Biden administration is all talk when it comes to dead journalists

Seth Stern

Director of Advocacy

NSC spokesperson John Kirby, pictured above, said the Biden administration needs more information to determine whether Israel is targeting journalists. But he made clear that the administration has no intention of actually seeking that information. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from Washington D.C, United States, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Last month, we wrote about how journalists need to ask the Biden administration pointed questions about the record pace of journalist killings in the Israel-Gaza war. The good news is that the press has started to do its part by asking questions. The bad news is that Biden administration officials aren’t doing their part by answering them in good faith. 

Case in point: recent remarks from National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby, after an Al Jazeera reporter asked him about the killing of one of its photographers, Samer Abu Daqqa, in an attack that also injured its reporter and Gaza bureau chief Wael al Dahdouh. (Virtually all of al Dahdouh’s family had been wiped out in an Israeli airstrike weeks before.)

The reporter noted that witnesses said Abu Daqqa was killed by a drone, and asked if the incident had led Kirby to rethink his prior statements that the administration had seen no evidence of Israel targeting journalists. 

It’s a fair question, especially considering Israel’s history with Al Jazeera, which includes targeting Al Jazeera journalists, and multiple recent investigations that conclude Israel intentionally targeted other reporters during the current war. 

After offering condolences, Kirby reiterated the administration’s public position that “journalists need to be able to have the freedom to cover conflicts around the world. … And it’s never acceptable to deliberately target them as they do such vital, dangerous, dangerous work.” Sounds good so far. 

But then came the dodge. “I don’t know all the details about his tragic killing, so I’m not in a position to say that the operation which killed him was of a certain flavor or not,” Kirby said. Asked what kind of evidence he’d need to change his mind, Kirby said the U.S. would need to gather more information. “We’d have to have more specific knowledge than we do right now about the purpose of the strike, the origin of the strike, the targeting process, the selection process,” Kirby stated. 

But then in virtually the same breath, Kirby seemed to indicate the U.S. has no intention of trying to extract any of that information from Israel’s government or investigate the eyewitness claims at all:  “We are not going to make ourselves judge and jury over every single airstrike and every single kinetic event that happens on the battlefield.”

Kirby added that “we stay in touch with our Israeli counterparts every day. We still don’t have any indications that they are deliberately targeting journalists. And that’s where I’d have to leave it.” 

So let’s get this straight: The administration says it cares deeply about journalists’ freedom to cover the war without being targeted. It needs more information to figure out whether Israel, its ally that it continues to finance, is, in fact, targeting journalists. But it’s not going to bother seeking that information, at least until unnamed Israeli counterparts voluntarily confess during one of their daily check-ins.  

Of course, the administration does investigate specific instances when it wants to. For example, State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said this week that officials are posing “specific” and “tough” questions to the Israeli government about the recent killings, condemned by the Pope, of two Palestinian Christian women as they walked to a convent of nuns. And the administration is eager to get specific about Hamas’ atrocities. 

But, apparently, dead journalists aren’t as important. 

“We will, however, continue to talk,” Kirby continued. And that pretty much sums up the administration’s response to the (at least) 68 journalists killed to date in this war. All talk.

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