It's bad enough when TMZ and other seedy celebrity rags use "unnamed sources," but when the mainstream media incorporates them regularly as primary sources for war reporting it's clear the public has lost the battle for good journalism.
National Review Online's Stephanie Gutmann penned a recent article exploring the credibility of statistics that have poured in from the Middle East. Gutmann points out that an AP article listed the Palestine death toll as 900 while CNN listed it as 500 the same day. The AP cited its source as a "Gaza official" while CNN's was "Palestinian medical sources." Although not mentioned in Gutmann's article, The Guardian placed the toll at a staggering 1000.
In a particularly egregious example of such flawed reporting, several international news outlets ran with a story that Palestinians told about an Israeli-lead massacre in 2002, where a refugee camp was involved in an attack that included the deliberate shelling of a hospital. Additionally, a Jenin resident named Abu Ali claimed nine of his children died in the attacks.
The only problem was, none of it happened. A U.N. team that investigated the charges found no evidence to support the claims. Only 52 Palestinian deaths were confirmed, a far cry from the 500 reported. Only three children were killed, none of them Abu Ali's. An Amnesty International investigation revealed the same.
A month after the alleged violence, The Jerusalem Post got commentary from the Israeli Defense Force over the discrepancies in the numbers. According to the IDF, among the ranks of the dead were terror operatives being counted by Palestinian forces as civilians. In once case, Hamas claimed a medic was killed, however, the IDF had photographic evidence of the same man "holding a rocket-propelled grenade launcher and a Kalashnikov assault rifle that had been posted on a Hamas Web site."
It is unclear as to why a named Palestinian official could not be counted on to go on record with numbers as serious as these, but it does make one skeptical of the newsgathering methods to obtain such staggering figures.
While some of the blame lies on Israel for not releasing its statistics in a timely manner, according to the Jerusalem Post and refusing to allow foreign journalists within its borders during the conflict, the media still dropped the ball by failing to disclose this and allowing unnamed sources to be a mainstay in their work.
In the midst of such heated conflict, Hamas would have every motivation in the world to spin numbers as they please to tug the strings of public opinion. Obviously, the media enjoys the fact that Hamas gives the most eye-grabbing statistics and is willing to forsake fact-checking, accuracy and objectivity to garner an audience.