Over a dozen Republican state attorneys general sent a letter on Dec. 4, 2023, to the heads of The Associated Press, CNN, The New York Times and Reuters warning them that employing allegedly Hamas-affiliated freelancers would be a state and federal crime.
Iowa Attorney General Brenna Bird was joined by her counterparts in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Montana, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia and West Virginia.
“We, the chief legal officers of our respective States, also remind you that providing material support to terrorists and terror organizations is a crime,” the letter read.
The letter cited “reports” alleging that the outlets had employed freelance journalists who had ties to the armed Palestinian militant group and prior knowledge of its Oct. 7 attack against Israel as the basis for the accusations, but only included a hyperlink to since-debunked claims pushed by pro-Israel watchdog group HonestReporting.
The attorneys general wrote that hiring stringers, correspondents, contractors or other employees with connections to Hamas is a means of funding terrorists, and asserted that the outlets have a “long record of paying terrorists and possible terrorists for their work.”
The letter also highlighted that “material support” for terrorist groups — both a federal and state crime — can include “writing and distributing publications supporting the organization.” It did not elaborate on what would be considered support, potentially chilling any reporting that does not unequivocally condemn Hamas or unilaterally support Israel.
The attorneys general urged the outlets to reevaluate hiring practices and warned that they would be watching.
“We will continue to follow your reporting to ensure that your organizations do not violate any federal or State laws by giving material support to terrorists abroad,” the letter stated. “Now your organizations are on notice. Follow the law.”
Sen. Tom Cotton, an Arkansas Republican, also alluded to HonestReporting’s claims in a Nov. 9 letter calling on the U.S. Justice Department to open a national security investigation into the news outlets.
Similarly, a group of a dozen House Republicans, joined by two Democrats, sent a letter to Reuters citing the claims on Nov. 21, and asked the outlet how its freelancers became aware of the Oct. 7 attack and whether the journalists or Reuters had prior knowledge of the planned assault.
On Dec. 7, a group of 15 House Republicans sent their own letter to the AP, CNN, the Times and Reuters citing the claims. The letter asked that the media organizations provide detailed information on each of the six journalists identified by HonestReporting — including their nationalities and employment status — as well as communications, phone logs and financial records between the freelancers and the outlets prior to and since Oct. 7.
The four news outlets previously 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, stating that there was no basis for HonestReporting’s claims. However, CNN and the AP 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.