should have more experts like them on the ground and in the field, especially at the beginning of the conflict.

“The bottom line is, we actually have to send experts into these incredibly difficult, controversial, game-changing stories,” said Amanpour, a veteran war correspondent. “It's not a place, with due respect, to send people who we want to promote or anything else, or teach them. Maybe in the second wave, maybe in the third wave - but in the first wave, it has to be the people who know, through experience, what "They see it, how to speak truth to power from all sides. How to recognize the difference between a political attack or something else or a terrorist, and humanity, and being able to put all of that into reports."

“For me, the video is not a balcony talk in the capital,” Amanpour said. "It's not. For me, the video is a reportage."


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Christiane Amanpour challenges CNN for its double standards in Israel coverage