CNN, AP cut ties with photographer, deny advance knowledge of Hamas attack

Several news organizations firmly denied on Thursday that they had advanced knowledge of the deadly Oct. 7 Hamas attacks on Israel, after a pro-Israel media watchdog group suggested that the freelance photographers they worked with had been tipped off.

HonestReporting, which says it is dedicated to “exposing and responding to inaccuracies or bias” in media coverage of Israel, published a report Wednesday naming four freelance photographers who it implied had advanced knowledge of the Hamas incursion because they had been well-positioned to photograph it.

While not directly accusing the news organizations, the group made insinuations of complexity. “What were [the photographers] doing there so early on what would ordinarily have been a quiet Saturday morning? Was it coordinated with Hamas? Did the respectable wire services, which published their photos, approve of their presence inside enemy territory, together with the terrorist infiltrators?”

CNN, the Associated Press, Reuters and the New York Times, which all published photographs by the freelancers, denied any advance warning of the attack.

But CNN and the AP chose to cut ties with Hassan Eslaiah, one of the freelancers, although they did not specify why. Eslaiah got extra emphasis in the Honest Reporting story, which resurfaced a several-years-old photo of her posing with Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar.

Eslaiah could not be reached for comment, and efforts to contact him through the media organizations that purchased his work were not successful.

On Thursday afternoon, the Times issued a statement in support of photographer Yousef Masoud, who HonestReporting had said had arrived on the scene “just in time to set foot in Israeli territory” and take pictures of burning Israeli tanks.

“Though Yousef was not working for The Times on the day of the attack, he has since done important work for us,” the Times 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.”

The Times also offered a larger defense of freelance photographers who “rush into danger to provide firsthand witness accounts and to document important news.”

“We are gravely concerned that unsupported accusations and threats to freelancers endanger them and undermine work that serves the public interest,” the paper added.

Photos and videos are particularly challenging to obtain from Gaza, from which Western journalists are unable to report unless accompanied by the Israeli army.

It’s becoming impossible to report from Gaza

While the AP acknowledged that it was no longer working with Eslaiah, who took several photos of the Oct. 7 attackers and the aftermath that received global distribution, the wire service said it did not receive any photographs until well after the attack began.

The company’s statement touted the importance of breaking news photography and said it verifies the authenticity of such photos before publishing them. “The role of the AP is to gather information on breaking news events around the world, wherever they occur, even when those events are horrific and cause mass casualties,” the organization said.

Reuters said it purchased photos of the Oct. 7 attacks from two Gaza-based photographers “with whom it did not have a prior relationship,” but denied any prior knowledge of what would happen.

The Israeli government has seized on the Honest Reporting item, with the prime minister’s office charging that “these journalists were accomplices in crimes against humanity” and demanding “immediate action be taken.” Overnight, the government said it had sent a letter to the bureau chiefs of the news organizations mentioned in the story seeking “clarifications on the matter.”

Israeli politician Benny Gantz, who was part of the country’s three-member war cabinet, wrote on social media that “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.”

In its statement, the Times said it was “reckless” to make such allegations, which are “putting our journalists on the ground in Israel and Gaza at risk.”

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