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Media Analyses

EYE ON THE MEDIA: NPR Distorts Even Its Bias

The old saw about not picking fights with newspapers – since they buy ink by the barrel – applies equally to challenging a powerful tax-funded radio network that holds sway on the air waves. A recent pre-recorded and scandalously edited exchange between CAMERA and National Public Radio, produced by an NPR affiliate station, underscores the pitfalls of expecting fair play from a media outlet under fire for its Middle East coverage.

NPR’s “On The Media,” ostensibly a program devoted to candid examination of media issues, sent reporter Philip Martin to investigate the intensifying complaints that NPR dispenses skewed and inaccurate anti-Israel coverage. In interviews with CAMERA officials, and with one of several former NPR underwriters who have ended corporate advertising on the network because of its anti-Israel bias, Martin pre-taped detailed commentary.

The discrepancy between what was actually said in those interviews and what was edited for broadcast on December 22 and 23 is testimony to NPR’s determination to suppress documented criticism of the network.

For example, CAMERA representatives (whose interview was taped also by CAMERA) explained that NPR had regularly deflected detailed complaints about error and distortion in specific segments with the assertion that over time the network’s reporting on the Arab-Israeli conflict is balanced and fair. It was recounted that NPR claimed to have done a review of two months of coverage in the fall of 2000 and to have found a near-perfect balance in presenting contending Israeli and Palestinian perspectives. In response, CAMERA undertook its own two-month analysis. But whereas NPR identified 50 odd speakers in its “study,” divided equitably between the parties, CAMERA identified 350 speakers and found a gaping disparity in the time afforded to Israeli and pro-Israeli speakers compared to that provided the Arab and pro-Arab speakers. The pro-Arab speakers received 77% more time.

More dramatic still was the disproportionate number of segments that included only pro-Arab speakers and excluded entirely any pro-Israel voices as compared to the many fewer reports that omitted altogether Arab speakers. The Arab-speakers-only segments were almost twice as numerous (41 to 24) and four times as long (18,321 words spoken on the air versus 4,934). The reporter was given a copy of the CAMERA study.

All this was described in the taping; none of it was aired.

But a journalism professor was heard in the broadcast declaring that NPR’s Middle East coverage is balanced if reviewed over time. He offered no evidence for his assertion.

Martin asked what recent, specific objections CAMERA had about the coverage. The reporter was handed a copy of a CAMERA letter to NPR president Kevin Klose dated November 26 protesting a November 24 segment by reporter Linda Gradstein. The essentials of that letter were described in the interview.

The Gradstein story was devoted entirely to deploring Israel’s preventing certain Palestinians from harvesting olives. Although the report ran longer than five minutes, it was devoid of any explanation by Israeli officials or mainstream Israeli speakers that olive groves have been used as cover for ambushes and sniper-fire against Israelis. The omission of this crucial information was clearly noted in the off-air interview.

Indeed, Martin himself reiterated the CAMERA point during the taping, saying: “So, in other words, again just so listeners understand this, what youre saying is that here you have a story ostensibly – in the frame of reference of the reporter – about Palestinians attempting to go about their lives, picking crops, olives in this case, and there seems to be a dissociation from the security – the realistic security issues that are a part of the story and you’re saying that part of the story is not elucidated. Is that correct?’

Neither this Martin comment nor any CAMERA statement faulting NPR for its omission of Israeli security concerns made it onto the air.

Similarly outrageous, CAMERA’s specific – and taped – objection that the same segment contained a “material error” was edited by NPR to repeat the error without the CAMERA rebuttal. NPR had claimed Jewish settlers “shot dead” an 18-year-old Palestinian girl “as she picked olives.” In fact, as the New York Times and myriad other media reported, the young woman was killed accidentally by soldiers in a firefight triggered by Palestinians shooting at Israelis. Although CAMERA has urged an on-air correction, as of this writing, more than a month after alerting NPR to the error, the segment is uncorrected.

Martin asked about NPR’s response to such criticism. CAMERA observed that the network evades accountability and refuses to address substantive concerns. This exchange was likewise excluded from the broadcast.

In the taped interview, CAMERA also described in detail the continuing NPR blacklisting of terrorism expert Steven Emerson. This important issue was raised as well by the former underwriter in his lengthy interview with Martin. Emerson’s work includes the prescient 1994 documentary “Jihad in America,” which demonstrated the inroads of radical Islam in America’s open society. The explosive matter of the banning of Emerson was excised entirely from the broadcast.

The “On The Media” segment was supposed to look honestly at the single most contentious aspect of NPR’s reporting, a subject that is increasingly causing the network to lose public support and may prompt renewed Congressional inquiry into NPR’s non-compliance with requirements of fairness and accuracy in tax-supported media. Instead, NPR’s “On the Media” simply purveyed the same distortion and anti-Israel bias characteristic of the network’s broadcasts generally, underscoring the depth of NPR’s dereliction.


Appeared in the Jerusalem Post on January 4, 2002

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