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Right-wing media figures are twisting new UN casualty reporting to mislead about the death toll in Gaza

Right-wing television and radio figures misconstrued new United Nations reports to falsely suggest the international body has been “lying” about and “exaggerating” death toll figures

Right-wing media figures are misrepresenting a recent shift in casualty reporting to imply the United Nations has reduced estimates of the number of Palestinians killed in Gaza. 

The U.N. recently began reporting more detailed casualty numbers from Gaza’s Ministry of Health, providing exact figures of women and children killed who have been fully identified. These detailed breakdowns are lower than larger previous estimates sourced by the U.N. from a different Gazan ministry, as thousands have not yet been definitively identified; the U.N. specified that the overall death toll estimate has not changed and that the new fully identified casualty numbers are expected to rise. 

Right-wing media have nonetheless latched onto the new reported figures to falsely suggest the international body had been inflating or lying about various death tolls and casualty figures, and imply that the total estimated death toll of around 35,000 has changed.

  • U.N. reports on casualties sourced from Gaza’s Ministry of Health were recently updated to reflect those who have been fully identified

    • The U.N.’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has been regularly reporting estimated casualty numbers for the current conflict in Gaza, drawing on several official sources. The U.N. has regularly updated its online reporting of death toll figures, sourcing casualty numbers from the Gaza Ministry of Health and Government Media Office as well as Israeli authorities. This reporting includes an estimated overall Palestinian death toll as well as casualty breakdowns for men, women, and children. [OCHA, 5/20/24; The New York Times, 5/14/24]
    • The OCHA figures were recently updated to reflect a smaller number of individuals who have been fully identified in its breakdown of men, women, and children killed. A U.N. spokesperson clarified that the newest breakdowns for men, women, and children casualties are notably lower than in previous reports because the U.N. replaced estimates from Gaza’s Government Media Office with more conservative, verified numbers from the Gazan Ministry of Health. The Ministry of Health numbers reflect only those who have been fully identified. From The New York Times:

    The change came because the United Nations switched to citing a more conservative source for its numbers — the Gazan Ministry of Health — rather than using Gaza’s Government Media Office, as it had in recent weeks. Both offices are part of the Hamas-run government in the enclave.

    Many international officials and experts familiar with the way the health ministry verifies deaths in Gaza — drawing from morgues and hospitals across the territory — say its numbers are generally reliable. [The New York Times, 5/14/24]

    • The number of casualties confirmed to be women and children by the Ministry of Health are currently about 50% of the estimates made by the Government Media Office, and casualty specifics will be “re-established once the full identification process is complete.” A U.N. spokesperson noted, “There's about another 10,000 plus bodies who still have to be fully identified, and so then the details of those - which of those are children, which of those are women - that will be re-established once the full identification process is complete.” [NBC News, 5/14/24; Reuters, 5/13/24]
    • Officials explained that the overall estimates have not changed and that having more identification information “is a step forward.” In a Geneva press briefing, several officials further clarified the data and explained they expect casualty breakdown numbers to continue rising as more bodies are identified. From Reuters:

    “Nothing wrong with the data, the overall data (more than 35,000) are still the same,” said WHO spokesperson Christian Lindmeier at a Geneva press briefing in response to questions about the toll. “The fact we now have 25,000 identified people is a step forward,” he added.


    He added that it was “normal” for death tolls to shift in conflicts, recalling that Israel had revised down its own death toll from the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks to 1,200 after checks.

    “We're basically talking about 35,000 people who are dead, and really every life matters, doesn't it?” Liz Throssel, spokesperson for the U.N. human rights office, said at the same briefing. “And we know that many and many of those are women and children and there are 1,000s missing under the rubble.” [Reuters, 5/14/24]

    • The U.N. further specified that the overall death toll of approximately 35,000 remains unchanged and that Ministry of Health figures are generally accurate. The U.N. as well as many other international agencies and experts have further underscored that Ministry of Health figures are generally reliable. [The Guardian, 10/27/23, 5/13/24; Reuters, 5/13/24; The New York Times, 5/14/24]
    • Critics have seized on this recent change and “confusion over the discrepancy” to fuel further debate over the accuracy of death toll estimates and suggest the U.N. had been “exaggerating the toll.” According to NBC, “Israeli officials incorrectly suggested that the data showed a significant drop in death toll numbers — and that this bolstered their claims that health authorities in the Hamas-run enclave inflate the number of children and women among the dead to disguise the large number of militant fighters killed.” [The New York Times, 5/14/24; The Guardian, 5/13/24; Reuters, 5/14/24, NBC News, 5/14/24]
  • Right-wing media figures confused the facts on death toll figures and claimed the U.N. has been “lying” about casualty numbers

    • Daily Wire host Ben Shapiro began a brief discussion of the new numbers by saying the U.N. had “admitted that they’d been lying about casualty figures.” Shapiro aired some quotes from a U.N. official about the number change but did not explain the shift from one agency’s numbers to the others or the verification of dead, nor did he note that the overall death toll estimate had not changed in the segment. Instead, he went on to criticize the practice of counting individuals under the age of 20 as children, saying, “A huge number of terrorists are 16, 17, even 15 or 14 years old.” From The Ben Shapiro Show:

    BEN SHAPIRO (HOST): So yesterday, the U.N. admitted that they’d been lying about casualty figures. They’d been taking Hamas’ casualty figures for granted and they were simply lying about it. The U.N. admitted that they were off by 50 percent -- five zero percent -- on the original estimate of women and children who had died in the war in Gaza. [The Daily Wire, The Ben Shapiro Show, 5/14/24, 5/14/24]

    • Fox anchor Trace Gallagher introduced discussion of the number change with, “Now we know that they have lowered the death toll in Gaza.” Gallagher went on to briefly read from a news article about the new casualty figures of women and children. The segment did not specify the context for the updated reporting or clarify that the overall death toll has not changed. Fox contributor Kiron Skinner reacted by suggesting that the Ministry of Health’s “numbers are never right” and that the U.N.’s decision to switch to its figures put “everything that comes out of Gaza, that Israel has hit a hospital, that Israel has hit a humanitarian truck — it puts it all under a suspect way of looking at what’s going on.” [Fox News, Fox News @ Night, 5/13/24]
    • Newsmax host Rob Schmitt told viewers that the U.N. was “forced to retract their numbers.” He did not explain the shift in numbers or clarify that the total death toll estimate had not changed. [Newsmax, Rob Schmitt Tonight, 5/13/24]
    • One America News host Dan Ball misinformed that the overall death toll estimate had changed from “nearly 35,000 killed” to “almost less than 15,000.” From Real America with Dan Ball:

    DAN BALL (HOST): So the United Nations just revised the Gaza death count, and just the deaths of women and children was exaggerated by Hamas by over 50 percent. So when they claim there was nearly 35,000 killed, the numbers actually pencil out to almost less than 15,000.

    Not that that’s not horrific, but I like facts. And the fact is this isn’t a genocide because the numbers were doubled and inflated by Hamas. The Ministry of Health for Gaza, which is run by Hamas, put those numbers out the last few months and American sympathizers have swallowed that whole bait, hook, line, and sinker. [One America News Network, Real America with Dan Ball, 5/13/24]

    • Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade repeatedly framed the changed figures as a correction to “wrong” earlier estimates. Kilmeade began discussion of the story by confusingly implying the overall death toll estimate “had been wrong by about 50 percent.” He went on to specify more about the new figures and note the current death toll estimate, but he did not explain the meaning of the different numbers. From Fox & Friends :

    BRIAN KILMEADE (CO-HOST): Not many people know this, but on May 6 the U.N. came out with a report on the death toll in Gaza. It turns out that they were wrong by about 50 percent. They say that total number of deaths is about 34,000 but the number includes 4,959 women, 7,797 children, a total of 12,756 civilians, as opposed to a number that was double that. How do you explain that? That means they’ve killed more Hamas fighters and less civilians.


    Right, so there’s 24,000 civilian deaths, that’s what they thought, it turns out there was 12,000. Big difference. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 5/14/24]

    • A Fox Business segment misleadingly suggested that the U.N. cut the total casualty count “in half.” A May 14 Varney & Co. segment implied that the overall death toll had been cut by half. The segment began with Varney asking whether the U.N. update had raised “the total casualty count” or lowered it, to which reporter Lauren Simonetti replied, “They cut it in half.” A chyron on screen read “U.N. Cuts Reported Casualties In Half.” The segment did not specify that the total death toll estimate had not changed. From Varney & Co.:

    STUART VARNEY (HOST): Ah, this is interesting. The U.N. quietly changed the number of casualties in Gaza since the start of the war. OK. Did they raise the total casualty count, or lower it?

    LAUREN SIMONETTI (REPORTER): They cut it in half. They cut it in half. So, these are the numbers, the casualties of women and children in Gaza. Originally, 14,000 children were victims. This week the agency said, well, no, 7,797. Originally 9,500 women. Now, less than 5,000. What’s the takeaway? The U.N. was using and trusting statistics that came from Hamas.

    VARNEY: It makes the use of the word “genocide” outrageous in this context, absolutely outrageous, and they should never do that. That’s my opinion. [Fox Business, Varney & Co., 5/14/24]

    • On his radio show, Fox host Mark Levin implied the overall death toll had been cut. Levin began by reading from a Washington Free Beacon article that misleadingly implied the overall death toll had been cut. From The Mark Levin Show:

    MARK LEVIN (HOST): United Nations cut its Gaza death toll figures by half, confirming that Hamas officials have been lying for months -- this is the U.N. doing it -- about the total number of casualties and statistics repeatedly cited by the U.N. and the American government as proof Israel is harming civilians.

    The U.N. Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs drastically reduced its child fatality figures, dropping them to 7,700 on May 8 from 14,500 just days before. It also revised the figures for the number of women killed, lowering them from 9,500 to 4,900.

    And by the way, how many of those deaths are due to what Hamas is doing to their own citizens, putting them in harm’s way? This is urban warfare.


    The U.N. has been citing artificially inflated figures for the last two months. And since it relies on information published by the Hamas-controlled Government Media Office in Gaza, Israeli officials and regional experts have cast doubt on these figures since the war broke out, saying that Hamas is known to inflate casualty figures as part of its global media campaign to paint Israel as an aggressor.

    These figures have been used by the U.N. and the American government for months to accuse Israel of intentionally targeting citizens, including women and children. But the massive revision indicates Hamas’ figures are riddled with inaccurate -- It would be like World War II, our media would be reporting figures put out by Nazi Germany. How sick is this?

    The Hamas-controlled Gaza Ministry of Health is the primary source for these numbers, which international organizations generally deem credible — that’s the bigger figures — but do not differentiate between Hamas fighters and civilians. So on top of all that, they don’t differentiate between the terrorist and the civilian. So it goes on and on. [Westwood One, The Mark Levin Show, 5/13/24; The Washington Free Beacon, 5/13/24]