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Media Analyses





NPR's Letter of Protest to CAMERA, and CAMERA's Reply


Bruce Drake, NPR’s Vice President for News, sent a letter to CAMERA on August 9 protesting that a recent article on our website had included a “serious distortion of NPR’s policies and practices” regarding which of NPR’s Middle East broadcasts are available on the network’s website. We do not agree with Mr. Drake’s allegation. Below is the relevant section of Mr. Drake’s letter, followed by CAMERA’s reply:

... I am writing to you concerning a serious distortion of NPR’s policies and practices that appeared in Mr. Safian's August 1 posting.

He wrote, as he has before, that "to prevent any of NPR's predictable evasions, such as that the above quotes were actually paraphrases or were taken out of context, the full transcript of the NPR report is reprinted below (and contrary to NPR's claim that its Middle East transcripts are available on its website, this is yet another transcript that is omitted from the network's website)."

NPR has clearly disclosed on its website, on the entry page to the Mideast transcript, the following, and this disclosure has been there for some time:

"Due to the intense interest of NPR listeners in events in the Mideast, NPR will make available -- at no charge -- the transcripts and audio of reports about the Mideast produced by NPR in its newsmagazines and talk shows. As a service to listeners, NPR transcribes Morning Edition(r), All Things Considered(r), Weekend Edition Saturday, Weekend Edition Sunday, Talk of the Nation and Fresh Air. We do not transcribe other programs or hourly newscasts because it is cost prohibitive. "

In both instances that CAMERA has insinuated that NPR has selectively omitted transcripts for the purpose of distorting the record, the material in question has been a news spot that aired in the newscast headline segment of our program stream. NPR produces nearly 40 newscasts a day on an around-the-clock, 7 day-a-week schedule and the cost, as we state clearly on our site, it is in fact cost-prohibitive for us presently to have all of these transcribed. But that issue aside, our disclosure is clear.

I urge you to set the record straight. I look forward to hearing from you about this matter. If you are not the proper person with whom to address this, please pass it on to whomever it is.

Thank you,

Bruce Drake
Vice President for News

CAMERA replies:

We reject Mr. Drake’s claim that we have ever “insinuated that NPR has selectively omitted transcripts for the purpose of distorting the record.” This misrepresents the CAMERA concern which is that the network has led many reporters and other interested parties to believe that all of NPR’s Middle East coverage is archived on its website.

Indeed, when we have criticized certain broadcasts that do not make it to NPR’s archive, we have received outraged e-mails from individuals asserting that we must have made up the report in question, since it did not appear on the network’s website. That is precisely why we have begun pointing out that not all of the broadcasts are available on NPR’s site.

But it is understandable that many listeners believe that transcripts of all of NPR’s Middle East broadcasts are available, because many newspaper reports claim exactly that, as do an Aug. 15, 2003 column in the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles by NPR President and CEO Kevin Klose and a letter on NPR’s website by Klose, dated August 13, 2003.

First the newspaper reports, most of which were likely initiated by NPR itself (ie, coverage of an NPR event in which it defends its Mideast coverage). Note that there there is no evidence NPR has ever tried to correct any of these reports. 

Here are a few examples of such reports (emphasis added):

1. October 10, 2002 The Jewish Chronicle (Pittsburgh)

THE GREAT DEBATE: Panel; Media does its best to stay objective in coverage

In his opening statement, Klose explained how NPR covers the Middle East and some of the difficulties of covering it.

There is a minimum of two interpretations of every event that happens in the very small, tense, emotionally charged area, he said. "We are trying to tell both sides of the story."

He also explained some of the limitations of the radio format. Radio being continuous and ephemeral, people can miss words, context, entire programs and follow up stories, he said.

As a solution, NPR has made transcripts and audio of all of its Mideast coverage since May available on its Web site, npr.org.

2. August 5, 2002 USA TODAY

Do U.S. media tilt Mideast news?
by Samuel G. Freedman (associate dean, Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism)

Any journalist, or news organization, deserves to have its feet kept to the fire by close, incisive analysis; CAMERA's pressure on NPR surely played a major part in the network's decision to have Klose address Hadassah and to make transcripts and audio of all of its Middle East stories available on its Web site.

3. July 31, 2002 The Post-Standard (Syracuse, NY)

Chief of NPR Aims for Younger Listeners, Charges of Liberal Bias Are Untrue, Says Kevin Klose During Syracuse Visit

Klose acknowledged NPR makes mistakes and corrects them on the air. But much of the criticism NPR gets, he said, occurs automatically because the network tackles controversial issues, from gun control to homophobia.

"Critics might not pause to figure out what we've actually put on the air and simply say, "Oh, they've done another series advocating gun control.' We're not advocating anything," he said. "There are other lively issues. ... And they are sometimes an uncomfortable place to be perhaps, but we see it as part of our responsibility to say what's going on in society."

On its Web site, www.npr.org, NPR has begun posting audio clips and transcripts of its Mideast coverage to prove how balanced NPR has been in covering that conflict, Klose said.

4. July 24, 2002 Jewish Telegraphic Agency

Media panel shows the heat of Jews' passions on Mideast coverage

Indeed, the possibility of "useful dialogue" is precisely what drew him to the convention, Klose said. Scribbling notes furiously during the question-and-answer session, Klose kept his cool when responding and offered his business cards, phone number and e-mail to the crowd to continue the discussion. Since May, NPR has responded to complaints of unfair coverage by posting transcripts of its Middle East reportage on its Web site.

5. June 28, 2002 Cleveland Jewish News

NPR chief defends Mideast coverage

Klose further noted that listeners are unlikely to catch all of NPR's coverage of a particular issue. Instead, he says, many listeners judge the network "biased" based on a single story. Even worse, in his view, they rely on media-watch organizations, like the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA), that tracks anti-Israel slants in mainstream reporting.

"These third-party groups try to keep scorecards using rules that nobody is privy to," said Klose, after several audience members cited CAMERA's critical analysis of NPR. "We have nothing to hide. Go to our Web site, read the transcripts and see for yourself."

6. June 12, 2002 Jewish Telegraphic Agency

NPR reaches out to Jews and Arabs to assuage critics of Mideast coverage

Dvorkin told JTA he spoke recently in a synagogue in Maryland where he heard from "a lot of angry people," but in a visit to the Miami Jewish federation he said people seemed to understand NPR's efforts to be fair.

Last month, the NPR Web site started posting full transcripts of its reports from the Middle East so people could see the full text, officials said.

7. May 26, 2002 Chicago Tribune

Pro-Israel groups take aim at U.S. news media

Early this month, NPR began posting on its Web site transcripts of all of its reports from the Middle East so listeners could judge for themselves what was reported.

8. March 24, 2003 Time Magazine

National Prosperous Radio

Supporters of Israel have criticized NPR's treatment of that country, and NPR, trying to show its balance, made transcripts of its Middle East coverage available free on its website.

10. February 1, 2003 The Quill (Society of Professional Journalists)

A story of conflict: coverage of fighting in the Middle East has brought war to many newsrooms

To help clear up misunderstandings and to deal with demands for more context, NPR has taken the extraordinary step of posting transcripts of all its coverage on www.npr.org.

"In many instances where I have engaged ... a writer in an exchange, it turned out the writer did not listen to NPR," said NPR's Bruce Drake.

********

There are other similar examples, but the point should be clear. And, to repeat, there is no evidence at all that NPR ever contacted any of these outlets to correct the record. Which is why so many people believe that all the coverage is available, and why we have pointed out that this is not so.

In addition, the disclaimer that Mr. Drake cites notwithstanding (which few people have apparently noticed), NPR’s website is actually quite deceptive on this matter. For example, on the most-widely-viewed home (or opening) page, there is the following statement:

NPR's Mideast Coverage: Audio, Transcripts

Because of intense interest in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, NPR makes free transcripts and streaming audio of its coverage available online. This includes the seven-part series, The Mideast: A Century of Conflict, broadcast in 2002 on Morning Edition.

Notice that it says “free transcripts and streaming audio of its coverage,” not “of some of its coverage.” Nowhere on the homepage does NPR warn that newscasts are not available.

Moreover, in an August 15, 2003 column in the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles–just a few days after Drake sent his letter of complaint to CAMERA–NPR President Kevin Klose states that:

Second, for listeners to have an informed opinion on our coverage, it is important that they have access to all of NPR’s stories in their entirety. That’s why we post on our Web site all stories dealing with conflict in the Middle East.

Likewise, in an open letter on NPR’s website, dated August 13, 2003, and dealing with the network’s coverage of the Middle East, Klose states that:

In addition to posting all of our transcripts online in one place, we have expanded that special section on NPR.org ...  

At the end of this six page letter, in a footnote to another statement in the letter, Mr. Klose states that NPR does not transcribe newscasts.  But the statement quoted above, which essentially says the opposite, and is on the first page, gives no hint that there is such a footnote. 

In addition, in an earlier letter Mr. Klose stated that all Middle East coverage “carried on our newsmagazines” is freely available on the site. Since most people hear the hourly and half-hourly news reports while listening to the newsmagazines, who can blame them for concluding that all reports, including the news reports, are available?

Here is the relevant portion from Mr. Klose’s letter:

Recognizing that many listeners often may hear only snippets or small portions of our comprehensive coverage, NPR has developed a specific area of our Web site, npr.org, where we have in one place put all audio and transcripts of NPR's Mideast coverage carried on our newsmagazines in the past year and made them available to our listeners free of charge, contrary to our normal practice.

A further question to consider is why transcripts of the newscasts are not available on NPR’s website. According to Mr. Drake this is because “NPR produces nearly 40 newscasts a day on an around-the-clock, 7 day-a-week schedule and ... as we state clearly on our site, it is in fact cost-prohibitive for us presently to have all of these transcribed.”

Why it is possible to transcribe even very lengthy programs like Talk of the Nation, when the subject is the Middle East, but not a one minute news segment on the Middle East, is not at all clear, despite Mr. Drake’s explanation. Moreover, even if the newscasts are not going to be transcribed, why are they not available in NPR’s audio archive, like the rest of the network’s programming? Especially in light of the fact that the newscasts are available online in steaming audio until they are replaced by the next newscast. So why not archive these newscasts and render the issue moot?

Finally, in light of Mr. Klose’s extremely deceptive assertions, perhaps, instead of sending notes to CAMERA, Mr. Drake should send a note to his boss. And, since we printed the relevant portions of Mr. Drake’s criticism on our website, and offered a lengthy and detailed answer, will NPR now print CAMERA’s criticism on its website?


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