NY Times Photos Only Tell Part of Story

There is something missing in the way the Gaza conflict is being portrayed in pictures in the mainstream media. There is a noticeable shortage of photos of Hamas fighters and rocket launchers.

There are plenty of pictures of collapsed buildings in Gaza, people stricken by grief from the war, and even photos and videos of Iron Dome missiles fired at oncoming Hamas rockets. But there are virtually no shots of Hamas on the offensive.

And since media images have tremendous power to shape public opinion, the absence of pictures showing Hamas as aggressive and dangerous could have an impact on how much blame people attribute to the terror group.

One journalist who noticed the imbalance in photos was JTA’s Uriel Heilman, who posted a general inquiry on the issue last week:

Why haven’t we seen journalists’ photographs of Hamas fighters inside Gaza?

We know Hamas doesn’t want the world to see images of Palestinian fighters launching rockets or using civilian havens like hospitals as bases of operation. But if we’re able to see images from both sides of practically every other war — in Syria, in Ukraine, in Iraq — why is Gaza an exception?

The New York Times responded to Heilman, pointing out that it simply did not have any photos of Hamas fighters in action.

Here’s what Eileen Murphy, the Times’ vice president for corporate communications, says:

Our photo editor went through all of our pictures recently and out of many hundreds, she found 2 very distant poor quality images that were captioned Hamas fighters by our photographer on the ground. It is very difficult to identify Hamas because they don’t have uniforms or any visible insignia; our photographer hasn’t even seen anyone carrying a gun.

I would add that we would not withhold photos of Hamas militants. We eagerly pursue photographs from both sides of the conflict, but we are limited by what our photographers have access to.

Heilman pointed out that neither journalists nor photographers have indicated that their ability to operate has been constrained by Hamas. However, publications such as Tablet expressed doubts that this was actually the case:

What the Times and other mainstream news outlets seem determined to hide from their readers is that their photographers and reporters are hardly allowed to roam freely. In fact, they are working under terribly difficult conditions under the effective control of a terrorist organization which–as the war itself indicates–doesn’t hesitate to maim, kidnap, and kill people that it doesn’t like.

How does being dependent on Hamas for your daily access–not to mention your life–potentially impact coverage? Well, the fact that the Times has only two distant, grainy, unusable images of Hamas gunmen from Tyler Hicks tells you all you need to know, doesn’t it.

The bigger issue is that a publication as influential as the New York Times is willing to publish images ostensibly from both sides, but which actually fail to tell the real story. While it’s probably true that the paper simply does not have any images of Hamas fighters to publish, it’s not acceptable to simply leave it there.

The responsible course would be to tell readers that the images it’s been presenting tell only part of the story and to indicate clearly that the paper has failed to capture the rest of the story. That might not be enough to restore the balance in images, but it would at least be more honest that simply ignoring the parts of the conflict they haven’t managed to photograph.

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