Israel-Hamas Conflict Spills Over in Newsroom Shouting Matches

Photo Illustration by Thomas Levinson/The Daily Beast/Getty/The Hill TV
Photo Illustration by Thomas Levinson/The Daily Beast/Getty/The Hill TV

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While anchors at the self-described “centrist” cable news channel NewsNation blast MSNBC for supposedly “pandering to the far-left” in its coverage of the bloody Gaza conflict, the network’s corporate cousin faces its own internal drama over a host’s strident criticism of Israel following the Hamas terror attacks.

Briahna Joy Gray, co-host of The Hill’s online morning show Rising, has drawn fire from staffers at the Beltway political outlet for what some describe as her “pro-Hamas” and “fringe” commentary.

During recent broadcasts, she has gotten into extremely heated and at times profane arguments with libertarian co-host Robby Soave over Soave’s belief that the “American Left,” namely Black Lives Matter and Democratic Socialists of America, is backing Hamas.

Besides getting into literal shouting matches with her co-star, the former Bernie Sanders press secretary has faced internal criticism for, as one Hill newsroom source put it, seemingly “finding ways to justify Hamas’ actions.”

In broadcasts last week, Gray fumed over conflicting reports about whether Hamas terrorists decapitated babies, suggesting it was a propagandist lie to dehumanize Palestinians and justify genocide. She also seemed to downplay the killing of Israeli children, describing it as part of combat.

“We also have to hold space for 140 Palestinian children who have been killed in this last weekend of conflict,” Gray said on Wednesday. “And it is awful, even if we don’t have the same images of them and even if they were killed from bombs from the sky instead of in hand-to-hand combat.”

Another point of contention is how she appeared to equate the terror attacks with Palestinian resistance to Israeli oppression of Gaza.

“Violence is not a violation of international law. Resistance is not a violation of international law,” she declared on Thursday, referencing the American Revolution and the Ukraine war as analogous situations.

Additionally, her comments about Israel’s long-standing tensions with Palestine raised some eyebrows.

“So few of our conversations get to what it means to have a Jewish state, what it means to have a belief that you cannot be safe but for having a demographically rigged situation like that,” she stated in the episode on Thursday, adding that she understands the “the obviously historical conditions that make people feel that way.”

Several Hill reporters expressed concern over Gray’s “reckless” commentary, worrying that her status as co-host of their morning show would make their job talking to lawmakers in Washington harder.

“Where is our leadership? Clearly, no one from Nexstar is paying attention,” one source said. “There is no way they would be OK with this.”

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Notably, the uproar comes just a year after The Hill ditched longtime Rising contributor Katie Halper for calling out Israel as an “apartheid state” over its treatment of Palestinians.

In fact, the program has been a source of controversy and friction at the outlet for some time, and has seen a fair share of its hosts leave abruptly.

Gray’s commentary has yet to be noticed by NewsNation, which is also owned by Nexstar. The channel has taken on a largely pro-Israel stance in its reporting of the conflict, similar to the rest of conservative and mainstream media, leading it to take swings at MSNBC for its “victim blaming” of Israel, specifically taking aim at Muslim-American hosts.

“That ridiculous commentary set the tone for much of MSNBC’s coverage throughout the weekend, where many hosts seemed determined to say, ‘Well, what about the Palestinians?’” NewsNation anchor Dan Abrams, for instance, raged last week.

Gray and a representative for Nexstar did not respond to a request for comment.

The turmoil hasn’t been limited to Nexstar newsrooms.

NBC News had its own dust-up last week after an employee in the engineering department used an all-staff Slack channel to promote a Microsoft Teams event for staffers to grieve the lives lost in Hamas’ attack and discuss on-the-ground stories from family and friends.

But the post devolved into chaos after a producer for MSNBC’s Ali Velshi questioned a lack of Palestinian representation at the event. The engineering staffer then tagged an HR rep and claimed the meeting was “not about Palestinians and Jews/Israelis.”

“Anyone entering this group needs to denounce terror and what happened on Saturday,” the engineering staffer wrote, noting that claims of “freedom fighting” and rationalizations “do not belong here.”

The producer rejected the insinuation, asking the staffer: “Why are you speaking for me? Your comments are extremely offensive.” They accused the engineering staffer of “equating the loss of Palestinian civilian life with terrorism and saying that I have no right to grieve, as you do.”

“You’re putting words in my mouth demanding that I denounce terror, as if I had anything to do with it,” they continued. “Not sure how you have managed to twist all this from asking, where can I, as someone with friends who are currently trapped in both Gaza and Israel, go to grieve?”

The back-and-forth was shut down by an NBCU comms rep’s reply, who promised a follow-up event for both sides to engage, but it was indicative of how the nuances of the Middle East conflict have drawn frontlines within some news organizations. (The Slack exchange was first reported by Semafor.)

Those, too, have broken out into a public sphere. Tate James, a video producer at NBC News Digital, threw some public shade at chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel reporting an Israeli military spokesperson’s claims that “Hamas likely boobytrapped the road heading south from northern Gaza” and caused an explosion that killed 70 Palestinians.

“[T]o be clear, the spokesman who said this also said he’s not an expert and the evidence he provided was that some people tweeted about one video,” James tweeted.

“Many people, not only here, but across the country and the world, have understandably been struggling to comprehend the horrors that occurred last weekend and the ensuing war,” an NBCU News Group spokesperson said in a statement. “We are giving our team members the support and space that they need during this time.”

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