Area AGs call out media outlets for employing Hamas-supporting freelancers

Journalists tour Kibbutz Kfar Aza near the Israel-Gaza border, Nov. 2, 2023. Photo by Arie Leib Abrams/Flash90.

A group of 14 Republican state attorneys general called on media organizations to cut ties with freelancers who are affiliated with Hamas, and to ensure that their hiring practices are adjusted to screen out such individuals in the future and that they do not run afoul of laws against providing material support to terrorists.

The Dec. 4 letter was spearheaded by Brenna Bird, attorney general of Iowa, and was addressed to the heads of the New York Times, Associated Press, Reuters and CNN.

Among those signing the letter were Alabama’s Steve Marshall, Florida’s Ashley Moody, Arkansas’ Tim Griffin, Kentucky’s Daniel Cameron, Louisiana’s Jeff Landry, South Carolina’s Alan Wilson, Tennessee’s Jonathan Skrmetti, Texas’ Ken Paxton and Virginia’s Jason Miyares. The attorneys general of Indiana, Montana, Utah and West Virginia also signed.

In the letter, Bird said there are credible allegations that individuals hired by those outlets “have deep and troubling ties to Hamas” and “may have participated in the October 7 attack” where 1,200 Israelis were murdered.

She reminded the outlets that providing material support to terrorists is illegal. Press freedom protections clarify that it is illegal if the agencies are “knowing” that it is doing so. “Outlets such as yours cannot avoid their responsibility by refusing to perform hiring due diligence and then using that willful blindness as a basis to pay terrorists,” she wrote. “If your outlet’s current hiring practices led you to give material support to terrorists, you must change these policies going forward,” or any future contacts will be seen as “knowing behavior.”

Politico reported that Nitzan Chen, head of the Israeli Government Press Office, wrote a letter in October to the outlets’ Israel bureau chiefs, asking them to clarify the behavior of four photojournalists who reportedly arrived at the Israel border “alongside Hamas terrorists, documenting the murder of Israeli civilians, lynching of soldiers and kidnappings to Gaza.”

In early November, Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas wrote to those news outlets, saying reports indicated “members of your staff were embedded with Hamas, knew about the attack, and not only went along with it but accompanied members of Hamas as they carried out the attack.”

He added, “If your employees, as part of their work, participated in terrorist activities or if your organization or employees provided material support (including any funding) to Hamas, the leadership of your organization may also face criminal penalties under federal law.”

Bird noted that the Times responded to Cotton by saying no employee was embedded with Hamas or had advance knowledge of the Oct. 7 attacks. “Notably absent from the defense are non-employees — freelancers, stringers or other payees,” she wrote, adding that photographers paid by the Times accompanied the terrorists during the attacks.

The National Public Diplomacy Directorate in Israel’s Prime Minister’s Office issued a statement on Nov. 9, saying that “these journalists were accomplices in crimes against humanity; their actions were contrary to professional ethics.”

Minister-without-Portfolio Benny Gantz also condemned the photographers, saying “journalists found to have known about the massacre and who still chose to stand as idle bystanders while children were slaughtered — are no different than terrorists and should be treated as such.”

HonestReporting wondered how so many photojournalists happened to be in that particular area “so early on what would ordinarily have been a quiet Saturday morning,” asking if Hamas coordinated with them, and whether the news outlets approved of their being part of an infiltration.

Several outlets used freelancer Hassan Eslaiah, one of the named freelancers. CNN stated they have since severed all ties with him, and AP did the same. Eslaiah was several miles into Israel during the attack, according to his social media posts.

One post appears to show him riding on a motorcycle with a man holding a hand grenade, while another from before Oct. 7 shows Eslaiah receiving a kiss on the cheek from Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar, who Israel says orchestrated the massacre.

According to photos, Eslaiah was not wearing any vest or helmet denoting him as a journalist, and while in Israel towns posted that he was “live from inside the Gaza Strip settlements.” He posted about Hamas rockets, saying “a rocket of the resistance directly hits a building in Ashkelon.”

The Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis warned AP five years ago about Eslaiah, saying he “openly identifies with Hamas’s political platform and is a rabid antisemite, who praises terrorists and expresses joy over the murder of innocent and unarmed Israelis.”

The letter also noted how the Times had hired a reporter who has praised Adolf Hitler and the “state of harmony” he achieved. Bird said they would not call for any action due to the right to hold “even disgusting views,” but readers “can come to their own opinions” about the Times’ hiring judgment.

“We will continue to follow your reporting to ensure that your organizations do not violate any federal or State laws by giving material support to terrorists abroad,” the letter stated. “Now your organizations are on notice. Follow the law.”

IIS staff and JNS reports