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Media Analyses





Conflict of Interest Fits NPR Bias


Whatever changes may be occurring on the ground, a constant in the American media firmament is National Public Radio's anti-Israel bias. Whether Israel is battling intifada violence, collecting her dead after terror attacks or ceding unprecedented land and power to the Palestinians, tax-supported NPR consistently promotes the Arab agenda. Factual error, distortion, story choice and rhetorical slant all work to tilt the story. It is perhaps not surprising then that revelation of a conflict of interest, an NPR reporter married to a Palestinian Authority official, hardly creates a ripple at the network.

Nicknamed National Palestine Radio by many of its listeners, NPR has tirelessly advanced its preference for creation of a Palestinian Arab state. Thus, over many years the network has focused intensively on Arab complaints against Israel. The historical context of the Arab-Israeli conflict and Israel's vulnerability both to terrorist assault and to external threat by Arab states have been consistently minimized and obscured. Ongoing calls for Israel's destruction and rampant anti-Semitism in the Arab world have been omitted from coverage.

The relative lack of interest in such major terrorist attacks against Jews as the October 1994 Tel Aviv bus bombing by Hamas is startling. Whereas the Hebron massacre of 29 Arabs by Baruch Goldstein prompted 32 stories on NPR, the Tel Aviv bombing by Hamas that killed 22 evoked just 8.

Moreover, in a recurring pattern, atrocities against Jews call forth human interest stories illuminating the humanity, good works and frustrations of the bombers! Within three days of the first Tel Aviv bus bombing by Hamas in October 1994, NPR's Daniel Zwerdling interviewed John Esposito about the group. An apologist for Islamic radicalism who once said on another NPR segment that Arafat's call for Jihad is comparable to a "literacy campaign" or the fight against AIDS, Esposito joined Zwerdling in painting an enthusiastic picture of Hamas as a community-minded organization engaged in such happy enterprises as "honey, cheese-making, and home-based clothing manufacture." A minor, if deplorable, sideline in terror seemed hardly to outweigh the good done by the group.

This year's Tel Aviv (Ramat Gan) bus bombing was followed even more swiftly by the requisite examination of the human qualities of the perpetrator. One day after six people were blown up, the network ran a story by Maureen Meehan, she with the marital link to the Palestinian Authority and lately a frequent NPR contributor. Included were interviews with three Arabs who described suicide bombers as frustrated and impoverished under the yoke of Israel and driven by their living conditions to murder Jews. No mention is made of the crude incitement to kill Jews by Arab leaders or of the Palestinians' role in the travails of their own people.

Meehan's reporting also reflects NPR's carelessness with factual accuracy. On the complex issue of water in the West Bank, Meehan filed a July segment riddled with error in which three Arabs described anecdotally their grievances at Israel's alleged monopolizing of water. A single official Israeli spokesman with no expertise on the topic was given a few lines at the end to reply. His comments appear defensive and devoid of substance, giving credence to the Arab complaints.

Yet, the segment is false from start to finish. Meehan began by saying the water crisis "centers around the fact that over a third of the water used by Israel comes from aquifers located in the West Bank." In fact, about one third of Israel's water comes from an aquifer that is shared with the West Bank, being under Israel and the territories and Israel has always drawn on this shared aquifer, including before 1967. Meehan's implication that Israel gained a new source of water by taking Palestinian water in 1967 is spurious.

One sentence later she said, "Following Israel's 1967 military takeover of the West Bank and Gaza, Israel declared all water state property." Not true. Israel did not create new laws, but continued the regulations inherited from Jordan that designated to the sovereign the authority over West Bank water.

Meehan then quoted a Palestinian hydrologist who charged that "Jewish settlements in the West Bank use 40% of the available water resources, while Palestinians face chronic shortages." Wrong again. Jewish settlements consume less than 25% of the water and they are not the cause of water shortages in Arab towns. Meehan charged that it is "illegal" for Palestinians to dig wells. In fact, under Israeli administration as of 1991 46 major wells were drilled in the West Bank for or by Arab residents (as compared to 17 for Jewish residents). Moreover, most telling, water consumption in the Arab sector has surged since 1967, rising from 42 million cubic meters to 132 in 1991.

Meehan claimed cities such as Hebron and Ramallah "only have running water several hours a week." False again. Ramallah has reliable running water. And the case of Hebron is another in which it is convenient to blame the Jews for Arab dereliction. Former water commissioner Professor Dan Zaslovsky notes that the water supply to Hebron is more than adequate but the municipality has resisted repairing severely leaking water pipes. That reluctance to make repairs may be linked to the handsome living some city notables earn selling water to their neighbors. And on and on.

But one major story having to do with a very different sort of Arab grievance has been overlooked on Meehan's watch that recounted in the recent report by B'Tselem, a human rights group best known for its criticism of Israel. The report documents "gross human rights violations" by the Palestinian Authority against Palestinians. Bassem Eid, author of the study, now faces threats against his life by Arafat's security strongman in Jericho, Jibril Rajoub. Indeed, so serious are the threats that Amnesty International has issued an "Urgent Action Appeal" in an effort to shield Eid against assassination.

Maureen Meehan might have found it a delicate matter to probe this issue. She is married to Jiries Atrash, a Palestinian Authority official in Jericho. Alerted recently to the obvious conflict of interest posed by Meehan's obligation as a reporter to provide full, accurate and balanced information and her role as wife of a PA official, both NPR editorial director John Dinges and president Delano Lewis flatly denied she is married to a Palestinian official and brushed off the issue.

However, in response to an inquiry, the Palestinian Authority office in Jericho supplied a home telephone number for Jiries Atrash, "Assistant to the Chairman's Bureau of the Jericho Office of the Palestinian Authority," that matched that of Maureen Meehan. Numerous other sources confirm that Meehan is married to a PA official.

Any news organization committed to balanced and accurate reporting would be alarmed by the apparent conflict of interest in Meehan's position and would have swiftly and seriously investigated before issuing erroneous denials. Unfortunately, NPR's blase response in this is entirely consistent with its notorious lapse from responsible journalism in covering the Arab-Israeli conflict.


Update on the Meehan Controversy

On September 20, 1995 NPR President Delano Lewis faxed the following letter to CAMERA:

Dear Ms. Levin:

This is in response to your fax of September 11 concerning Maureen Meehan's arrest while covering a demonstration in front of Orient House in East Jerusalem.

While Maureen was detained by Israeli police, she was released without charge after making a statement. She did nothing improper and, in fact, later received the cooperation of the police while continuing to cover the story.

Maureen's spouse, Jurias Attrash, is not a PLO official. We understand there are are other similarly-named men in the region, as you may find when checking the facts of your story. I expect not to see this misinformation in your newsletter.

Yours truly,

Delano Lewis
President

By October 6th, however, NPR realized that CAMERA had checked its facts. In a letter faxed to CAMERA on that date, Mr. Lewis stated:

... I appreciate your perseverance in communicating the information in question, because it now appears Ms. Meehan did not adequately disclose to NPR her husband's employment and association with organizations and events she covered in connection with her work for NPR. As a result, we have informed Ms. Meehan that we will no longer take her reports.



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