Gaza War

Pogrom photogs deserve censure, not awards


What is the obligation of a reporter or news photographer covering an act of terrorism or warfare? Is it merely to document what has happened? Or are there some limits on what a journalist should do to get a story or an image? How does a working journalist balance the public’s right to know and the need to document moments that may well be considered part of the first draft of history — as writers self-importantly like to refer to their work — against other considerations?

The line between being a proverbial fly on a wall observing events in which the reporter/photographer is not an actor as opposed to active participation in them can be razor-thin at times. And there are plenty of times when that line isn’t easy to discern.

But in the case of the freelance photographers in Gaza who went along for the ride with Hamas on Oct. 7, the notion that the product of their day’s work should be viewed as simply normal reportage is a perversion of any notion of honest or ethical journalism.

The potential complicity of those photographers and the mainstream outlets such as Reuters, the New York Times and the Associated Press that ran their pictures of the atrocities committed by the Palestinians was the subject of a firestorm of protest after HonestReporting’s study on the subject was published.

Riding with murderers

Those publications denied that they had any prior knowledge of the Hamas attacks, as did the photographers. They claimed that they merely followed the crowd of terrorists and ordinary Palestinians who crossed the border to take part in an orgy of murder, rape, torture, kidnapping and wanton destruction in the 22 Jewish communities that were attacked that day before Israeli forces began their counterattack.

The issue has returned to the news with the announcement that the University of Missouri’s Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute has given its prestigious “Photo of the Year” award to the image taken by Ali Mahmud. In it, some Hamas terrorists are shown sitting in the back of a pickup truck brandishing weapons and showing off the half-naked body of 22-year-old Shani Louk, a German-Israeli artist who was attending the Nova music festival that was attacked by a horde of heavily armed Palestinians.

It’s not known for sure whether Louk was still alive when the photo was taken. Initially, there were reports that she was seen, albeit in grave condition, inside Gaza. But Israeli forces subsequently found a bone from the base of her skull on a road leading out of the festival grounds, which means that she has officially been declared dead. But whether she was dead or dying, the photo depicts the terrorists displaying her body as a trophy during their triumphant return to Gaza amid the cheers of Palestinians who then, and now, according to multiple surveys, supported the atrocities of Oct 7.

To add further insult to injury, the caption on the award — itself a biased document that underestimates the number of Israelis kidnapped and accepts the widely exaggerated and bogus Hamas statistics about Palestinian casualties — doesn’t even mention Louk. To the AP, the University of Missouri and the Reynolds Institute, she was merely a prop to be displayed by her murderers, not even worthy of being named.

The award has renewed the torrent of anger from Israelis, Jews and anyone with a shred of decency about the conduct of these specific photographers and the use of their work by respected news outlets.

Deserving of contempt

As English historian Simon Sebag Montefiore wrote on X, the award seems like “a sinister and creepy joke.”

As he further noted, the AP deserves our contempt “for using the product of a ghoul who rode with terrorists and rapists as they slaughtered women and children, and then stopped to pose and snap this vision of heartless, diabolic triumph: the killers and abusers of an innocent girl pose with her naked broken body as a trophy.”

That this outrage should be honored suggests, he said, that the awarding bodies “have deep fissures of emptiness where their morality, humanity and indeed taste should be.”

What the AP, which happily accepted the award, and those who gave it to them are doing is “celebrating the posing of a picture snapped between the capture, rape and killing then gleeful parading of the naked body of an innocent girl in the middle of a process of unspeakable mutilation and mockery, the very photographing itself an act of indefensible abuse and atrocious inhumanity. Not to speak of an appalling corruption of the ethics of journalism.”

But not everyone is angered by it. 

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Louk’s father, Nissim Louk, has been quoted as saying he was pleased by the award because it preserves a moment that should be remembered, albeit with infamy, and is therefore one of the most important photos of the last 50 years. While he has a point about the importance of what happened on Oct. 7, I think he fails to grasp that the award is being given not so much to a brilliant example of photographic composition — which it wasn’t — but to the photographer for being there even though no decent person should have been in a position to take it. Rather than a memorialization of depravity, it is a celebration of it.

Ron Kampeas, the Washington Bureau Chief of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, also defended the award, writing that “reporters and photographers who take risks to expose atrocities deserve recognition … because they take risks to expose atrocities. Because we should have evidence of atrocities. I don’t get how anyone who has anything to do with reporting does not get this.”

Perhaps in the current culture of journalism, many who work in the liberal corporate press agree with Kampeas. But his comment doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

Those who joined in the orgy of atrocities on Oct. 7 were not taking risks. At best, and if you accept their claim that they had no foreknowledge of what would happen that day, they were merely joining a bloodthirsty mob carrying out pogroms. And given that those carrying out these crimes were themselves taking photos and videos with Go-Pro cameras given to them by Hamas, the notion that we needed these photos to provide evidence of these events is risible.

If anything, the photographers were seeking to celebrate these crimes in much the same manner that many Nazis took pictures of Jewish men, women and children they murdered during the Holocaust.

Ethical violations

This doesn’t merely normalize that which shouldn’t be normalized. It is, as Montefiore wrote, a violation of the ethics of journalism. Indeed, the conduct of the photographers that went along with Hamas violated numerous provisions in the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics.

Under the category of “Do No Harm,” these photos transgressed rules that require journalists to treat their subjects as “human beings deserving of respect.” No such respect was shown to Louk.

That’s especially true when you consider that she was likely the victim, as the photographers must have known since they were there, of sex crimes, which the SPJ code states must be treated with “heightened sensitivity.” It also demands that photographers “avoid pandering to lurid curiosity,” which is the least one can say about taking and then publishing the photo of a half-naked victim — without her permission or that of her family — of both a terrorist attack and rape.

Another key violation is the section in the code about acting independently. In Hamas-run Gaza, there were no independent journalists. As has been frequently documented, all the freelancers in Gaza used by mainstream outlets were, in one way or another, in thrall to the terrorist movement that tyrannically ran the Strip as an independent Palestinian state in all but name. Everything that they wrote or photographed was only what Hamas wanted the world to know about. 

Any of these faux journalists who accompanied the Hamas pogroms were already compromised, and their role on that day — in which many of them were shown to be celebrating with the terrorists — merely confirms that they were part of the crime, not independent journalists documenting it. They were as complicit in these atrocities as anyone who joined any other band of criminals to take pictures of their barbaric actions.

But the problem here isn’t just the lack of ethics on the part of the AP and others who employed Mahmud and a number of photographers who joined the terrorist attack or even an undeserved award. It speaks to the moral corruption that is so prevalent in the culture of contemporary journalism.

Forfeiting our trust

Only in an era in which many, if not most, of those who work in journalism consider it to be a form of political activism, rather than a search for the truth, could something like the disgusting image of Louk be considered worthy of being honored as the photo of the year.

Only in a journalism environment in which Israelis are routinely delegitimized and slandered by woke ideologues because they are falsely branded as “white oppressors” or “settler/colonialists” in a country where only Jews are the indigenous people could someone who was part of the Oct. 7 terror attacks be given a major award.

Only in a time when critical race theory and intersectionality have conquered the major institutions of journalism could the murder and rape of Jews be glamorized in this fashion and then rewarded with acclaim.

Only in a moment in history where antisemitism has not just surged but been mainstreamed by the gatekeepers of journalism could the image of the degradation of a Jewish woman by terrorists be considered not just acceptable but an example of outstanding work.

The decision of the Reynolds Institute is consistent with the way much of the press has become the stenographers of Hamas and their fellow travelers on the American left. It is just one more signal to the public that the liberal press doesn’t only merit our distrust but also our disgust at their vile complicity in mass murder.