‘Whatabouttery’ is muting the truth in reporting on Hamas attack

March 5, 2024

By Tim Worstall

A journalistic word for you – even a logical word – is “whatabouttery.” What this means is that when faced with an allegation, a truth, or a claim that is inconvenient to have to discuss, the method is to start shouting, “Well, yes, but what about?” and thereby divert the discussion to the about, not the original under discussion.

One sadness is that this common political technique is now part of journalism. Just an example of how the truth telling that journalism is supposed to be has become a branch of politics in fact. 

Our example is this row described in The Nation about the New York Times article on sexual violence and rape in the October 7, 2023, attacks by Hamas upon Israel.

The Nation – and The Intercept, and other progressive outlets – are shouting that the NYT did not follow proper journalistic procedures in confirming the existence of rape. We have seen – elsewhere, not from these two – a claim that since no live women are claiming they were raped to death, therefore, such claims cannot be supported. But this shouting about procedure is entirely obscuring the thing we want to know. Did Hamas use rape and sexual torture in those attacks?

To a certain mindset, that isn’t an idea that should be entertained. Therefore, given that the evidence is pretty strong, the argument turns not to the evidence nor the events, but to that shouting about following bureaucratic procedures, or not, in how the story was written.

Instead of the truth being written and understood, the complaints become “what about?” and those questions are whether dead women provided the two independent verifications of events demanded by the Columbia School of Journalism master’s degree in journalism.

Whatabouttery of the worst kind. Something politically inconvenient to a certain world view gets drowned out by irrelevances.

As it happens, since that insistence that we cannot believe the NYT, we have further information. From the United Nations itself.   

Following a 17-day visit to Israel, the UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict reported on Monday that she and a team of experts had found “clear and convincing information” of rape and sexualized torture being committed against hostages seized during the 7 October terror attacks.

Yes, of course, we’re going to get told that this isn’t it, that this is problematic, but what about this detail or that? But then, that’s precisely the thing that we do and should complain about. 

If someone comes up with inconvenient information that proves something that you desire not to be proved, just keep insisting that this or that detail needs further investigation, just keep saying, “But what about?”

As we say, this is common in politics. We’re discussing it now because we still believe in journalism as an examination of politics, an attempt to be the truth-tellers, not just politics itself by another layer of whatabouttery. 

This is before we even get to the idea of how vile someone’s got to be making the claims they are. Imagine the events are that well over a thousand people were killed on one day, at least some of them raped, sexually tortured and then, or during that, killed in Israel. The response is, did a New York newspaper follow the editorial rules? That is vile as well as being whatabouttery.   


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