December 5, 2023

The New York Times, struggling to recover reputationally after its horrendous coverage of the rocket that landed within the Al-Ahli Arab Hospital complex, is one of several outlets now trying to fact-check Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) by quibbling over whether the Americans as of yet unable to leave Gaza are in fact hostages.

The Times’ fact-check, in particular, encapsulates everything that is wrong with self-proclaimed “fact-checkers” in media, to wit: the impulse to issue declarative findings of right or wrong (wrong whenever conservatives are talking) rather than allow readers to come to their own conclusions based on differing interpretations of whatever information is available at the moment. 

Even the Times’ own “fact-check” offers information that would bolster Sen. Blackburn’s assessment of the Americans unable to leave Gaza as hostages.

The exact reason for the impasse preventing foreign citizens from leaving is not entirely clear. But in a CNN interview on Sunday, Jake Sullivan, President Biden’s national security adviser, did indeed blame Hamas, as U.S. officials have done before.

“It is true the Egyptians are prepared to allow American citizens and foreign nationals to come through the Rafah gate into Egypt,” Mr. Sullivan said, referring to the only access point not controlled by Israel where civilians can enter and leave Gaza by land. “The Israelis have no issue with that. Hamas has been preventing their departure and making a series of demands. I can’t go through those demands in public, but that is the subject of the discussions and the negotiations that are ongoing.”

So, there is: (a) an impasse preventing foreign citizens from leaving, and (b) Biden’s national security adviser clarifying that “Hamas has been preventing (American and foreign nationals’) departure and making a series of demands”. What exactly do we call people who are unable to leave a place unless certain demands are met? VIP guests? 

But wait, there’s more:

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken similarly faulted Hamas during testimony before a Senate committee on Tuesday, though he offered slightly different figures on the number of Americans in Gaza.

“We have about 400 American citizens and their family members — so it’s roughly 1,000 people — who are stuck in Gaza and want to get out,” he said, adding: “The impediment is simple. It’s Hamas. We’ve not yet found a way to get them out by whatever, through whatever place and by whatever means that Hamas is not blocking, but we’re working that with intermediaries.”

Once again, with feeling: what do we call people under the control of another who are unable to leave said control unless conditions are met, if not hostages?

And the number keeps expanding in real time as more information comes in. Here’s John Kirby, from the White House press podium:

JOURNALIST: The Independent has reviewed a list of 400 Americans who have been cleared to leave by the Egyptians, the Israelis, and so forth. There have been prior reports that there were, I believe, between 500 and 700 Americans in Gaza. So I’m curious about this discrepancy. There are 400 cleared to leave. If there are several hundred more in Gaza, is there a reason that they have not been cleared to leave? Have they not asked? Are they on some other list? And why then would the U.S. not object to U.S. passport holders not being allowed to exit? 

JOHN KIRBY: You are talking about a rolling process here. I think our estimate is somewhere between 1,000 and and 1200 U.S. citizens, and that includes dual nationals and legal permanent residents and family members. So then, the pool is somewhere in that number- somewhere there. About 400 families. But this is a rolling process of getting folks out. So we know that there have been 400 that have gotten through that process, and we fully expect that the rest of them will get through that as well. 

So now there appears to be a “rolling process” and at least some clearances. It is as of yet unclear what this rolling process entails, or the extent to which it is subject to Hamas’ veto. But do note that the number of Americans still in Gaza, clearances notwithstanding, is higher than previously cited. We are allowed to sort through these facts as we formulate our opinions and assessments of these facts. The fact-checking industry, in all its sanctimony, would rather make these assessments for you. 

Exit question: why is The New York Times so intent on preserving Hamas’ reputation with the level of zeal expected from a crisis comms consultant?