As the Israel-Hamas war entered its second week, it had already evolved beyond physical violence into a war of information.
Caught in the middle of this battle for narratives are major legacy news organizations, which found themselves under fire after they accepted information coming out of Hamas-controlled Gaza without much skepticism, setting the initial tone in favor of Hamas after a deadly hospital explosion on Tuesday.
Hamas, which initiated the war with rocket strikes and mass infiltrations on Israel, immediately accused the Israeli military of bombing the al-Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza City, alleging that the blast killed at least 500 people.
Israeli officials refuted such claims and blamed a failed rocket attack carried out by Islamic Jihad, a terrorist group fighting alongside Hamas, for the lives lost in the explosion. This was backed by an intelligence assessment by the Pentagon, which put the death number at closer to 50.
“While we continue to collect information, our current assessment, based on analysis of overhead imagery, intercepts and open source information, is that Israel is not responsible for the explosion at the hospital in Gaza yesterday,” Adrienne Watson, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council, said on Wednesday.
But several news organizations, notably BBC, The New York Times, and CNN, already rushed into amplifying Hamas’ side of the story, fueling emotional pro-Palestinian demonstrations across the world, including at U.S. embassies in Lebanon, Turkey, and Tunisia.
BBC Coverage Likened to Blood Libel
The BBC, whose reporter admitted a lack of clarity over the situation but suggested that Israel was probably at fault, was among the first major outlets to face harsh criticism. In a post on X, the Israeli government likened BBC’s coverage to blood libel—a centuries-old allegation that Jews kidnap and murder Christian children to use their blood for religious rituals.
“Hey [BBC World], as of this morning, your modern blood libel about the hospital attack is still up,” the post read. “We see you, and now everyone else does, too.”
The British outlet defended its reporting on its corrections page, but ultimately agreed that it was wrong for the reporter to jump into that speculation in his broadcast immediately after the attack.
“We accept that even in this fast-moving situation, it was wrong to speculate in this way, although he did not at any point report that it was an Israeli strike,” the BBC said.
“This doesn’t represent the entirety of the BBC’s output, and anyone watching, listening to or reading our coverage can see we have set out both sides’ competing claims about the explosion, clearly showing who is saying them and what we do or don’t know.”
The New York Times has also taken a social media humiliation, as X owner Elon Musk removed the golden verification badge for the newspaper’s official X account. The golden badge is reserved for accounts that are “official organizations.”
The Times now has just a less prestigious blue badge, available to all users willing to pay a $8 subscription fee each month.
While Mr. Musk offered no explanation for the move, it is widely seen as having to do with The Times’s handling of the hospital explosion story.
Immediately after the incident, The New York Times ran a story with the headline “Israeli Strike Kills Hundreds in Hospital, Palestinians Say,” accompanied by a photo of a destroyed building located in a different part of Gaza.
The photo did have a caption saying that it doesn’t actually show the hospital in Gaza City, although the one used in the X post for the article, presumably seen by many of The Time’s 55 million followers, didn’t have a caption indicating it’s from another location.
Editors at the Times would later change the headline to: “At Least 500 Dead in Strike on Gaza Hospital, Palestinians Say,” and then: “At Least 500 Dead in Blast at Gaza Hospital, Palestinians Say.” Unlike BBC, The Times didn’t issue a formal notice of correction but instead quietly altered the wording of the original article.
This behavior, described by some X users as “stealth editing,” was widely called out by people across the political spectrum.
“In the space of several hours, it went from an Israeli strike to an ambiguous blast,” commented Beri Weiss, a former opinion editor and writer for The Times. “Whatever the facts are, that breaking news alert—Israel targets a hospital, hundreds of deaths—is already echoing throughout the world.”
“[The New York Times] didn’t botch the Gaza hospital story. They did something worse,” wrote Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.). “They intentionally wrote an attention-grabbing headline that falsely pointed the blame at Israel to generate clicks during breaking news, without waiting for confirmation or the actual facts.”
In response to the fallout, a spokesperson for The Times insisted that they’re applying “rigor and care” to their “extensive and continued reporting” with an explicit effort to make sure readers understands when a story is developing.
“During any breaking news event, we report what we know as we learn it,” The Times said in a statement. “And as the facts on the ground become more clear, we continue reporting. Our extensive and continued reporting on the hospital in Gaza makes explicit the murkiness surrounding the events there.”
CNN ‘Just Want A Story’: Israeli Official
Meanwhile, a CNN interview with Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, a spokesperson for the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), took a confrontational turn after he was asked whether he has “sufficient” material that would “go some way to convince those who believe Israel is responsible” for the hospital tragedy.
Frustrated by the question, Mr. Lerner accused the network of not really wanting the proof.
“We know it because we know that the IDF did not conduct operations in their area—not by land, not by sea and not by air. We know it because our radars identified the trajectory of the rockets, as they were being launched overhead of the al-Ahli Hospital,” a disappointed Mr. Lerner said. “All you need to do is switch over to Al Jazeera, who broadcasted it live … they broadcasted the rocket hitting inside the Gaza Strip.”
“So if you’re asking for proof, you don’t really want the proof, you just want to make sure you have a story,” he argued, to which CNN’s Becky Anderson firmly pushed back.
“Please don’t suggest that we’re not trying to identify the truth, because that is exactly what we are doing,” she told the IDF member. “I am reporting what other people—what the Palestinians are asking for.”
“But it’s not the Palestinians, you are parroting what Hamas is saying,” Mr. Lerner argued, before the anchor cut short the interview and entered a break.