Soon after Hamas launched its Oct. 7 attack in Israel, journalists on the scene recorded images documenting the violence. Now, questions by an Israeli media watchdog group about those images are fueling inaccurate and harmful online claims.
“So, recently people started asking a very good question,” says a man in a Nov. 11 TikTok video. “They wondered how CNN and The Associated Press were able to get such up close footage of the massacre on Oct. 7. And, once attention was drawn to that question, CNN and The Associated Press had to admit the horrific truth: they knew it was going to happen and, to make sure that they were the only ones who got to report on it, they didn’t tell anyone.”
TikTok identified this video as part of its efforts to counter inauthentic, misleading or false content. (Read more about PolitiFact’s partnership with TikTok.)
The video’s claim is inaccurate. Neither CNN nor The Associated Press “admitted” knowing anything about Hamas’ planned assault before it happened. Representatives from the news outlets rejected the claim and said that freelance journalists in the region began sending in photos more than an hour after the attack began.
How a website post led to false claims
HonestReporting.com, an Israeli watchdog group that later told the AP it doesn’t “claim to be a news organization” said it was only “raising questions” when it made a Nov. 8 post asking how Gaza photojournalists were able to capture up-close shots of Hamas’ Oct. 7 assault.
The report, titled “Broken Borders: AP & Reuters Pictures of Hamas Atrocities Raise Ethical Questions,” asked what the journalists were doing so early on an ordinarily “quiet Saturday.”
“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?” the report said. “Did the photojournalists who freelance for other media, like CNN and The New York Times, notify these outlets? Judging from the pictures of lynching, kidnapping and storming of an Israeli kibbutz, it seems like the border has been breached not only physically, but also journalistically.”
Photos some of these journalists took Oct. 7 showed burning buildings, Hamas invaders outside a kibbutz, and Hamas attackers bringing kidnapped Israeli citizens into Gaza.
The report had serious consequences. At least two Israeli politicians suggested the journalists targeted by these claims be killed.
Several news organizations, including CNN, the AP, Reuters and The New York Times, released statements denying having any prior knowledge about the attack.
“The Associated Press had no knowledge of the Oct. 7 attacks before they happened” a Nov. 9 statement by the news organization read. “The first pictures AP received from any freelancer show they were taken more than an hour after the attacks began. No AP staff were at the border at the time of the attacks, nor did any AP staffer cross the border at any time.”
The watchdog report mentioned multiple freelance photojournalists, but singled out one named Hassan Eslaiah after photos surfaced of him standing next to an Israeli tank and posing with a Hamas leader. Several news organizations that have worked with Eslaiah, including CNN and AP, said they cut ties with the photographer after the images emerged.
“We had no prior knowledge of the October 7th attacks,” a CNN spokesperson wrote in an emailed statement. “Hassan Eslaiah, a freelance journalist who has worked for us and other international and Israeli outlets, was not working for the network on October 7th. As of Thursday November 9th, we have severed all ties with him.”
Other news organizations, including The New York Times and Reuters, were also accused of having advanced warning about the attack. Both rejected the claims.
Another journalist named in the report, Yousef Masoud, whose photographs of an Israeli tank captured by Hamas were used by The New York Times and AP, did not know about the attack in advance, The New York Times reported. His first photographs that day were filed 90 minutes after the attack began.
“It is reckless to make those allegations, putting our journalists on the ground in Israel and Gaza at risk,” the Times said in a statement. “The Times has extensively covered the Oct. 7 attacks and the war with fairness, impartiality, and an abiding understanding of the complexities of the conflict.”
In its own statement, Reuters said it “categorically denies that it had prior knowledge of the attack or that we embedded journalists with Hamas on Oct. 7. Reuters acquired photographs from two Gaza-based freelance photographers who were at the border on the morning of Oct. 7, with whom it did not have a prior relationship.” Those photographs, it said, were taken two hours after Hamas fired rockets across southern Israel and more than 45 minutes after Israel said gunmen had crossed the border.
HonestReporting.com told the AP it had no evidence to back up the suggestions behind its questions, but said they were “legitimate questions to be asked” and that it doesn’t “claim to be a news organization.”
Journalism experts said news organizations working with freelance reporters to document events around the world is an essential role of the press, especially during wartime. Julie Pace, AP’s senior vice president and executive editor, said the organization carried out a typical news-gathering process during a big event. “We need to figure out what it is and inform the world about it,” she said. Part of that process involves handling calls from freelancers who have footage to offer.
As of Nov. 20, 50 journalists have been killed in the conflict, most Palestinian. Eleven more have been injured and three are reported missing, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
A TikTok video claimed CNN and the AP “admitted” that they knew about Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack in advance and didn’t tell anyone.
This is wrong. There is no evidence that either news organization, or others that have been accused of being tipped off about the attack, had any prior knowledge about it. CNN and the AP, as well as other news outlets, rejected the claims and said photographs from freelance journalists documenting the attack were filed more than an hour after it began.
We rate this claim False.