(Shutterstock with additions by United With Israel)

The post-mortem on a CNN investigation raises questions about the network’s journalistic standards.

By Pesach Benson, United with Israel

Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh’s death while covering a shootout in Jenin is tragic. Unfortunately, we may never know whether she was killed by Palestinian terrorists or errant Israeli gunfire.

Israeli investigators did not get to examine her body, and the Palestinian Authority adamantly refuses to let the IDF inspect the bullet.

If blaming Israel for killing Abu Akleh is premature and prejudicial, accusing the IDF of deliberately firing on her is a blood libel. Yet, that is exactly what CNN did with an investigative report published on Tuesday that reads more like a hit piece.

“”They were shooting directly at the journalists’: New evidence suggests Shireen Abu Akleh was killed in targeted attack by Israeli forces,” the headline breathlessly declares.

CNN headline


The Context

Abu Akleh was covering an IDF counter-terror raid in Jenin. A wave of terror attacks in recent weeks were mostly carried out by Palestinians from the Jenin area. Jenin is a stronghold of the Fatah-aligned Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror groups.

A veteran journalist, Abu Akleh knew the risks of covering IDF military operations. The 51-year-old reporter had worked for Al Jazeera for 25 years — half of her life. She made a point of wearing a helmet and flak jacket that said “press” to identify her as a reporter.

Helmets made of kevlar and flak jackets with protective ceramic inserts are certainly helpful. So is the press strip.

But nothing’s foolproof. Certainly not in the fog of war.

CNN’s Dubious Sources

No bullet?

No problem, insists CNN.

“Even without access to the bullet that hit Abu Akleh, there are ways to determine who killed Abu Akleh by analyzing the type of gunfire, the sound of the shots and the marks left by the bullets at the scene,” the report said.

If only it was that easy.

Unfortunately, a closer look at CNN’s key sources for its investigation only raises more questions about its journalism.

Shatha Hanaysha: A 29-year-old Palestinian writer who was with Abu Akleh when she was shot.

CNN identifies her as a journalist, but according to HonestReporting, Hanaysha “openly shares her extremist views on social media pages, including support for Palestinian terrorists who have carried out deadly attacks against Israeli civilians.” Posts include showering praise for Palestinian “martyrs” killed while attacking Israelis.

She told CNN, “They wanted to kill us. This is why they shoot; I don’t have another reason why they shoot. And they know we are journalists.”

Jamal Huwail: A Fatah official and a professor at Jenin’s Arab-American University who helped drag Abu Akleh to the side of the road after she was hit.

CNN reported that Huwail “believed the shots were coming from one of the Israeli vehicles, which he described as a ‘new model which had an opening for snipers,’ because of the elevation and direction of the bullets. ‘They were shooting directly at the journalists,’ Huwail said.”

According to the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), which monitors and translates Arab media, Huwail has praised terrorists who killed Israelis in interviews with Lebanon’s Al-Mayadeen TV, which is run by Hezbollah.

In one interview, Huwail described Muhammad Abu Al-Kiyan as a “lone lion” after he murdered four Israelis in a Beersheba terror attack. In a separate interview, Huwail said that Diaa Hamarsheh, who killed five people in Bnei Brak, “brought light into the hearts of the Palestinians, and the hearts of every free human being who yearns for freedom.”

Chris Cobb-Smith: The director of Chiron Resources, whose website describes itself as “one of the leading providers of News Safety consultants.” Based in Britain, Cobb examined video footage from the scene which CNN collected from various cameramen and corresponded with CNN by email.

Cobb pronounced that Abu Akleh was “killed in discrete shots — not a burst of automatic gunfire.” He reached this conclusion by poring over images of bullet marks on a nearby tree.



What CNN didn’t say about Cobb was that he is also an advisor to the London-based Forensic Architecture. According to HonestReporting, Cobb and Forensic Architecture have “produced numerous pseudo-scientific investigations into Israel that have reached provenly biased and misleading conclusions.”

Audio Forensics

CNN also turned to Robert Maher, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Montana State University. He specializes in forensic audio analysis — in layman’s terms, the analysis of recorded sound.

After watching the videos, examining their audio and explaining his conclusions to CNN by email, the report said the distances described by Maher “correspond almost exactly with the Israeli sniper’s position.”

But in a separate interview with Bellingcat, Maher stressed an important caveat.

“The estimate of the distance depends upon the air temperature, since this affects the speed of sound,” he said.

Bellingcat went on to write, “While the calibre of bullet analysed is also consistent with reports that the bullet which killed Abu Akleh was 5.56mm, it is also important to note that this calculation does not account for the possibility that another weapon not visible or captured in videos from the scene could have been used.” (emphasis added).

This caveat didn’t appear in CNN’s coverage.

Report Doesn’t Add Up

The rest of CNN’s coverage featured videos and diagrams outlining purported Israeli and Palestinian lines of fire. None of the videos showed Abu Akleh at the moment she was hit.

Bottom line: CNN’s journalism doesn’t add up.

Its witnesses don’t pass the sniff test. One expert has a history of prejudice and shoddy research. Another expert’s key caveats inexplicably aren’t acknowledged. A layperson watching the videos doesn’t know what to watch for.

None of this warrants a libelous headline accusing Israel of deliberately killing Shireen Abu Akleh.

If CNN’s hot for investigative journalism, here’s an idea: Get the damn bullet.