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Media Analyses





Linda Gradstein Pushes Political Agenda


NPR's Middle East correspondent, Linda Gradstein, has consistently issued reports colored by her publicly-stated views on the Arab-Israeli conflict. While reporters naturally hold political convictions, most subscribe to a formal "Code of Ethics" which explicitly states, "News reports should be free of opinion or bias and represent all sides of an issue."

In an interview with the alumni publication of Pardes, a religious institution in Jerusalem Gradstein attended from 1986-1988, the reporter revealed her personal views of the Middle East. Those views not only reflect an ignorance of history but an extremist political position.

"Up until the Yom Kippur War, Israel was really ready for peace and the Arabs weren't. Today that situation has reversed."

In fact, Israel's profound desire for peace and willingness to make concessions was dramatically demonstrated when, nine years after the Yom Kippur War, in response to Anwar Sadat's offer of peace, the nation relinquished to Egypt all of the Sinai with its oil fields, settlements and air bases. Israel has continued to wait for similar evidence of peaceful intent from other neighboring states. The notion that Israel prefers an environment of war coincides with the Arab view and is a perspective rejected by the Israeli public.

"The PLO has done some unbearable, terrible things, but people can change...Israel has to talk with the PLO."

The pro-Arab position downplays the terror campaign waged by the PLO and the ongoing acts of terror for which the organization regularly and openly takes credit. Despite Arafat's alleged renunciation of terror in 1988, the PLO has never ceased sponsoring assaults against Israelis and Jews, and its leaders have continually repeated their aim of destroying Israel. In the first half of 1992 alone, Yasser Arafat publicly called for "Holy War" against Israel no fewer than seventeen times.

"I do feel that Jews have a right to live in Hebron and other places in the West Bank. Yet, I don't think that's a right that should be exercised at this time, because I feel it's a provocation, and because both Jews and Arabs are losing their lives because of those Jews living there."

Regardless of the advisability of building settlements in the territories, the notion that Jews are the cause of the violence is, again, contrary to fact and history. Terrorism against Jews long predates the settlements, has occurred in all areas of pre-1967 Israel, and springs from a widespread Arab refusal to accept the presence of Israelis anywhere in the region.

"I think the Palestinians have a right to a state."

Again, Gradstein expresses the view of a small minority of Israelis and Americans, a view which coincides with the Arab perspective.

"When I first came to Israel, I had starry-eyed notions of building bridges between Arabs and Jews... Just because Israel has a lot of problems doesn't mean you give up on it. If you want the state of the Jewish people to be what you want it to be, you have to work on it from here."

Gradstein's avowed aim to "work on" changing Israel to conform more to her vision of how the country ought to function is pursued unabashedly in her reporting for NPR. Her own candid description of her agenda suggests a startling ignorance of professional responsibility to refrain from abusing the power of the reporter in pursuit of personal aims.

Gradstein's views determine the choice of stories she files and the slant of those stories. Among the persistent themes is the insidious equating of the actions of Arabs and Jews, a device that obscures Arab violence and implicitly urges Jews toward greater concessions. Gradstein's bias is entirely consistent with NPR's overall failure to report Israeli security concerns. The following are excerpts from reports filed both during the period of the CAMERA study and subsequently.

" In the Middle East, history repeats itself . Seventy years ago, Jews in Palestine living under the British mandate began building a foundation to govern themselves. They started an organization called the Jewish Agency to run the daily affairs of the Jewish community. Some of their activities were legal; others, such as smuggling guns into the area, were not...Now Palestinians say it's their turn. Already they've formed committees." January 20, 1992

The Palestinians began organizing in 1964 when they formed the PLO, whose objective was the destruction of Israel and whose strategy included worldwide campaigns of terror against innocents. In omitting the central "organization" to which Palestinians look for leadership, and suggesting that the formation of various "committees" in the West Bank demonstrates a similarity in the evolution of the Israelis and Palestinians, Gradstein reveals her casual and careless attitude toward fact and historical veracity. The Jewish Agency, primarily a social welfare agency, rescued, housed and clothed persecuted Jews. It never called for the destruction of other peoples or engaged in terror campaigns. Indeed, where Jews were involved in acts of terror the Agency condemned them.

"Everyone in the Middle East has his own version of history. Palestinians say that in 1948 more than 800,000 Palestinians were forcibly kicked out of their homes by what soon became Israel. Israelis say the number is half that and Palestinians left when their Arab leaders urged them to because they intended to destroy the Jewish army. Whatever the numbers or the cause... May 14,1992

Evading the first tenet of journalistic responsibility to report the truth, Gradstein reports the wildly inflated and unsubstantiated Arab refugee numbers and Arab accusations against Israel. Literature abounds on the subject of the Arab refugees, and includes numerous documents by Jewish leaders in 1948 exhorting Arabs to remain in their homes. Scholars generally agree that between 450,000 and 600,000 Arabs fled the fighting. Gradstein also states misleadingly that the Arabs intended to "destroy the Jewish army." In fact, the openly-advertised aim was not to destroy just the army, a goal that may have permitted Jews to remain in the region, but to obliterate the people of the newborn nation.

Israel is repeatedly portrayed as the unprovoked aggressor, whether in day-to-day encounters with rock throwers or in the 1967 war:

"In recent weeks there has been an upsurge in violence. Israeli troops have shot and killed at least ten Palestinians in the past month. Arabs have also stepped up attacks on Israelis." March 27, 1992

Offering no explanation, Gradstein implies that shootings by Israeli soldiers were unprovoked attacks. The words "at least" encourage listeners to speculate that many more Palestinians died. Also, why omit the number of Jews killed by Arabs, and the number of Arabs killed by Arabs? Gradstein consistently avoids the matter of the "intrafada," the slaughter of Palestinians by other Palestinians. In the last year Palestinians were more than three times as likely to be murdered by their brethren than to die in clashes with Israelis (238 to 74).

"The land in question is the occupied territories, meaning the West Bank, Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights. Israel conquered this territory in 1967." November 1, 1991

Sidestepping history, Gradstein implies that Israel gained the disputed territories through aggression. Gradstein repeatedly omits mention of the facts of the 1967 War, in which Israel gained territory in the course of self defense.

Gradstein's reports on two funerals, that of a Jewish schoolgirl, Helena Rapp, and a Palestinian man, are a startling example of the differences in coverage accorded the two groups. The treatment given the Jewish victim is peremptory, detached, and leans towards criticism of the Jews. In contrast, the Arab's death is described in a lengthy and highly sympathetic and detailed account. It contains blatant errors of fact:

"Fifteen year-old Helena Rapp was buried today in an emotional funeral attended by thousands of local residents. Rapp's father called on Jews to exercise restraint, but groups of angry Jews attacked Arabs. In a town near the funeral, Jews stabbed and seriously wounded an Arab who is a citizen of Israel, not the West Bank. Several other Arab Israeli citizens were attacked, but not seriously injured." May 25, 1992

(Excerpts) "Anton Shamili was not very different from most 22 year-olds. He liked music and soccer, and his friends say he was always quick to tell a joke and to laugh...Anton had been in and out of jail since he was fourteen. He has never been accused of kidnapping or murder, but the organization he belongs to, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, is suspected of hundreds of such attacks... Inside the home, visitors are offered cups of bitter black coffee. Drinking the coffee shows that the visitor joins in the family's mourning. But along with the mourning there is anger... One fact is clear: Israeli soldiers are killing Palestinian men in increasing numbers... But to Anton Shamili's parents, all of this discussion is little consolation. His mother, Samira, sits dressed in black, looking much older than her age of fifty-seven. `I want my son' she says over and over. `I could understand if he was part of a demonstration and then been killed, but he wasn't doing anything. They just killed him.' Across the road, Anton's father Louis is sitting with the men, his face covered with a grizzled gray beard. Louis was partially crippled from polio as a child. He puts up a brave front, saying he's proud to sacrifice his son for Palestine, but his eyes and his shaking hands reveal his suffering." May 28, 1992

The lack of humanizing detail in the description of the girl, the insignificance of her family's suffering, and the negative assertions about her community, all stand in striking contrast to Gradstein's vivid, moving, and extended portrayal of Anton Shamili and his family. Apparently, for Gradstein and NPR only Palestinian suffering deserves listener attention, and, it seems, the death of a Palestinian is more relevant to the conflict than the death of a Jew.

• The use of the word "suspected" to characterize the documented crimes of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine is a blatant instance of the reporter's determination to obscure even the most notorious PLO violence. Similarly, Gradstein evades reporting the particulars of Anton Shamili's crimes, implying his behavior had been inconsequential.

• Gradstein resorts to outright falsehood to advance her thesis of Israeli brutality and Arab victimization when she states, "One fact is clear; Israeli soldiers are killing Palestinian men in increasing numbers." The fact that is clear is precisely the opposite. The number of Palestinians dying in clashes with Israelis has declined sharply since 1989, from 270 that year to 93 in 1990 and 74 in 1991. The number has continued to decline in 1992.

• A particularly telling and willful misrepresentation of the Arab's funeral is to be found in Gradstein's translation of the chanting of the crowd in attendance. Gradstein claimed the crowd chanted an innocuous, "Anton, Anton, you were murdered. We promise to continue your struggle." The crowd's actual chant, accurately translated, was considerably less benign. "With fire and blood we will liberate Anton," was the cry, a variation on the Arab chant familiar to Israelis, "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.

Having defined what she considers the essentials of the Middle East conflict, Gradstein presents these views as though they are the actual geopolitical concerns of the parties. As always, the central concerns of Israelis and American supporters of Israel are omitted, superseded by her perspective:

"...the biggest issues remain what they were at the beginning: Who will represent the Palestinians? And if a conference is convened, will Israel be willing to trade land for peace?" October 16, 1992

"Despite what Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir may say, the Madrid conference is about trading land for peace." November 1, 1991

Absent from Gradstein's reports is the full Middle East landscape which reveals that for Israel "the biggest issues" are not those involving the Palestinians but those related to the irredentist Arab impulse to destroy Israel and the emerging intensification of that drive with the growth of militant Islam and Arab acquisition of increasing quantities of conventional and non-conventional arms, including biological weapons and nuclear technology. From Gradstein's viewpoint and from the Arab view, however, the peace conference concerned just one major issue, extracting territory from Israel. In the worst tradition of unprincipled journalism, the reporter knows better than the involved parties, and shapes the facts to her opinions.

"The goal of the Intifada has been to force Israel to accept an independent Palestinian state next to Israel." October 29, 1992

Conveniently, Gradstein excludes mention of the "goals" daily reiterated by PLO and HAMAS spokesmen calling for the annihilation of the Jewish state. Even among those segments of the Palestinian community assumed to be most moderate, the Western-oriented Christians, many openly resist notions of accommodation with Israel.

"But at least for now, the young men of Palestine and the young men of Israel are killing each other in a war that seems far from ending." May 28, 1992

So impatient is Gradstein for the creation of an actual "Palestine" she employs the power of her position on National Public Radio to promote the effort, implying as in this quote that a Palestinian state exists.



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