National Public Radio has responded in writing to CAMERA's study of the
network's coverage during the latter six months of 1991 and has even, finally,
done an analysis of its own coverage. Individuals who wrote to complain, and NPR
affiliate stations nationwide, have received a three-page letter from the
network's managing editor John Dinges. Unfortunately, the letter's total evasion
of CAMERA's principal criticisms is testimony to NPR's continuing attempt to
stonewall substantive criticism of its coverage of Israel and the Middle East.
The following is a summary of Dinges' defense of NPR programming and
NPR Claim: CAMERA's charges are "unfounded" and "one-sided";
its study was designed to "confirm already strongly held opinions."
CAMERA's delineation of basic concerns of mainstream Israelis, issues primarily
related to security, is "a collection of characterizations and positions
that [CAMERA] would have liked our reporting to support."
CAMERA: NPR continues to confuse demands for full and balanced
coverage of the entire Middle East, with advocacy of what it terms a "position."
Surely, for example, security issues, strategic considerations, and the balance
of power are major elements to be considered in the quest for peace; why, then,
does NPR routinely ignore these issues and distort their significance? CAMERA
advocates the free flow of complete information to the American public, not "support"
for a position. Most telling is NPR's inability to refute CAMERA's damning
discovery that in six months of intensive coverage of Israel, for which 278
Middle East stories are indexed in NPR's own archives, not one addressed the
military threat to Israel. Similarly, during that period of intensive discussion
regarding the possibility of Israel exchanging "land for peace" not
one story was devoted to the strategic significance of the West Bank and only
one report discussed the military significance of the Golan Heights. NPR has
never denied these gaping omissions in coverage. Instead, following the pattern
of entrenched bureaucracies and corporations facing grassroots criticism, the
network is trying to sidestep the CAMERA findings and to "shoot the
NPR Claim: In its coverage of Israel NPR presented a balanced number
of Arab and Israeli speakers. NPR's scrupulous balancing of opinion is
demonstrated by the results of an internal study conducted by Managing Editor
John Dinges. Spanning the period October 16, 1991, through November 18, 1991,
NPR analyzed network coverage in 95 stories related to the Peace Talks or "to
some related issue concerning Israel, the Palestinians, and Israel's Arab
neighbors." The conclusions "indicate the care we exercise in our
coverage: In the 95 stories about the Peace Talks, we interviewed 31 Israeli
officials and experts, 32 Arab ones, and 30 third-party analysts. Among the
Israelis heard, half were government officials or others with a clear
pro-government perspective. The remainder were clearly within the spectrum of
mainstream, centrist opinion in Israel...
CAMERA: CAMERA's original study was constructed to overlap a study
NPR had said it would do of its Middle East coverage during three months of
1991. The network apparently never undertook that analysis. Now that NPR has
finally recognized the seriousness of the public outcry about its reporting, it
has conducted an analysis of one, selected month of coverage. CAMERA has
therefore taken the opportunity to analyze closely the same span of coverage.
This latest CAMERA study included every report on the three major NPR "newsmagazines"
that involved stories related to Israel, the Middle East, the Palestinians or
the peace talks. (Tangential Middle East reports, such as those about a car bomb
in Beirut in which there was no mention of Israel, were not counted.) Every
speaker interviewed in the relevant programs between October 16 and November 18
CAMERA counted not 93 but 114 speakers in that period, 67 of whom
were Arabs and 47 of whom were Israelis. This breakdown is almost
identical to the previous CAMERA analysis, which showed an unmistakable skewing
in the direction of greater representation of Arab views.
Half (23) of the 47 Israeli speakers were government officials, the same
proportion that Dinges found and that CAMERA found in its earlier study of a
different sample of programs. The sample also replicates the original CAMERA
study in that no representative of the mainstream Labor party is among the
nongovernment speakers. Instead, again, the extremes of the political spectrum
are heavily represented. For example, there are seven settlers interviewed.
Indeed, one of the two longest NPR segments in the study is devoted to an
in-depth interview with a settler couple. The other is an interview with Sari
Nusseibeh and Mark Heller discussing their advocacy of a Palestinian state. As
CAMERA has repeatedly charged, NPR uses the power of its role to effectively
shut out the voices of centrist Israelis, those who are neither
Biblically-oriented settlers of the right nor left-wing proponents of a
Consistent with the original CAMERA study there was not a single speaker
from Hamas or from any radical PLO group.
NPR Claim: Contrary to CAMERA charges, NPR did air stories about "the
militant Islamic organization Hamas. In fact, [NPR] aired four reports during
CAMERA: NPR shamelessly dodges the substance of CAMERA's criticism
on this point. CAMERA's charge was that NPR omitted stories on the stated aims
of Hamas to destroy Israel. And the network did omit such stories. NPR ran five,
not four, references to Hamas during the month under review, all but one merely
allusions to the group. As CAMERA charged, none described the goals of the
organization. Hamas calls for the destruction of Jews, Judaism and Israel and,
needless to say, opposes the peace process. A network that devotes such
extraordinary air time to reports on the actions and policies of Israel and
purports to offer comprehensive coverage of the struggle for peace in the Middle
East is professionally obliged to include serious coverage of radical groups
such as Hamas.
NPR Claim: The preponderance of stories on Israel in contrast to "non-Israel-related
events in Arab countries...reflects our journalistic assessment of the news
interest in the region for U.S. listeners, an assessment shared by virtually all
major news organizations in the United States."
CAMERA: Among the many startling assertions in John Dinges' response
to CAMERA's criticism, this one stands out for its admission of NPR's
dereliction of responsibility to listeners. In the first place, not all news
organizations purvey the same obsessive and slanted coverage as NPR. Many cover
other parts of the Middle East in a way that provides readers, listeners and
viewers a more comprehensive perspective on the region.
More importantly, the role of the journalist is to enlighten the public as
fully as possible about world affairs, to serve as the "eyes and ears"
of the people. Nowhere in the journalistic code of ethics is the reporter
enjoined to omit major stories in order to gratify the perceived interest of
some segment of the citizenry. The CAMERA study demonstrates how disastrously
the skewed preoccupation with Israel has affected NPR coverage. Whole nations,
conflicts and calamities go unreported, creating a dangerously misshapen version
of Middle East reality.
NPR Claim: "We especially deplore [CAMERA's] ad hominem attacks
on our resident reporter in Israel, Linda Gradstein...We categorically reject
your charge that she has in any of her reporting injected a political agenda....
We must conclude that CAMERA's attacks, particularly in light of the hostility
directed against Linda Gradstein, are intended to intimidate her and NPR into
skewing our coverage of the Middle East to reflect CAMERA's agenda. That we will
CAMERA: Nowhere in any of the criticism of NPR's reporter Linda
Gradstein is there an "ad hominem" attack on her. Her reports are
quoted verbatim and analyzed, and her publicly-stated political views are shown
to permeate her reporting. Dinges seems to think that while journalistic
scrutiny of every institution and individual in our society is proper and
important, public scrutiny of the performance of a public network's
correspondent is unfair. It might be worth reminding Dinges that the First
Amendment was erected to protect the people, not to protect entrenched
bureaucracies such as NPR or tendentious reporters such as Linda Gradstein.
By way of praising Gradstein's abilities Dinges noted her fluency in Hebrew
and Arabic. But, as a May 28, 1992, segment illustrates, the reporter's
mistranslation of a common Arabic chant calls into further question her
professional integrity. That day NPR aired Gradstein's highly sympathetic,
80-sentence account of the funeral of a 22- year-old member of the radical PLO
group, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, who had been shot by
Israelis. (Days earlier the stabbing murder of Israeli teenager Helena Rapp by a
Palestinian had elicited four sentences, three of them critical of Israelis
angered by the killing.)
Gradstein translated the Arabic chanting at a memorial gathering for the
PFLF member as: "Anton, Anton, you were murdered. We promise to continue
your struggle." The actual translation of the cries of the crowd was
considerably less benign. "With fire and blood we will liberate Anton,"
were the words, a variation on the chant familiar to all Israelis, and surely to
the Arabic-speaking NPR reporter: "With fire and blood we will liberate
Palestine." Gradstein's mistranslation of the chant to omit overt Arab
threats of violence is entirely consistent with the pattern of her reporting.
NPR Claim: "...one member of CAMERA's board of advisors, the
Rev. Robert Drinan, a former member of Congress and outspoken supporter of
Israel, resigned from the CAMERA board after learning of the unfounded attacks
CAMERA: During the fall of 1991, and before undertaking its study,
CAMERA wrote to the Vice President and to the President of NPR repeatedly asking
for information and for the opportunity to meet to present concerns about the
network's Middle East coverage. Instead of responding to CAMERA, NPR contacted
Rev. Robert Drinan, a nominal member of CAMERA's advisory board. Apparently
wishing to avoid the fray between CAMERA and NPR, Drinan resigned from CAMERA's
board. Unfortunately, NPR's action resembled that of many large corporations
under public fire, choosing the route of intimidation and muscle-flexing,
instead of direct response to documented criticism.
On the subject of resignations the network may prefer that the public forget
the NPR Board member who resigned in 1990 charging the corporation with
unethical journalism. According to the Columbia Journalism Review, Richard
Salant, a former president of CBS News and Board member of NPR, "was
uncomfortable with the fact that nearly one third of NPR's $14 million news
budget comes from some thirty grants awarded by companies and foundations which
routinely restrict the use of the money for programming in certain areas. What
this means...is that NPR, ever hungry for a buck, would tend to cover the areas
supported by grant funds rather than those judged important by purely
journalistic standards." Salant charged that, "It's a bad idea because
news judgments should be made autonomously, strictly on the basis of news
values, and not on whether you get money to cover some things but not others."
When NPR refused to reassess the policy of accepting money with news
restrictions attached, Salant resigned.
NPR Claim: "I ask you, again, in the interest of fairness, to
print this response in its entirety. But, in the final analysis, we make our
case for the quality of our journalism in our daily programs, where we make an
extraordinary effort to be fair, balanced and impartial while presenting a wide
spectrum of news, opinions and voices on issues of vital interest to our
CAMERA: As John Dinges knew at the time of writing his rebuttal,
CAMERA had already agreed, in a letter faxed to the network on November 3, 1992,
to print, as NPR requested, a thousand-word rebuttal in the CAMERA Media Report
which is sent to the 20,000 members of the organization. CAMERA asked in return
for a similar opportunity to address its concerns to NPR's constituents, the
fourteen and a half million weekly listeners to whom the network's reporters
have regularly broadcast a seriously skewed version of the Middle East. NPR has
yet to respond to this proposal. As it has from the outset, the network admits
to no flaw whatever in its coverage, is indignant at public criticism, and
thinks it is entitled to argue its case to CAMERA members while refusing to
grant CAMERA an equal chance to make its case to NPR listeners.