The Associated Press pushes back on Israel’s claim about Gaza media building, saying they had ‘no indication Hamas was in the building’

Smoke billows from a media building in Gaza that was struck by Israeli airstrikes
Smoke billows from a building housing various international media, including The Associated Press, after an Israeli airstrike on Saturday, May 15, 2021 in Gaza City.

  • Israeli airstrikes destroyed a media building in Gaza housing the Associated Press and Al Jazeera.
  • Israel said the building also contained military intelligence assets for the militant group Hamas.
  • But AP said they had “no indication” Hamas used the building and called on Israel to offer evidence.
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The Associated Press pushed back Saturday on the Israeli government’s claims that the militant group Hamas was operating in the media building in Gaza destroyed in an airstrike earlier that day.

The Al-Jalaa tower was home to several international media organizations, including AP and Al Jazeera, which were notified an hour before the building was flattened.

The Israeli Defense Forces released a statement saying the high-rise was being used by Hamas military intelligence, but AP said they had “no indication” Hamas operated from the building.

“We have called on the Israeli government to put forward the evidence,” AP President and CEO Gary Pruitt said in a statement provided to Insider. “AP’s bureau has been in this building for 15 years. We have had no indication Hamas was in the building or active in the building. This is something we actively check to the best of our ability. We would never knowingly put our journalists at risk.”

Pruitt condemned the IDF for targeting the building, calling it a “disturbing development.” He also said the IDF has “long known” the tower was used by media and were aware journalists were present.

Pruitt said a dozen journalists and freelancers with AP were able to evacuate in time and that “we narrowly avoided a terrible loss of life.”

The IDF told Insider in a statement the building “housed Hamas military intelligence,” including a research and development unit that is responsible for terror activity carried out against Israel.

The IDF said the unit included subject matter experts who “operate the most valuable Hamas technological equipment against Israel” that has been used “in a number of incidents in attempts to sabotage and disrupt the actions of the IDF and of civilians in the area adjacent to the Gaza Strip.”

The statement also acknowledged the building was used by media and said the IDF warned civilians so they could evacuate: “The building contained civilian media offices, which Hamas hides behind and deliberately uses as human shields.”

Al Jazeera did not immediately respond to Insider’s inquiry about the claims that Hamas used the building.

Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Saturday the White House contacted the Israeli military following the attack on the building.

“We have communicated directly to the Israelis that ensuring the safety and security of journalists and independent media is a paramount responsibility,” Psaki said.

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Psaki defends the White House’s ‘quote approval’ rules as reporters grow frustrated

jen psaki
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki listens during a daily press briefing at the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House on March 11, 2021.

  • Reporters covering the Biden administration are frustrated with the White House’s “quote approval” rules.
  • The rule means that a quote from an administration official included in a story must be approved by the White House.
  • “The rule treats them like coddled Capitol Hill pages,” one reporter told Politico.
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Reporters covering the Biden administration are growing “increasingly frustrated” with the White House’s demands to approve quotes in their stories, according to a Politico report on Tuesday.

Under President Joe Biden, the White House communications team has often conducted interviews between administration officials and the media on “background with quote approval,” Politico reported. That means that any quote from an administration official included in a story must first be sent to the communications team for approval before publishing. The rule allows the White House to wield greater control over media coverage.

While prior administrations have also implemented the practice, including former presidents Donald Trump’s and Barack Obama’s, some reporters told Politico that Biden’s team is abusing it.

“The rule treats them like coddled Capitol Hill pages and that’s not who they are or the protections they deserve,” one reporter told the outlet.

“Every reporter I work with has encountered the same practice,” another reporter told Politico.

Reporters are usually unwilling to push back on or reject interviews from the White House, considering the competitive nature of the industry. One reporter told Politico: “If you start fomenting an insurrection, keep me updated.”

The White House did not immediately return Insider’s request for comment.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki told Politico that the communications team “would welcome any outlet banning the use of anonymous background quotes that attack people personally or speak to internal processes from people who don’t even work in the Administration.”

“At the same time, we make policy experts available in a range of formats to ensure context and substantive detail is available for stories,” she added. “If outlets are not comfortable with that attribution for those officials they of course don’t need to utilize those voices.”

Since he took office, Biden has tried to restore a cohesive communications strategy to the White House, speaking occasionally to the media, offering regular press briefings with Psaki, and tweeting general updates on his administration’s work. Biden’s approach largely differs from that of Trump’s, who often operated as the sole spokesman of his administration.

Psaki said last week in a CNN interview that she does not appreciate Biden’s interactions with the media during public events, such as answering questions from reporters once he wraps up a speech.

“That is not something we recommend,” Psaki said. “In fact, a lot of times we say ‘Don’t take questions,’ you know, but he’s going to do what he wants to do because he’s the president.”

“We’re never going to satisfy the White House press corps and their desires for access,” she continued. “And I think there have been mistakes made in the past of trying to do that.”

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A Twitter and Roblox user posing as a White House reporter snuck in 4 questions to press secretary Jen Psaki

white house press secretary jen psaki
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki.

  • A Twitter and Roblox user posing as a correspondent snuck 4 questions into White House briefings.
  • The individual emailed questions to White House pool reporters using an array of invented journalist titles.
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A Twitter and Roblox user who posed as a White House Correspondents Association member managed to land four questions in recent Biden administration briefings, Politico reported.

Politico’s Christopher Cadelago found that the individual – who goes by the name Kacey Montagu – successfully snuck in questions to press secretary Jen Psaki by emailing White House pool reporters using an array of invented journalist titles.

Some reporters declined to pass along Montagu’s inquiries. But correspondents at publications like the The Plain Dealer and CQ Roll Call followed through on the requests, asking Psaki questions on topics like COVID-19 travel bans and the president’s reaction to Microsoft being hacked.

Montagu used various aliases in emails to pool reporters, Cadelago reported. Sometimes the aliases identified as a White House correspondent at an outlet called “WHN.” Other times they named themselves as a political correspondent at an entity called “WHSG.” And in at least one instance, they claimed they were a reporter at The Daily Mail.

Montagu, whose true identity is unknown to Insider, built credibility among White House reporters and staff by starting two political news accounts on Twitter, @WHschedule and @WHpoolreport. Montagu has had several exchanges with White House officials, Cadelago reported.

The internet-savvy user appears to have a general interest in politics. In addition to running two White House-focused Twitter accounts, acquaintances of Montagu told Cadelago that they would spend time in a section of the virtual world Roblox where users role-play as US government officials.

“I love journalism, and I think the Press Corps is doing a pretty bad job at the moment, so I decided I would ensure some transparency and ask some questions me and some friends wanted the answer to,” the person Cadelago identified as Montagu wrote in an email to Politico.

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A judge will decide Julian Assange’s extradition case at a London court today, as free press advocates step up calls for his release

FILE PHOTO: WikiLeaks' founder Julian Assange leaves Westminster Magistrates Court in London, Britain January 13, 2020.  REUTERS/Simon Dawson/File Photo
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange leaves Westminster magistrates court in London.

  • A UK judge is set to rule today, January 4, on the extradition of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to the US, where he would face an array of conspiracy and hacking charges. 
  • At 10 a.m. at London’s Old Bailey courthouse, a district judge is scheduled to deliver her decision on the extradition, according to The Associated Press
  • Press advocates are having difficulty gaining access to Monday’s hearing, said Rebecca Vincent, director of international campaigns at Reporters Without Borders, on Twitter.
  • “Press freedom itself is in the dock,” said Stella Moris, Assange’s partner, on Twitter
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A UK judge is set to rule today, January 4, over the extradition of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to the US, where he would face an array of conspiracy and hacking charges with a maximum sentence of 175 years. 

At 10 a.m. at London’s Old Bailey courthouse, Vanessa Baraitser, a district judge, is scheduled to deliver her decision on the extradition, according to The Associated Press. The case would then go to Priti Patel, home secretary, for a final call, per the AP. 

Press advocates were having difficulty gaining access to Monday’s hearing, said Rebecca Vincent, director of international campaigns at Reporters Without Borders, on Twitter.

“Press freedom groups are trying to monitor the defining case for press freedom and investigative journalists in the UK and around the world. Press freedom itself is in the dock,” said Stella Moris, Assange’s partner, on Twitter

In June, US Department of Justice officials expanded their 18-count indictment, broadening the scope of the conspiracy charges against Assange. The 49-page indictment says Assange “risked the safety and freedom” of US forces and diplomats by obtaining and releasing secret US government documents. 

BRITAIN ASSANGE AI WEIWEI.JPG
Chinese artist Ai Weiwei joins supporters of Julian Assange during a silent protest, outside the Old Bailey in London.

For years, free press advocates have called for the charges against Assange to be dropped. 

“You don’t need to know the vagaries of extradition law to understand that the charges against Assange are not only classic ‘political offences’ and thus barred under extradition law, but more crucially, the charges are politically-motivated,” wrote Amnesty International’s Julia Hall in September.

Last month, editors at The Guardian, one of three papers that worked with Assange on the first big WikiLeaks leak in 2010 and 2011, urged UK officials to deny the extradition request. 

“No publisher covering national security in any serious way could consider itself safe were this extradition attempt to succeed – wherever it was based; the acts of which Mr Assange is accused (which also include one count of conspiring to hack into a Pentagon computer network) took place when he was outside the US,” the Guardian said in an unsigned editorial. 

The New York Times, which also published documents from WikiLeaks, said in a 2019 editorial that Assange’s indictment “could have a chilling effect on American journalism as it has been practiced for generations. It is aimed straight at the heart of the First Amendment.”

The case against Assange sets a “dangerous precedent” for press freedom, wrote Ben Cohen in a Saturday opinion piece on Business Insider. 

 “These semantic arguments over whether someone is a journalist or not miss the point. Journalism isn’t about where you work. It’s about what you do,” Cohen said. 

A question that’s popped up repeatedly is whether President Donald Trump, in his final days in office, might pardon Assange. If Trump were to pardon him, he’d be following the 2017 lead of then-President Barack Obama, who commuted the 35-year prison sentence of Chelsea Manning, the army private who leaked 700,000 documents to Assange.  

“I feel very comfortable that justice has been served,” Obama said on Twitter, days before he left office. 

Meanwhile, one of Assange’s celebrity friends, Pamela Anderson, has also spoken out on the issue.  “Everyone should be asking Mr. Trump to pardon him,” she told The Post. “Anyone with influence should speak up for his freedom because it is our freedom, too. Take to Twitter and start a storm of requests.”

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