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Media Analyses





More Terror Bias at NPR


A new analysis by CAMERA shows National Public Radio reporters and commentators continue to employ a double standard when reporting on terrorists and terror attacks in Israel versus terror attacks perpetrated elsewhere.  CAMERA has repeatedly documented skewed usage in previous reporting ("Terror Rules at NPR" and "NPR’s Terror Problem") and the pattern continues. When a bombing occurs that targets civilians in London, Istanbul, Sinai or Madrid the perpetrators are routinely described as terrorists by NPR. However, the same is not true when an attack occurs in Israel and the perpetrators are Palestinians. In these events there is a clear avoidance of terror terminology.

Using the epithet "terrorist" to describe an organization or individual obviously imputes an extreme dimension of viciousness to the perpetrator. Terms like "radical" and "extremist" also have negative connotations — though less so than "terrorist." On the other hand, terms like "militant," "rejectionist" or "armed activist" are less judgmental suggesting commitment to a cause and the possibility that violence against civilians is  legitimate. While multiple terms are often used synonymously in reporting acts of terror (for example suspects associated with the Madrid and London bombings may be described both as militants and terrorists in the same report), the terrorist label is routinely applied to bombings that occur throughout the world, but is rarely used by NPR reporters in their coverage of suicide bombings in Israel. News organizations such as NPR pay close attention to gradations of meaning; thus the consistent practice of muting the language applied to the killers of innocent, non-combatant Israelis is obviously deliberate and underscores the longstanding bias of coverage by the network.

London Bombings

After a group of suicide bombers killed more than 50 Londoners in July 2005, NPR’s coverage of the event was peppered with the word "terrorist" to describe the perpetrators and their actions. A sampling of the coverage from various NPR news segments during the weeks that followed leaves no doubt that the perpetrators were terrorists.

—During early reporting of the attack on July 7, 2005, Talk of the Nation guest host Lynn Neary reported, "We are talking about today's terrorist attacks in London." Later on the same show, she repeated "the death toll from this morning's terrorist attacks on the public transit system stands at 37." In a later segment she wonders: "What are the similarities between this attack today and the explosions, the terrorist attacks, in Madrid on the commuter trains there?"

—Alex Chadwick on Day to Day described the attack as "a series of terrorist bombs this morning."

—On Morning Edition, Rene Montagne discussed possible motives for the attack, stating: "They don't want the terrorists to believe that they're going to disrupt that summit."

—The following day, Michele Norris led off Talk of the Nation describing "yesterday's terrorist attack in London."

—Ed Gordon opened News and Notes on July 8 observing that "around the world today, newspaper headlines expressed shock and sympathy over the terrorist bombings in London."

—On All Things Considered on July 9, Jennifer Ludden reported that "British police today continued their investigation into Thursday's terrorist attacks in London."

—After it was clear that the perpetrators were suicide bombers, on Talk of the Nation (July 18), Neal Conan described how "Eleven days after terrorists struck the London transit system, a clearer picture of their plot has emerged."

There are numerous other examples of the word terrorist being used to describe the perpetrators of the London bombings.

Madrid Bombings

A year earlier, when a series of bombs struck crowded trains in Madrid, Sylvia Poggioli, on All Things Considered (March 18, 2004 ), reported on the organizations suspected to be behind the attacks:

The outgoing government has been widely suspected of having manipulated or at least delayed releasing information in the aftermath of the bombing, information that pointed more towards Islamic terrorism rather than to the Basque separatist terrorist movement ETA as the government had been saying.

The train bombings continued to be routinely described as terrorist attacks.

 —A year after the attacks, Michele Norris (All Things Considered March 10 , 2005) described the detention of 150 "terrorist suspects" – not militants.

 —On that same segment, Jerome Socolovsky spoke of "Basque terrorists" and on Morning Edition (March 11, 2005), reporter Socolosky repeatedly used the term terrorist to describe the attack and other "Islamist terrorist plots."

—In a segment reporting on the London bombings on July 8, 2005 (Talk of the Nation), Michele Norris described how the bombings brought back memories in Spain where "terrorists attacked commuter trains in Madrid." Reporter Jerome Socolovsky described the perpetrators as terrorist five times in the piece, and used no other word to describe them.

—In a retrospective piece earlier this year, Renee Montagne reported that "some 200 suspected Islamist terrorists have been arrested since March 2004 when militants blew up commuter trains in the worst terrorist attack in the country’s history." ( Morning Edition January 23, 2006)

Indonesia Bombings

After the bombings on Bali on October 1, 2005, Both Linda Wertheimer and Michael Sullivan used the word terrorist to describe the attacks. Sullivan reported on Weekend Edition (October 2) that "it looks like this is the work of the Southeast Asian terrorist group known as Jemaah Islamiyah," and that "Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, warned just last month that the terrorists were still out there and that they were still planning and plotting and recruiting, and were planning on carrying out another attack."

Sinai Bombings

Several bombings of Egyptian resorts were also described in a consistent manner as terrorist attacks.

—Scott Simon on Weekend Edition (July 23, 2005) reported:

The worst terrorist attack ever on Egyptian soil has killed at least 88 people." On Weekend All Things Considered (July 23), Jackie Lyden reported "Egypt's deadliest terror attack ever has killed dozens of people and wounded even more.

—Ron Northam used the word terrorist to describe the attack later that day on Weekend Edition and two days later on Morning Edition.

Amman Bombings

On Morning Edition (November 10, 2005) Dale Gavlak reported that "outside the Grand Hyatt, an impromptu rally of 100 Jordanians shouted their defiance of the terrorists' acts that just took place" following the bombing there.

Russian School Massacre

Those who perpetrated the horrific massacre of Russian school children in Beslan were aptly described as terrorists. A report by Jacki Lyden on All Things Considered on July 24, 2005 described how "it's been nearly a year since the deadly terrorist attack on a school in southern Russia...Now a young Chechen has gone on trial. The government says he's the sole surviving terrorist."

Similarly, attacks in Saudi Arabia and bombings in Turkey were described as terrorist attacks and its perpetrators, terrorists.

But when it comes to Palestinian attacks on Israeli civilians, NPR reporters scrupulously avoid the "terrorist" label. When the term is used in reference to a Palestinian group, it is routinely preceded by a qualifier like, "designated as" or "listed as" or "described by the United States as," emphasizing NPR's neutral stance on the appropriateness of describing suicide bombers of Israeli citizens as terrorists.

Bombings in Israel

Following a suicide bombing in Netanya, Linda Gradstein, speaking on All Things Considered (July 12, 2005) reported that "a suicide bomber today blew himself up among a group of teenagers at a mall in the Israeli coastal city of Netanya. Police say the attacker killed three people in addition to himself; dozens of people were wounded. Police say the bomber was a young Palestinian and a member of Islamic Jihad... News reports say the Palestinian militant group known as Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the attack."

It is not clear to which news reports she refers as she does not specify. However, Israeli news reports uniformly describe the perpetrators as terrorists and the groups that spawn them are similarly described. The Israeli Foreign Ministry described the bomber as a terrorist, and both Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and Foreign Secretary Jack Straw used the word terror to describe the act.

Gradstein’s reporting illustrates the multitude of terms NPR reporters employ to avoid directly calling Palestinian terrorists and their organizations what they are. Instead the favored terms are: "suicide bomber," "attacker," "bomber," "member," "militant group."

In a February 27, 2005 Weekend Edition segment following a suicide bombing, Gradstein described the small and singularly focused terror organization Islamic Jihad as "the Damascus-based Islamic Jihad movement." Movements is a vague term frequently used to describe political causes and not the best word to describe a relatively small clandestine group consisting of suicide killers and their enablers. Later in the report she refers to the two most active Palestinian terror organizations, Hamas and Islamic Jihad simply as "Palestinian groups."Gradstein is not alone in avoiding the term terrorist to describe Palestinian terrorists. On All Things Considered (December 5, 2005), host Robert Siegel reported on a Palestinian suicide bombing at a shopping mall in Netanya. Reporting that Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the attack, Siegel prefers the term "radical group" which is probably an improvement over what reporter Eric Westervelt opted for in the same report, describing those who bragged about blowing up civilians as the "militant group Islamic Jihad."
 
Similarly, following a suicide bombing that killed an elderly couple and two children, Talk of the Nation ( March 20, 2006) reported that the "Palestinian rejectionist group" Islamic Jihad had claimed responsibility.

But it is perhaps Robert Siegel who surpasses all his colleagues in gently describing Islamic Jihad members as "armed activists."

It is left to Israeli officials or occasional guest commentators to describe Islamic Jihad or Hamas in an unqualified manner as terrorists after a suicide bombing. On occasion Linda Gradstein uses the word "terror" when paraphrasing an official's comments or on rare occasions to describe in a general way Palestinian attacks against Israel. For example, she reported that former Mossad director David Kimche said "the current debate reminds him of the 1970s, when Fatah and other factions within the Palestine Liberation Organization took responsibility for dozens of terrorist attacks."(All Things Considered, January 19, 2006)

Replacing Terrorist with Militant

But there are even instances when NPR changes the wording used by officials condemning Palestinian terror organizations in order to avoid describing them as terrorists. This is a practice CAMERA has previously documented.

On All Things Considered ( October 26, 2005) again following a suicide bombing killing Israeli civilians, Eric Westervelt reported that the "The Bush administration condemned the bombing and urged the Palestinian Authority to disarm militant groups."

In fact, White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan, on October 26th, said, "The Palestinian Authority needs to do more to end the violence and prevent terrorist attacks from being carried out. The terrorist attacks that take place only undermine the leadership of President Abbas and undermine his principle of one authority, one law, one gun."

Likewise, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack’s statement reported by Voice of America on October 29th was:

"Regarding the current situation, we -- you know, we -- yesterday we condemned the terrorist attack in Hadera. There is no political cause that justifies the use of terror. We also talked about the importance of the Palestinian Authority acting to prevent terror and also to dismantle terrorist networks...She urged the Palestinian Authority to act against terrorist groups."

McCormack used the word terrorist and terror five times in that brief statement. The word ‘militant’ does not appear in either statement.

This example of altering the words of an official is not an isolated instance. On an All Things Considered segment that aired on June 21, 2005, Linda Gradstein reported that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon "told Abbas that Israel will continue to work against the militant group Islamic Jihad." But according to the New York Times, Sharon said, "A situation in which the terror organizations operate and are not threatened will not continue."

What lies behind the discriminatory terminology? Are Israelis different from other victims of terrorist attacks?

From time to time even NPR commentators appear aware of the inequitable application of "terror" terminology.

Robert Siegel interviewed a leading member of the Muslim community in Britain, Lord Nazir Ahmed, to discuss the reaction of the Muslim community to the London bombings (All Things Considered July 25, 2005). The exchange between Siegel and Ahmed sheds some light on the controversy behind describing perpetrators of acts of terror against Israel as terrorists.

Robert Siegel: Earlier this month, after the July 7th bombings, a group of imams and Muslim scholars met in London and declared that the bombers had violated the Koran by killing innocent civilians; they were not martyrs. And then in a press conference, they were pressed to say the same of suicide bombings in Iraq or Israel, and they wouldn't do so. The head of the World Islamic League described instead a special case for people trying to defend themselves from occupiers. Are you comfortable with that distinction, or does it ultimately put you on a slippery slope of justifying blowing up a bus full of people just provided they're not the people in your city?

Lord Ahmed: As far as I'm concerned, the bomber in Iraq is a terrorist and a bomber that is in London is a terrorist, too.

Siegel: And the bomber in a Jerusalem bus, as well, or no?

Lord Ahmed: Well, it all depends on circumstances. But those who kill innocent people in buses are also terrorists, as far as I'm concerned.

Siegel did not press Lord Ahmed as to whether Israeli civilians - men, women and children - riding on buses should be regarded as "innocent."

It is a fair question to ask why NPR refuses to use the word terrorist to describe the deliberate murder of innocent Israeli civilians when it routinely uses this term to describe similar attacks against Londoners, Spanish commuters, vacationers in Egypt and others. How are the intended victims of Palestinian terror groups like Islamic Jihad, Al-Aksa Martyrs Brigade and Hamas – Israeli women, children, commuters, shoppers and lunch crowds – any different than the victims of terrorist attacks perpetrated outside of Israel?


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