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Media Analyses





NPR Lament: Palestinians Watching Sesame Street Reruns


CAMERA has documented extensively NPR's advocacy on behalf of Palestinian views and grievances. A glaring example of NPR's selective bias in the stories it carries was evident in its decision to air a 4 minute segment on All Things Considered (Jan. 17, 2012) about Palestinian children being deprived of a new season of Sesame Street programming because of a delay in U.S. funding, while ignoring the public call to murder the Jews by the Palestinian Authority's most prominent religious official.
 
The All Things Considered segment, introduced by Robert Siegel and reported by Daniel Estrin, claims House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is punishing Palestinian children by withholding funds for production of new segments of the Palestinian Sesame Street, Shara'a Simsim. This followed an earlier article on the same topic (Jan. 7) by the Associated Press published on NPR's Web Site. Compounding NPR's skewed judgement in focusing intensively on such a minor issue, the public radio network also failed to place the story in its essential context regarding the large amount of aid the U.S. provided to the Palestinians in 2011.
 
Ros-Lehtinen held back $190 million of USAID funds designated for projects in the West Bank and Gaza Strip because of the recent Palestinian decision to bypass negotiations and pursue statehood in the UN and her concerns with how U.S. funds were being utilized. A small portion of this money (about $2.5 million) has for several years supported the production of the Palestinian version of Sesame Street.
 
Ros-Lehtinen's motive in withholding the funding is phrased deceptively. Estrin reports: 
She told lawmakers that the U.S. should not support Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who decided to ask the United Nations to recognize an independent state of Palestine. She said Abbas should be negotiating the matter with Israel instead.
The NPR reporter makes it seem Ros-Lehtinen is pronouncing a new demand on the Palestinians, when, of course, she's echoing Hillary Clinton, the State Department and the Obama administration in deploring the Palestinians' U.N. gambit. NPR quotes Ros-Lehtinen saying that "by providing the Palestinians with $2.5 billion over the last 5 years, the U.S. has only rewarded and reinforced their bad behavior." But NPR does not report that in 2011, the U.S. gave the Palestinians $800 million dollars in aid.  (See full Jan 17 transcript below)
 
While revealing the funds were held up due to the Palestinian Authority's decision to try to bypass direct negotiations with Israel and instead go to the UN to gain statehood recognition, NPR fails to adequately explain the full reasons for Ros-Lehtinen's action. According to the Congresswoman's spokesman, Brad Goehner, the decision by the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority in the West Bank to engage in unity talks with Hamas, deemed a terrorist group by the U.S., was also a factor.
 
NPR also obscures the fact that in reality most of the funds originally withheld have been released. Toward the end of the piece, NPR notes that $40 million of the remaining withheld funds were released for "healthcare, infrastructure and other programs," but gloomily recounts that "its doubtful that the Palestinian Sesame Street will get a piece of the pie."
 
In fact the story is not new news, Washington Jewish Week reported on Nov. 10, 2011 that after receiving assurances from President Barack Obama that "releasing the money was in the national security interest of the United States; that Israel had no objection to releasing the funds; and that Salam Fayyad, the P.A. prime minister who is trusted by Western leaders, would retain control of the funds," Ros-Lehtinen agreed in November to release $200 million to pay the salaries of Palestinian officials and fund security operations. $40 million of the remaining withheld funds were approved for release as well.
 
Much of the NPR coverage in articles and on the air includes statements meant to evoke sympathy, like puppeteer Rajai Sandouka's comment: "My daughter, she told me, when are you going to make a new one [Sesame Street segment]? I've - always, I see it, and I remember everything. I want to see something new. I don't know what I tell her."
 
Nowhere is the question raised as to why it is the responsibility of United States taxpayers to ensure Palestinian children don't have to suffer through reruns of Sesame Street.
 
Apparently, what riles NPR is that in its view Palestinian Sesame Street is being treated unfairly because "While Congress has turned off the tap for Palestinian Sesame Street, the U.S. is helping support a new season of Israeli Sesame Street." Of course, NPR's Daniel Estrin doesn't bother to point out that Congress is not seeking to penalize Israel for circumventing peace efforts because Israel has continued to extend its hand towards the Palestinians, only to be rebuffed time and again.
 
There are other angles to this story that NPR could have delved into.  CIF Watch, a web site that critiques the Guardian's coverage of Israel, noted a recent report by Palestinian Media Watch revealing that the Palestinian Authority pays jailed terrorists and their families the equivalent of over $51 million per year, $4.3 million per month, and $788 per month per prisoner. CIF Watch suggested that instead of paying terrorists, the Palestinian Authority could fund Sesame Street. A recently published report by the Congressional Research Service reveals that while U.S. funding for the Palestinians has doubled from what it was just 7 years ago, donations from Arab states have declined precipitously. One wonders why NPR does not do a story on this aspect of Palestinian aid.
 
Meanwhile the more recent call to genocide by the Palestinian Authority's chief cleric, the Mufti, was not deemed newsworthy. The Mufti's words are similar to those that appear in the Hamas Charter, warning that "The Hour [of Resurrection] will not come until you fight the Jews. The Jew will hide behind stones or trees. Then the stones or trees will call: 'Oh Muslim, servant of Allah, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him."
 
The prominence NPR gave to the Sesame Street story reflects the herd mentality of much of the mainstream media's coverage of the Middle East. With all the significant events occurring in the region, spiraling violence in Syria, transformation in Egypt and North Africa, Iranian belligerence, this relatively trivial story appeared first in Al Arabiya and the Associated Press, and was then amplified by NPR, CBS news, ABC news, the Guardian, BBC and numerous other news outlets. Predictably, coverage of the Mufti's incitement to murder has been ignored (as of Jan. 26, 2012) by these same outlets with the exception of the Associated Press wire service.
 
 
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Transcript of All Things Considered Segment : 'F' is for Funding, Which Palestinian Muppets Lack

AUDIE CORNISH: From NPR News, it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

ROBERT SIEGEL: And I'm Robert Siegel.

Call it Muppet diplomacy. There are about two dozen versions of " Sesame Street " around the world, and one of them is now on pause. A U.S. lawmaker has frozen funding for Palestinian " Sesame Street ," along with other projects in the West Bank and Gaza, despite objections from the Obama administration. The freeze is meant to protest the Palestinians' bid for statehood recognition at the United Nations. From Ramallah, Daniel Estrin reports that Palestinian producers are hoping sunny days will sweep the politics away.

DANIEL ESTRIN: This used to be a busy time of year for "Shara'a Simsim," the Palestinian version of " Sesame Street ." Producers and educators will be choosing the words of the day for the upcoming season. Writers would be brainstorming ideas around a large conference table. Project director Laila Sayegh says everyone would be working long days.

LAILA SAYEGH: From the morning, like 8 until 6 o'clock in the evening, usually. And now, as you see, it's empty. We have nothing.

DANIEL ESTRIN: The U.S. government was set to donate $2.5 million for three more seasons of the show. But in October, the chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee placed a hold on about $190 million earmarked for projects in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. That means no money to produce "Shara'a Simsim."

LAILA SAYEGH: Nobody believes that the reason is logical. You're working on education, on fun stuff, on kids; educating kids and families. So it was very sad for everybody.

DANIEL ESTRIN: Today, the writing workshop room is bare. The Muppets have been sent to New York for repairs. Saed Andoni, the show's line producer, sits in a small office, staring at a laptop. So what are you doing now that there's no funding for a new show? What are you - what do you do every day?

SAED ANDONI: Actually, we don't do anything.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAED ANDONI: Yeah. Surfing the Net, reading news, keeping the hope that we can stay together because, otherwise, everybody will have to go in his own way.

DANIEL ESTRIN: Saed is keeping the staff on half salaries and reduced hours. They have some leftover funding to work on projects like making jigsaw puzzles for preschoolers. Palestinian TV is airing reruns, but kids are getting sick of the same old programming, says puppeteer Rajai Sandouka, as he slouched in an office chair, fingering prayer beads.

RAJAI SANDOUKA: For example, my daughter, she told me, when are you going to make a new one? I've - always, I see it, and I remember everything. I want to see something new. I don't know what I tell her.

DANIEL ESTRIN: The lawmaker who ordered the hold on funding is Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican from Florida. She told lawmakers that the U.S. should not support Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who decided to ask the United Nations to recognize an independent state of Palestine. She said Abbas should be negotiating the matter with Israel instead.

ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN: By providing the Palestinians with $2.5 billion over the last five years, the U.S. has only rewarded and reinforced their bad behavior.

DANIEL ESTRIN: The U.S. did give $200 million in direct aid to the Palestinian Authority last year; it's the funding for local NGOs that's on hold. Last month, Congress released $40 million of those funds. But with infrastructure and health care programs waiting for money, it's doubtful Palestinian " Sesame Street " will get a piece of the pie.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Three, two and action.

DANIEL ESTRIN: While Congress has turned off the tap for Palestinian " Sesame Street ," the U.S. is helping support a new season of Israeli " Sesame Street ." The State Department awarded $750,000 to a local nonprofit to team up with the Israeli show and develop classroom activities. A spokeswoman for the State Department says the grant is unrelated to funding for the Palestinian show. The cast includes an Arab Muppet, a wheelchair-bound Muppet and one familiar red character.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (as Israeli Elmo) Hello, American radio.

DANIEL ESTRIN: Hi. Who are you?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (as Israeli Elmo) I'm Israeli Elmo.

DANIEL ESTRIN: Palestinian producers are saying it's not fair that Israeli kids get to see new " Sesame Street " programming while Palestinian kids don't. Danny Labin, an executive at the Israeli TV channel that co-produces the show, agrees " Sesame Street " shouldn't be politicized.

DANNY LABIN: Children, no matter who they are, no matter where they're from, should not be penalized because of the politicians over which children have no control.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (as Israeli Elmo) (Foreign language spoken)

DANIEL ESTRIN: Palestinian producers, like Sayegh, say they're optimistic funding will somehow return.

LAILA SAYEGH: We will continue, and we will survive.

DANIEL ESTRIN: For NPR News, I'm Daniel Estrin.


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