Tom Cotton demands probe of journalists on scene for Gaza attack

  • ‘These individuals almost certainly knew about the attack in advance,’ Cotton claimed in the new letter 
  • Honest Reporting raised concerns over four freelance photographers from Gaza who filed photographs used by US outlets shortly after the attack began 
  • Among them is Hassan Eslaiah, a photographer who has now been seen in an image being kissed on the cheek by Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar

Sen. Tom Cotton is demanding an investigation into whether US news outlets had reporters embedded with Hamas during the October 7 attack on Israel

‘These individuals almost certainly knew about the attack in advance, and even participated by accompanying Hamas terrorists during the attack and filming the heinous acts,’ Cotton, R-Ark., wrote in a letter to the Department of Justice (DOJ). 

‘Providing material support or assistance, including funding, to a terrorist organization such as Hamas is a federal crime. The Department of Justice must immediately open an investigation into these four media outlets.’

The Israeli government made the accusation after watchdog group Honest Reporting raised concerns over four freelance photographers from Gaza whose works have been published by CNN, The New York Times, The Associated Press and Reuters. 

Among them is Hassan Eslaiah, a photographer who has now been seen in an image being kissed on the cheek by Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar. 

All four outlets deny having any prior knowledge of the Hamas attack and some insist they have cut ties with the reporters. The New York Times earlier this week hit out at Honest Reporting for its ‘vague insinuations’, defending the photographer it had hired. 

But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other cabinet ministers are demanding more information. 

Hassan Eslaiah, an AP/CNN photographer, with Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar in an undated photo

The new suggestion prompted two Israeli politicians to suggests the journalists be killed. 

HonestReporting, which says it devotes itself to fighting media disinformation about Israel and Zionism, did not specifically accuse the companies of working with Hamas but suggested the freelance photographers whose work was used by them could have known about the attacks. 

‘Is it conceivable to assume that ‘journalists’ just happened to appear early in the morning at the border without prior coordination with the terrorists?’ HonestReporting wrote on its website Wednesday. ‘Or were they part of the plan?’

Yousef Masoud, whose work was used by the New York Times and the AP, filed photographs of an Israeli tank being captured by Hamas 90 minutes after the attack began. 

Israel‘s government has demanded an explanation from the media outlets, all of which have denied having prior knowledge of the attack. 

In response to the criticism, a CNN spokesperson told ‘We had no prior knowledge of the October 7th attacks. 

‘Hassan Eslaiah, who was a freelance journalist working for us and many other outlets, was not working for the network on October 7th. 

‘As of today, we have severed all ties with him.’ 

In a previous statement, the network said it had not found ‘reason to doubt the journalistic accuracy’ of his work. 

The New York Times issued a full-throated denial of the allegations. 

It had hired photographer Yousef Masoud, whose photographs portray the violence in Gaza. 

‘The accusation that anyone at The New York Times had advance knowledge of the Hamas attacks or accompanied Hamas terrorists during the attacks is untrue and outrageous. It is reckless to make such allegations, putting our journalists on the ground in Israel and Gaza at risk. 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. 

‘Though Yousef was not working for The Times on the day of the attack, he has since done important work for us. There is no evidence for Honest Reporting’s insinuations. Our review of his work shows that he was doing what photojournalists always do during major news events, documenting the tragedy as it unfolded,’ the newspaper said.  

The Associated Press, in its statement, denied having any prior knowledge of the attack and insisted the first photos it received were taken after it began. 

‘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. 

Eslaiah posted this video on October 7 showing the ransacking of an Israeli tank

In this photo from October 7, taken by Ali Mahmud, Hamas militants are shown transporting the body of Shani Louk. Her body is not shown but is to the side of the men's feet

Two photos published by Reuters on October 7 were taken close to the Gaza border as the Hamas invasion began. 

Honest Reporting notes that photographers Mohammed Fayq Abu Mostafa and Yasser Qudih ‘happened to be at the border just in time for Hamas’ infiltration.’

In response to the reporters, a Reuters spokesperson said that the agency acquired pictures on October 7 from photographers that it did not previously have a relationship with. 

‘The photographs published by Reuters were taken two hours after Hamas fired rockets across southern Israel and more than 45 minutes after Israel said gunmen had crossed the border. Reuters staff journalists were not on the ground at the locations referred to in the HonestReporting article,’ the statement also reads.  

‘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,’ the HonestReporting feature read. 

In his video front of attack, Eslaiah appears to be wearing his own clothes and is not identifiable as a member of the media. 

Palestinians walk away from the kibbutz of Kfar Azza, Israel, near the fence with the Gaza strip on October 7 in a picture taken by Eslaiah

The image taken by Eslaiah was published by the Associated Press on the day that the Hamas attack began

One of the other photojournalists named in the report is Yousef Masoud, who has been photographing Hamas fighters in Gaza for years. This photograph, taken in December 2022, shows militants posing with weapons

In 2021, it was widely reported that the Associated Press used the same office space as Hamas in Gaza. 

Eslaiah was previously pictured in a loving embrace with Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar in an undated photo. 

Honest Reporting was founded by veteran Israeli journalist Gil Hoffman. Its motto is the ‘audience deserves to know.’ 

‘When international news agencies decide to pay for material that has been captured under such problematic circumstances, their standards may be questioned and their audience deserves to know about it,’ one section of their report on Eslaiah reads.

‘And if their people on the ground actively or passively collaborated with Hamas to get the shots, they should be called out to redefine the border between journalism and barbarism.’ 


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