FACT CHECK: New York Times Misleads On Gaza And Ukraine Deaths

Elias Atienza | Senior Reporter

The New York Times (NYT) reported that “In less than two months, more than twice as many women and children have been reported killed in Gaza than in Ukraine after two years of war.”

Verdict: Misleading

The figures used for Ukraine are from the United Nations (UN), which considers the civilian toll far higher than what it has already tallied. The NYT later issued an update acknowledging that Ukrainian casualties are likely higher than reported. The U.N. has not verified the civilian death toll numbers from the Israeli bombing campaign against Gaza.

Fact Check:

The NYT sent a tweet Nov. 25 stating, “In less than two months, more than twice as many women and children have been reported killed in Gaza than in Ukraine after two years of war.” The tweet includes a link to an article about Israel’s bombing campaign in Gaza, which it launched after the Hamas terror group launched an Oct. 7 attack on southern Israel that killed 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and kidnapped 240 people.

The tweet, though, is misleading. First, an archived version of the article shows that the NYT relied on figures from the U.N. The NYT reported, “More than twice as many women and children have already been reported killed in Gaza than in Ukraine after almost two years of Russian attacks, according to United Nations estimates.”

However, this is missing important context and misleads on what the U.N. has reported. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) reported that it has verified 9,701 civilian deaths in Ukraine as of Sept. 24, 2023.

The OHCHR explains how it verified civilian casualties, saying:

“Reports are based on information that the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine (HRMMU) collected through interviews with victims and their relatives; witnesses; analysis of corroborating material confidentially shared with HRMMU; official records; open-source documents, photo and video materials; forensic records and reports; criminal investigation materials; court documents; reports by international and national non-governmental organisations; public reports by law enforcement and military actors; data from medical facilities and local authorities. All sources and information are assessed for their relevance and credibility and cross-checked against other information.”

The OHCHR believes that the death toll is higher than what it has verified. The OHCHR said in the Sept. 2023 update that it “believes that the actual figures are considerably higher, as the receipt of information from some locations where intense hostilities have been going on has been delayed and many reports are still pending corroboration.”

“This concerns, for example, Mariupol (Donetsk region), Lysychansk, Popasna, and Sievierodonetsk (Luhansk region), where there are allegations of numerous civilian casualties,” the OHCHR said.

Furthermore, the figures from Gaza do not appear to be verified by the U.N. but are provided by the Hamas-controlled Gaza Ministry of Health. For example, a Nov. 6 United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) report said that “the Ministry of Health (MoH) in Gaza, over 10,000 people, including 2,550 women, 4,104 children and 596 older people have been killed in Gaza since 7 October.” Gaza officials said that the death toll is now over 15,000 as of Nov. 27, according to Andaolu Ajansi.

The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said in a Nov. 18 update that “the UN has so far not been able to produce independent, comprehensive, and verified casualty figures; the current numbers have been provided by the Palestinian Ministry of Health in Gaza and the Israeli authorities and await further verification. Other yet-to-be verified figures are also sourced.”

The NYT story itself includes a graph that says the source of the civilian casualties was “Gaza officials.” (RELATED: Claims Of Mass IDF Casualties Lack Evidence)

Screenshot/New York Times

An Israel Defense Forces (IDF) spokesperson disputed the death toll reported by the Hamas-controlled Gaza Ministry of Health in an email to Check Your Fact.

“The IDF condemns the actions of the Hamas terror organization as they use civilian infrastructure as a human shield, which leads to the unfortunate death of innocent civilians. The Palestinian Ministry of Health is a bureau working directly under the influence of the Hamas terror organization, the information being released by them is twisted, fake, and not confirmed,” the spokesperson said.

The numbers reported from the Hamas-controlled health ministry are generally considered reliable, according to The Washington Post. The Times of Israel reported the figures from the health ministry “cannot be independently verified and do not distinguish between civilians and terrorists, and also do not differentiate between those killed by Israeli airstrikes and those killed in failed Palestinian rocket launches.”

PBS also reported that, citing U.N. officials and Palestinian officials in the West Bank, the agency has “long made a good-faith effort to account for the dead under the most difficult conditions,” while providing how the count is determined.

The health ministry’s figures also likely include 471 deaths from the Oct. 17 Gaza’s Al-Ahli Hospital hospital explosion. A U.S. intelligence assessment says that the death toll is likely between 100-300 people, while the director of the Shifa Hospital said the death toll was around 250, according to the Associated Press.

Several independent analyses, including from The Associated Press and Human Rights Watch, found that the likely cause of the explosion was a rocket –commonly used by Palestinian armed groups– though a definitive cause has not been determined. The IDF said the Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant group was responsible for the explosion, while Hamas said Israel caused it, according to France 24.

Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Barbara Leaf said in a Nov. 8 hearing that the death toll in Gaza could be higher than what the health ministry said it was, according to The Hill.

“In this period of conflict and conditions of war, it is very difficult for any of us to assess what the rate of casualties are. We think they’re very high, frankly, and it could be that they’re even higher than are being cited,” Leaf said.

A NYT spokesperson told Check Your Fact in an email “the source of deaths reported in Gaza” was from “Gazan officials.”

“As the report and graphs make clear, the source for deaths reported in Gaza during the current 2023 conflict is Gazan officials. The U.N. source refers to Ukrainians confirmed killed in Ukraine, which has been updated to note that the true toll of war in Ukraine is likely to be considerably higher than the official figures report,” the spokesperson said.

Victoria Coates, former deputy national security adviser in the Trump administration and the vice president of national security and foreign policy at the Heritage Foundation, criticized the New York Times tweet.

“Once again, The New York Times is has exposed their eagerness to exploit any reported data that supports their ideological agenda regardless of how dodgy it might be,” Coates told Check Your Fact in an email. “In this tweet they are relying on Hamas for their figures on Gaza, and Hamas habitually inflates these numbers to garner global support and demonize Israel—for example in the case of the Oct. 17 explosion at Al Ahli Hospital in Gaza, The New York Times itself reported that the original figure the Hamas-controlled Gaza Health Authority publicized (471) was probably closer to 100.”

Coates pointed to the OHCHR’s September report on Ukraine’s civilian deaths, noting that the report says deaths are higher than what the agency has verified.

“So according to their own recent experience, the Hamas figures could be inflated by five times while according to the UN the Ukrainian numbers could be much greater.  Rather than peddling sensationalist click bait, the Times might want to get their facts straight before they tweet,” Coates said.

Ukrainian officials also have far higher estimates for civilian casualties than what the UN has verified. Ukrainian officials estimated that at least 25,000 civilians died during the Siege of Mariupol, which lasted from February 2022 to May 2022, according to BBC News. Ukraine’s chief prosecutor told the Independent in February 2023 that there “could be 100,000 civilians killed across Ukraine.”

A December 2022 Associated Press analysis found “the death toll” in Mariupol “might run three times higher than an early estimate of at least 25,000.” Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said in June 2022 that “OHCHR has verified 1,348 individual civilian deaths directly in hostilities in Mariupol, including 70 children.”

“The actual death toll of hostilities on civilians is likely thousands higher,” Bachelet said at the time.

U.S. officials told Fox News in May 2023 that 42,000 Ukrainian civilians had died since Russia invaded in February 2022.

The NYT later updated its sub-headline from “[i]n less than two months, more than twice as many women and children have been reported killed in Gaza than in Ukraine after two years of war” to “[e]ven a conservative assessment of the reported Gaza casualty figures shows that the rate of death during Israel’s assault has few precedents in this century, experts say.”

The outlet also added that the “United Nations believes the true toll in Ukraine is considerably higher, however, and Ukrainian officials have estimated that more than 20,000 civilians died in the port city of Mariupol.”

The NYT also changed a sentence from “More than twice as many women and children have already been reported killed in Gaza than in Ukraine after almost two years of Russian attacks, according to United Nations estimates” to “More than twice as many women and children have already been reported killed in Gaza than have been confirmed killed in Ukraine, according to United Nations figures, after almost two years of Russian attacks.” (Emphasis added by Check Your Fact). 

The NYT did not issue an editor’s note or update indicating that these changes were made, though the article says it was updated “Nov. 26.”  The original tweet also remains live as of publishing time and has a Community Notes attached to it. (RELATED: Russia Today Report Showing Tunnels In Gaza Is From 2021)

“We regularly edit web stories to refine the story, add new information, additional context, or analysis. We only make note of changes if they involve an error. In this case, we updated the piece to add context to the official United Nations figures reported, noting that the true toll of war in Ukraine is likely to be considerably higher than the official figures report,” the NYT spokesperson said.

Check Your Fact has reached out to the OHCHR, the U.N. Secretary General’s office, the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the White House for comment and will update this article if responses are provided.

Elias Atienza

Senior Reporter
Follow Elias on Twitter Have a fact check suggestion? Send ideas to [email protected].