As America undertakes an unprecedented war in response to the terror attacks of September 11, the public's need for informed, objective media coverage of key Middle East issues and players is critical. A tax-supported network bears special responsibility to provide such thorough information.
Yet listeners to National Public Radio will once again find reports tainted by distortion and omission of essential background. Segments repeatedly give a one-sided platform to Arab insistence that Israel must be blamed and pressured because of the atrocity against America. On September 23, NPR's Liane Hansen interviewed Jordanian journalist Rami Khouri. She did not even blink at Khouri's premise that Israel and America had wronged the Arabs. Instead, implying agreement, she asked if Khouri thought the new war on terrorism might "force the Bush administration to change its stance toward Israel." And so it went through the interview - which included no one to present Israel's position.
The same day, NPR's Anne Garrels reported on Egypt's role and attitudes as America sought to build a coalition against the terrorists. Garrels spoke of anti-American feeling in Egypt and interviewed two members of the Egyptian media who amplified the Egyptian public's grievances against the US. Absent from the segment was any hint by Garrels of the strident anti-American invective that is a staple of the Egyptian media and consistently serves to whip up anti-American sentiment.
Such media hostility pre-dated the September 11 attack and continued after it. For example, as the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) reports, journalist Mahmoud Abd Al-Mun'im Murad wrote in the government- sponsored newspaper Al-Akhbar last February that Secretary of State Colin Powell "has the brain of a bird" and is "stupid" and "a liar," and renewed his vituperative attacks in August. Just 14 days before the assault on America, Murad declared: "The Statue of Liberty in New York harbor, must be destroyed..." He added that the "age of the American collapse has begun," and "The US, including the American people and the Israeli people, has rightly become Enemy No. 1 of the nations." In other papers and magazines, America was said to be synonymous with "oppression," and President Bush was ridiculed as "little Bush" who is turning America into a "racist state." The chronic anti- American commentary turned in many Egyptian media, including government-sponsored media, into outright celebration after the deaths of thousands in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania.
Columnists gloated. In Akhbar Al-Youm, Ahmad Ragab wrote that Americans had always felt safe and had sought vicarious fears in Hollywood movies, but now had only to "lift (their) head and see a passenger plane in the sky to be deadly afraid." Ali Al-Sayyed in the weekly Al-Ahram Al- Arabi crowed that "A cook who concocts poison must one day also taste that poison." So grotesque was the response to the carnage in America that an abashed Egyptian film critic wrote to London's Arabic newspaper Al Hayat in gratitude for a pro-American column that had appeared there. He wrote: "Blessings to the intellectual columnist Muhammad Ali Farahat for his article. I say to Farahat that I felt ashamed while reading most, if not all, of the commentary (on the terrorist attacks), primarily in the Egyptian press. But your article somewhat alleviated this feeling ...All that was lacking (in the Arab world following the attacks) were parades in the Arab towns and cities (whose marchers) call out the infamous and base motto, 'Our soul and our blood we will give to thee, Oh bin Laden.' Most, if not all, of what I read proves that the poison of the undemocratic military Arab regimes... has also entered the bloodstream of the (intellectual) 'elite'... These (people) no longer see the killing of innocents and destruction for its own sake as disgraceful.
What murky future awaits this region of the world? When and how will it be possible to restore belief in freedom, respect for the individual, and respect for human life... The phrase you wrote, Mr. Farahat - 'the destruction of America is the destruction of the human dream across the world' - is monumental. How right you are!
Every National Public Radio reporter and editor should have MEMRI's translations of what is written and said in the Arabic media as required reading. And so should every member of the boards of NPR. Perhaps then Americans who turn to NPR for enlightenment would actually begin to get it.
Appeared in the Jerusalem Post on this date