Jerusalem, 23 May, 2023 (TPS) — Rabbi Leo Dee, whose wife and two daughters were killed in a Palestinian terror attack, rejected an on-air apology from CNN’s chief international anchor Christiane Amanpour on Monday and said on Tuesday he intends to file a $1.3 billion lawsuit against the cable news giant.
Dee’s two daughters, Maya and Rina, ages 20 and 16 respectively, were killed in a Palestinian drive-by shooting in northern Israel on April 7. Their mother, Leah (Lucy) Dee died of her injuries on April 10. That same day, while interviewing Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh, Amanpour described the attack as a “shootout.”
“We have a young 15-year-old Palestinian boy who’s been shot and killed by security — Israeli security forces. We also have the mother of two sisters, Israeli British sisters. They were — they were killed in a shootout, and now the mother has died of her injury — injuries,” Amanpour said.
Rabbi Dee told the Tazpit Press Service, “We were in tears for hours that we were being accused that my 15 and 20 year old daughters and my wife had ever touched a gun.”
Rabbi Dee also confirmed to TPS that he received an email of apology from Amanpour, which he dismissed. “When you defame people in front of 100 million people and then you apologize to just one person, it has a .000001 percent value as an apology ,” he told TPS.
Rabbi Dee also told TPS he received a phone call from CNN Jerusalem Bureau Chief Richard Allen Greene separately apologizing for Amanpour’s error.
On Monday, Amanpour said on-air, “On April 10, I referred to the murders of an Israeli family: Lucy, Maya and Rina Dee, the wife and daughters of Rabbi Leo Dee. I misspoke and said they were killed in a ‘shootout’ instead of a shooting. I have written to Rabbi Leo Dee to apologize and make sure that he knows that we apologize for any further pain that may have caused him.”
Dee, however, rejected the apology. “CNN has consistently claimed that Israel is one of the major causes of conflict in the Middle East,” he said.
“According to Freedom House, the international standard for measuring human rights in the world, Israel is the only free country in the Middle East. How could it be that Israel is responsible for the conflict?” Rabbi Dee said.
“I’ve learned that they can say terrible things and mislead the public. They believe they can compensate by making an apology. But the apology isn’t as impactful as Amanpour’s original] statement. If they get away with it this and the next time, they just keep getting away with it.”
Confirming that he is moving forward with a lawsuit, Dee told TPS that he is “inundated by lawyers who want to represent me for free.”
“I’m taking advice. I’ve got donors who are prepared to underwrite this. Most Jews believe that CNN has been on an anti-Zionist campaign to defame Israel,” he added.
Asked what he would do with $1.3 billion, Rabbi Dee told TPS, “I’d put it into the Shalom Fund, which I’m hoping to build. For projects in Israel and the Mideast to promote peace and unity and friendships with our neighbors, amongst other things.”
CNN did not respond to a request for comment.
Professor Eytan Gilboa, who teaches international communications at Bar-Ilan University in Tel Aviv told TPS that Rabbi Dee has an excellent chance of prevailing in court. He explained that legal action would have to demonstrate that Amanpour’s information was “fake,” that it damaged the victim’s reputation, and that the statement was malicious.
Gilboa stressed that for legal purposes, the description of a shootout could be considered “malicious” even if it had been a slip of the tongue. “Amanpour should’ve known what was happening in the West Bank. She can’t defend herself by saying it wasn’t clear or she wasn’t sure,” Gilboa said.
He also described Amanpour’s apology as “evasive.”
“An apology means first of all admitting that you made an error. Then, you have to explain what the error was all about and how it happened. But Amanpour didn’t do that,” he said. “Why did she insinuate that there was an exchange of fire?”
“What is happening is that the media is so reluctant to admit wrongdoing, to admit it made an error. [News services] think it could damage their reputation and therefore their income, or ratings,” Gilboa said.
“They admit errors only when they have no other choice. And usually, they admit errors when those who are hurt by the error threaten to go to court.”
Asked if he considers CNN systematically biased against Gilboa drew a distinction between CNN International and CNN USA.
“When you compare them, you won’t find the same distortions about Israel in CNN USA. You’ll find more distortions at CNN International. And the reason is that CNN in the United States is afraid of broadcasting those kind of distortions about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
Gilboa noted that CNN’s apology was more likely influenced by a recent out of court settlement between Dominion Voting Systems and Fox News. In April, the network agreed to pay $787.5 million to Dominion and acknowledge an earlier court ruling that Fox defamed about Dominion regarding claims of fraud during the 2020 US presidential elections.
But Gilboa stressed that Dee’s legal action doesn’t need to focus on systemic bias at CNN or pore through 20 years of coverage — only on Amanpour’s comments and the facts of what happened during the April 7 terror attack.
“It’s glaringly obvious that it was a terrible distortion,” Gilboa said.