On Gaza, the Media Constantly Parrots the US Government Line

Our mainstream media is acting like state propaganda for an authoritarian regime when it comes to Israel and Gaza. Here are six of the worst examples.

Displaced Palestinians leave an unsafe area in Rafah on May 15, 2024, as Israeli forces continue to bombard the southern Gaza Strip city. (AFP via Getty Images)

During the Cold War, the go-to example of authoritarian media was Pravda, the Soviet newspaper, whose name means “truth” in Russian. It was a running joke that Soviet media repeated the government’s line on everything, without presenting an alternative point of view. Headlines about purges during the Joseph Stalin era included bangers like “Squash the Reptiles” or “For Dogs: A Dog’s Death.” After Stalin signed the nonaggression pact with Adolf Hitler, Pravda no longer used the word “fascist” to describe the Nazi regime.

When American media covers this type of state media in other countries — the Soviet Union, China, Iran — it’s always from a position of smugness: that could never happen here. Maybe we shouldn’t be so smug.

The US mainstream media’s coverage of the recent campus protests of genocide in Gaza has often been virtually indistinguishable from state media under an undemocratic regime. The White House narrative is recycled nightly and relentlessly, especially in the elite print media and on the liberal or centrist broadcasts, in ways that don’t feel much different from authoritarian societies.

Am I exaggerating? Well, take a look at some of the most egregious recent examples and decide for yourself.

Language Police

According to a memo leaked to the Intercept, the New York Times has banned its journalists from using the words “genocide” or “ethnic cleansing” to describe the genocide and ethnic cleansing taking place in Gaza. Times writers are also supposed to avoid using the terms “occupied territory” or “Palestine.” The memo also cautioned against other words that, to any feeling person or even one who simply cares about accuracy, rightly characterize what the Israelis have been doing to the Palestinians, including “slaughter,” “massacre,” and “carnage” — warning that such language conveys “more emotion than information.”

This is Orwellian. What else would you call the mass killing of 112 Gazans attempting to collect flour in March? How could the killing of more than fifteen thousand children in seven months be anything less than “carnage”? The paper of record is sanitizing one of the bloodiest and most one-sidedly brutal wars of the twenty-first century thus far.

Unhinged Joe

Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton faced plenty of pushback for her predictably condescending comments about student protesters’ supposed lack of historical knowledge during her recent appearance on the MSNBC talk show Morning Joe. But the host’s own comments preceding Clinton’s received less attention but were far worse.

In a lengthy windup to his question for Clinton — one of those self-indulgent rambles that journalists engage in during interviews that make us entirely forget that there even was a question — Joe Scarborough, former Republican congressman, sounded like some kind of crazed right-wing McCarthyist from the 1950s.

He railed about “mainstream students getting radicalized by their professors or by communist Chinese propaganda on TikTok.” He couldn’t believe that students were calling the president “genocide Joe” and the Clintons war criminals. He was shocked that professors were taking part in the protests — shocked the way a normal person might be to see children dying because of the actions of a president they voted for.

The rant then expanded into a kind of generalized outrage at popular anger toward other American imperial crimes: Scarborough was also deeply appalled that some students somewhere don’t want a university building named after Madeleine Albright. How dare they call her a war criminal, he rants: she was the first woman to serve as secretary of state.

“Mainstream college students have this radicalized view,” he laments, calling the situation “distressing.” We can’t have them learning, he insists, that “American leaders are war criminals.”

Wow, we can’t have that! (Even if, as I have written, Albright was indeed a killer.) While MSNBC is happy to rail against Republicans who don’t want children to learn about the history of racial oppression in school, there’s clearly a hard limit when it comes to American foreign policy — and no limit to the kind of embarrassingly unhinged whining Joe Scarborough is willing to utter on national television in defense of US warmaking abroad.

Equating Peaceful Student Protesters With Nazis

A persistent talking point from the White House and the Israeli government is the absurd charge that the student protests are antisemitic. In fact, many of the student protest leaders are Jewish, a reality that has been deliberately ignored by most of the elite media. What’s more, many of the reported incidents of antisemitism have been debunked (here’s just one example) or rest on the false premise that any criticism of Israel is antisemitic, a premise widely rejected by progressive Israelis and Jews.

In this vein, CNN host Dana Bash emoted on camera, with no context or caveat, that “making Jewish students feel unsafe at their own schools is unacceptable. And it is happening way too much right now.”

She panted, referring to protests on the UCLA campus, “2024 Los Angeles [is] hearkening back to the 1930s in Europe, and I don’t say that lightly.” While saying this, she dishonestly showed a clip in which women in keffiyehs are blocking other students from walking into a building. Bash’s voice-over accompaniment to that footage implied — falsely — that the women were singling out Jewish students for exclusion, when there was no visual evidence to support that.

Dana Bash is going to be one of the moderators of the presidential debate; it’s tempting to say that by fanning this state-sanctioned moral panic over “antisemitism on campus,” she has disqualified herself from such a role. But in the eyes of mainstream media power brokers, maybe the opposite is true.

Another Anointed Ghoul

Another presidential debate moderator: Jake Tapper. Tapper has consistently sought to justify the slaughter of Palestinians by Israel.

In one particularly appalling moment, he narrated the global outcry against genocide from the Israeli’s point of view, editorializing that the Israelis “hear all the calls for a cease-fire. What they do not hear is anyone in the international community proposing any way for them to get back their 240 hostages that Hamas kidnapped.” They “don’t hear anyone proposing any way for Hamas to be removed from the leadership of Gaza.”

As Belén Fernández pointed out in Al Jazeera, this “analysis” by Tapper drew praise from Brit Hume of Fox News. “As Tapper continues to audition for the role of Israeli military spokesperson, an immediate ceasefire needs to be called on bloodthirsty journalism.”

It’s clear that Dana Bash and Jake Tapper have been chosen to moderate the debate for one reason: the rank impossibility that either will ask Joe Biden or Donald Trump tough questions about Israel or the enabling role of the United States in this slaughter.

False Rape Accusations

The New York Times also ran a lengthy article cataloguing the gruesome details of alleged systematic rapes by Hamas on October 7, which has been repeatedly invoked as justification for the subsequent slaughter of tens of thousands of innocent Palestinians, including by policymakers. In a podcast interview reported on by the Intercept, the main “reporter,” Anat Schwartz, a filmmaker with no journalism experience, admitted that she was unable to confirm any of the incidents described in the article despite extensive efforts. A United Nations team found circumstantial evidence that some rapes occurred on October 7 but concluded the specific stories in the Times article were “unfounded.”

While that article has since been debunked from every possible angle, incredibly, the Times has never retracted it.

Fifty journalism professors signed a letter asking the Times to review the article, citing factual contradictions with the paper’s own reporting, a reliance on inexperienced freelancers with a clear bias — Schwartz had a history of publicly “liking” eliminationist tweets, including one that said of Gaza that Israel needed to “turn the strip into a slaughterhouse” — and the profound real-world effects this misinformation has had.

While no one doubts that some individual rapes may have occurred on October 7, and that any use of rape in combat is indeed a war crime, the Times story appears to have an almost QAnon level of rigor and accuracy.

The false rape narrative is important in a larger sense, as atrocity propaganda to justify Israel’s assault, demonizing Palestinian men and making a case that they deserve death. It makes a feminist virtue of Israeli and United States propaganda; indeed, critics of the Times mass rape story have been branded as “rape denialists” in the Atlantic, Ms., and the New York Times. More generally, in American establishment media, a trope of Arab or Muslim men as monstrous violent misogynists is often used to shore up feminist support for US violence against them. (Sa’ed Atshan has written about how this has played out in Gaza discourse.)

Journalists focus primarily on the deaths of “women and children,” a calculus that implies the men deserve their fate, because they are after all Hamas terrorists. (Even this is a step up from the abundant coverage that has quoted Israeli officials calling the entire Palestinian population “monsters,” “human animals,” and other dehumanizing names, without any criticism or opposing viewpoint.)


Despite the mainstream media’s efforts to mimic totalitarian propaganda, Americans have only to look at their social media feeds to find out what’s going on in Gaza and reach their own conclusions. That’s probably why a majority of Americans support a cease-fire. But the Biden administration, not content with the Tappers and Bashes doing its bidding, is working to solve that problem.

Ken Klippenstein reported Friday that the administration is cooperating with social media companies like Meta to suppress pro-Palestinian information. The State Department seeks to counter Hamas propaganda, it says, but it’s also working with the private companies to suppress “Hamas-linked” accounts — a far more ambiguous category that apparently includes the racial justice activist Shaun King.

Meta has an alarmingly expansive policy against “dangerous organizations and individuals.” Human Rights Watch reports more than 1,200 examples of censorship of Gaza-related content by Facebook and Instagram.

Censored content had one common theme: sympathy with the Palestinians, expressed in nonviolent language. Examples included posts about Palestinians losing their homes, or the children killed by Israeli military action.

This is happening at the same time as the bipartisan move to ban TikTok, where so many content creators are challenging the mainstream media and government narratives on Gaza, as Caitlin Clark has noted in Jacobin. It’s clear that in addition to helping American tech companies, the move is inspired in part by the government’s irritation at alternatives to its own line on the problem.

In fact, they’re not even pretending otherwise. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has lamented that social media has made it harder for the government to fool the people on Gaza, euphemistically saying that it has a “very, very challenging effect on the narrative.” Senator Mitt Romney was more explicit, stating bluntly that it was important to ban TikTok because of the “number of mentions of Palestinians.”

As alarming as the mainstream media is, this effort to censor social media may be even scarier, reflecting the Biden administration’s awareness that many people no longer depend on the likes of Jake Tapper or the New York Times for their news.

RIP Democratic Media

Walter Lippmann pointed out early last century that one of the main functions of the media in a democracy is to tell us what is happening in places we can’t visit. Without accurate information, he reasoned, how do we manage our civic duty to make decisions about foreign policy when we go to the polls? Looking at the state of the mainstream media and the concerted attack on its alternative, it’s easy to conclude that this is exactly what the foreign policy elite is trying to thwart us from doing.