The Flotilla Story U.S. Media Won’t Report: Ignoring evidence that counters Israeli claims

Originally published in Extra!, the monthly magazine for Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR).
Michael Corcoran and Stephen Maher

At a June 10 press conference (Cultures of Resistance, 6/10/10), passengers from the Mavi Marmara released new footage of the Israel Defense Forces deadly May 31 raid on the ship, which killed nine activists attempting to deliver humanitarian aid to Gaza in defiance of the Israeli blockade. Days earlier, another video was released allegedly showing the IDF beating and then executing a U.S. citizen, although the identity of the passenger in the video has not been confirmed (Informed Comment, 6/10/10; Tikun, 6/10/10).

Obviously, two videos alone could not possibly tell the whole story of what happened that night, but they did offer some of the only images of the tragic event that had not been hand-picked for release by Israel, which confiscated virtually all of the photo and video footage taken on the ship and released only heavily edited snippets (Lede,
6/2/10). This new footage offered revealing glimpses into the bloody raid on the ship that countered the narrative Israel had been successfully spinning in the U.S. (FAIR Media Advisory, 6/1/10).

In addition to possibly showing the execution of a U.S. citizen by the IDF, the footage included images of the IDF shooting either rubber-coated steel bullets or live ammunition from a helicopter, seemingly before commandos boarded (Democracy Now,
6/10/10), and firing indiscriminately at crowds (Ali Abunimah, 6/13/10). Separate photos from Turkish papers and survivors’ testimony also revealed that flotilla passengers were treating injured IDF soldiers (Democracy Now!, 6/10/10; Ali Abunimah, 6/6/10), contradicting Israeli claims that soldiers had been taken hostage, as well as its insistence that the passengers of this "hate boat," as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called it (Reuters, 6/2/10), were not humanitarian activists but violent extremists.

While independent media (Democracy Now,
6/10/10) and the foreign press (Guardian, 6/11/2010) covered the new evidence, the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today all failed to even mention it in their newspapers--although Times blogger Robert Mackey did post the footage (Lede, 6/11/10), arguing that it gave "a better sense of the timeline of the raid," and making the video's absence in the Paper of the Record's print edition all the more troublesome.

The U.S. corporate press similarly ignored other important evidence that contradicted Israeli claims. This included detailed testimonies of the activists and journalists onboard the vessel, as well as GPS coordinates showing the flotilla accelerating and turning away from Gaza and deeper into international waters at the time of the attack (Ali Abunimah, 6/7/10). This blackout of evidence continues the long-held practice in the U.S. media of ignoring stories that reflect poorly on Israel and other U.S. allies (Extra!, 1/10).

After the attack, U.S. media wasted no time enabling Israel's aggressive public relations campaign (Extra!, 7/10). TV outlets uncritically replayed dubious video clips that were heavily edited, out of context and lacking timestamps (e.g., Hardball, 6/1/10). These clips showed passengers fighting off commandos with kitchen knives and whatever else they could find, but did not show the moments preceding the raid, leaving crucial questions unanswered. Despite there being no way to know the whole story, publications such as the Washington Post (6/6/10) offered no caution in reporting that "Israeli commandos were violently beaten by passengers as they boarded the Mavi Marmara," and then "opened fire in self-defense, killing nine activists."

Many Israeli claims reported unflinchingly by the U.S. media quickly turned out to be egregious lies or distortions. For instance, as journalist Max Blumenthal noted (Max Blumenthal,
6/22/10), a press release Israel issued claiming that associates of Al-Qaeda were on the boat would later be "corrected" by the IDF when it was unable to provide any evidence. The Washington Post editorial page, (6/1/10) which suggested that the activists--"a motley collection that included European sympathizers with the Palestinian cause, Israeli Arab leaders and Turkish Islamic activists"--had "ties to Hamas and Al-Qaeda," failed to issue its own correction.

Israel also released an audio tape it claimed to be of passengers on the Mavi Marmara making antisemitic slurs ("go back to Auschwitz") and warning the IDF to "remember 9/11." The tapes contradicted others the IDF itself released earlier depicting the same exchange between the Israeli navy and the activists on the flotilla that did not contain the bizarre comments (Max Blumenthal,

Israel soon admitted that these tapes were doctored, though it said they were merely condensed for length, and released a longer version that still contained the slurs (Max Blumenthal,
6/22/10). However, this subsequent release was also problematic. On the new version, the IDF is again heard calling a different boat in the flotilla, the Defne Y, not the Mavi Marmara. Similarly, Huwaida Arraf, the activist who is heard responding to the IDF, saying, "we have permission from the Gaza Port Authority to enter," was not on the Mavi Marmara, but the Challenger One, another flotilla boat (Ma'an, 6/5/10). But the U.S. media again failed to report on this manipulation, and some outlets (e.g., Washington Post, 6/5/10) reported on the audio clips without hinting that there were doubts about their authenticity.

The op-ed pages were also predictably one-sided. The New York Times, for example, published an op-ed by Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren (
6/03/10), who alleged the activists were "religious extremists" committing an "assault, cloaked in peace," and claimed, without a shred of evidence, that the activists had made propaganda videos before the assault showing "passengers 'injured' by Israeli forces" (Max Blumenthal, 6/26/10). The Times, it seems, did not bother to ask for copy of this alleged video before publishing such an extraordinary claim.

Given the large amount of time and space devoted to excusing and justifying Israeli actions, the lack of attention provided to the activists’ stories and evidence has given the public an incomplete and one-sided portrayal of events.

"Sadly, the U.S. press just decided to pretend we really don't exist,” said Iara Lee, the activist that smuggled out the hour-long video of the scene, in an interview with Extra!. The media there is very controlled and almost all of the coverage [about the videos] came from the foreign press and the independent media."

Michael Corcoran (
MichaelCorcoran.blogspot.com) is a freelance journalist based in Boston. He has written for such outlets as the Nation and the Boston Globe.