U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Senator calls on Justice Department to investigate news outlets

Incident Details

REUTERS/Amanda Andrade-Rhoades

Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, seen here ahead of a briefing in Washington, D.C., in April 2023, wrote a Nov. 9 letter to the U.S. attorney general calling for an investigation into four news outlets for allegedly employing Hamas-affiliated freelancers.

— REUTERS/Amanda Andrade-Rhoades
November 9, 2023

Sen. Tom Cotton on Nov. 9, 2023, called for the Justice Department to investigate multiple news outlets for their alleged employment of Hamas-affiliated journalists in the Gaza Strip.

The Arkansas Republican, in a letter to the U.S. attorney general, alleged that The Associated Press, CNN, The New York Times and Reuters had employed freelance journalists who had ties to the armed Palestinian militant group and prior knowledge of its Oct. 7 attack against Israel. The senator cited unspecified “reports” as the basis for his accusations, in apparent reference to since-debunked claims pushed by pro-Israel watchdog group HonestReporting.

“Providing material support or assistance, including funding, to a terrorist organization such as Hamas is a federal crime,” Cotton wrote. “The Department of Justice must immediately open a national security investigation into these four media outlets to determine whether they or their leadership committed federal crimes by supporting Hamas terrorists.”

In additional letters to each of the news outlets, Cotton asked how many journalists employed by the news organizations were embedded with Hamas on Oct. 7 and how many are currently embedded. He also asked the outlets for an itemized total of their “funding” to Hamas and affiliates in Gaza over the past five years.

The four news outlets categorically denied having any prior knowledge of the Oct. 7 attack and defended their reporting. The Times stood by its decision to work with freelancer Yousef Masoud, writing in a statement that there was no basis for HonestReporting’s claims.

“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 statement read. “We are gravely concerned that unsupported accusations and threats to freelancers endangers them and undermines work that serves the public interest.”

Both CNN and AP said, however, they have suspended their relationship with freelance photojournalist Hassan Eslaiah, according to the Times. Eslaiah told the outlet that he had no prior knowledge of the attack and had no ties to Hamas.

Freedom of the Press Foundation, which oversees the operation of the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, characterized HonestReporting’s claims as a “malicious disinformation campaign” that endangers the lives of journalists covering the war.

“It’s a virtual certainty that, despite HonestReporting’s about-face, its nonsense report will be cited to justify past and future attacks against journalists in what’s already by far the deadliest war for the press in modern memory,” FPF Advocacy Director Seth Stern wrote.

Cotton’s office did not respond to a voicemail requesting comment as of press time.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker catalogues press freedom violations in the United States. Email tips to [email protected].