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Media Analyses





NPR's "On the Media" Distorts Interview with CAMERA


National Public Radio is under fire for its distorted reporting on Israel, as everyone familiar with media coverage of the Middle East knows. The controversy has intensified as underwriters have withdrawn their support from NPR affiliates to protest the bias. A network confident of its performance and genuinely open to the "public" would presumably welcome on its own airwaves a full and forthright debate about the controversial issue.

That was supposedly the aim of interviews by an "On the Media" reporter with a former underwriter of an NPR affiliate and with CAMERA's Executive Director and Associate Director. "On The Media" is a weekly program produced by NPR affiliate WNYC in New York. But the final, edited version of the interview (broadcast on NPR December 22 and December 23) with CAMERA officials was marred by the same manipulative anti-Israel tilt so pervasive on the network. You can listen to the report on RealAudio or print out a transcript at the WNYC website.

Although the CAMERA website is provided as a link on the WNYC site, and key information documenting NPR's anti-Israel bias was provided by CAMERA to "On the Media" and NPR, it was entirely ignored by interviewer Philip Martin and program host Brooke Gladstone.

• There is no mention in the segment of the in-depth CAMERA study of NPR's Middle East reporting, even though the study is available on CAMERA's website, was provided directly to NPR and Philip Martin, and was discussed in detail during the lengthy, pre-recorded interview with CAMERA officials. The study looked at hundreds of NPR transcripts in a two-month period and found that NPR presented many more Arab views than Israeli ones. The report also documented errors, distortions and partisan language.

• What was aired about CAMERA's findings? CAMERA Executive Director Andrea Levin is briefly heard commenting that NPR in general is skewed toward the Arab perspective, and then Levin is heard describing only one example -- a November 24th report by Linda Gradstein.

In the pre-recorded interview, Levin had made clear the errors and distortion in the Gradstein segment. Incredibly, however, the rebuttal to the false report was omitted, once again giving listeners an inaccurate account of events. NPR falsely claimed in the November 24 story on Palestinians harvesting olives that Jewish "settlers" had "shot dead" an 18-year-old Palestinian girl who was picking olives with her parents. In fact, the girl was killed when, according to the New York Times and other media outlets, Palestinians initiated violence against Israelis (including planting a bomb and shooting) and Israeli soldiers responded. The young woman was a bystander killed accidentally. All of this was made clear in the interview with Martin, but omitted in the broadcast.

• CAMERA's Levin also explicitly deplored Gradstein's failure to provide the security context in which the Israelis had to restrict Palestinian olive picking. In the actual interview (recorded in its entirety by CAMERA), Philip Martin himself underscores Levin's emphasis on the distorted lack of context.

He said: "So, in other words, again just so listeners understand this, what you're 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?"

Martin's statement was omitted along with all other references to NPR's lack of coverage of Israeli security concerns.

• "On the Media" countered Levin's reference to the Gradstein segment with a comment from the associate dean of a journalism school who said that one can judge balance only by looking at coverage over a period of time, not by looking at a single story. But NPR kept from listeners the fact that CAMERA had reviewed coverage over a period of time and found severe bias.

The associate dean said that looking at the coverage over time, he found NPR to be "fair and balanced." Yet, he gave no evidence for his own claim, no reference, for example, to an in-depth analysis to back up this finding. Thus "On the Media" presented a totally undocumented, uninformed "conclusion" to the public while omitting mention of CAMERA's two-month study substantiating that NPR's coverage over time is skewed toward the Arab perspective. The baseless claim by the associate dean went uncountered, and the public was misled.

• Both CAMERA Associate Director Alex Safian and former WBUR underwriter Hillel Stavis, who was also interviewed, raised at length the issue of NPR's continuing blacklisting of journalist and terrorism expert Steven Emerson. This issue was excluded entirely from the broadcast.

ACTION ITEMS:

1) Write to WNYC's "On the Media" onthemedia@wnyc.org and express your concern about NPR's unfair coverage of Israel. Mention your general concerns or any objectionable recent broadcast you may have heard. For example:

• The December 17th "Talk of the Nation" program focused on Arafat's role and future, presenting a skewed line-up of guest experts, Shibley Telhami and Robert Malley. Telhami is a Palestinian-born commentator who argues the Palestinian vantage point, and Malley is perhaps the chief proponent of the claim that Israel under former Prime Minister Ehud Barak did not, in fact, make an extraordinarily significant offer of land and sovereignty to the Palestinians at Camp David and Taba. That is, his views are consistent with Palestinian ones. James Bennet from the New York Times was interviewed very briefly on a cell phone. Of six callers, three were anti-Israel, two neutral and one pro-Israel.

• Peter Kenyon referred on December 18 in a morning broadcast to "Arab East Jerusalem." This is opinion-laden terminology reflecting the Arab perspective. Eastern Jerusalem is half Jewish in population and is the location of many Israeli historic and religious sites and institutions, including the Western Wall of the Old City, the Jewish Quarter, Hebrew University, and Hadassah Hospital.

2) Protest the failure of "On the Media" to permit full airing of this controversy and call for a live on-air, unedited debate.

3) Remind your own NPR affiliate that you are suspending financial support until NPR desists from its partisan and shoddy coverage of the Middle East. Be clear that you are talking about anti-Israel or pro-Palestinian bias. To find the address for your local affiliate, go to www.npr.org Look at the top of the page, and click on "Find a station."

4) Write to underwriters of your local NPR affiliate to share with them your concerns about anti-Israel bias on NPR, which is in part funded by their donations. Ask them to reconsider their support. Be sure to send a copy of your letter to your NPR affiliate.

5) Let your Members of Congress know you are very concerned that tax dollars continue to be misused in subsidizing biased coverage.

To find your representative's address, go to: www.house.gov To find your senators' e-mail addresses go to: www.senate.gov

6) Please send a blind copy (bcc) to CAMERA: webalerts@aol.com


Complete unedited transcript of NPR's interview with CAMERA Executive Director Andrea Levin and Associate Director Alex Safian -- December 13, 2001

(Most of what follows was deceptively suppressed by "On the Media.")

Philip Martin: I guess the first question is, Andrea, if you can tell me, what is the general complaint over the -- by CAMERA, about NPR's coverage of the Middle-East, that has resulted in numerous reports about that coverage? And letters specifically directed to NPR's executives.

Andrea Levin: Our observation in listening for many years ourselves, and reflecting the concerns of our membership and the general public is that the coverage is tilted largely towards reflecting the Arab or Palestinian perspective on the conflict -- to the detriment of the mainstream Israeli perspective. That is the overarching problem, and it is played out in the form of many segments that have no Israeli voice at all, and it is also reflected in many material errors that go against Israel. So it is ... the broad complaint is, that Israel's case is not fairly and accurately presented on the air.

MARTIN: How would you . . . and I'll get to the substance of that in a second. . . How would you characterize NPR's response to this complaint that both now and secondly over the years?

LEVIN: Well that is a very good question and a very important question. One of the great difficulties has been that we have not found NPR to be responsive in the way that countless other media outlets are, when they're presented with substantive, careful, researched complaints. We've found that once in a rare case there will be a correction, but many, most times there are no corrections for material errors, and many times there was no response at all to our concerns, which are, I have to stress, carefully researched and presented in a respectful way. So that is a very striking problem. And our complaints are not treated seriously in their response.

MARTIN: Has there been any response from NPR about specific, and again I want to get into the substance of this, about specific allegations of bias by CAMERA?

LEVIN: Well, in the case of the story that we complained about last fall -- this is in October of 2000 -- we presented a specific complaint having to do with a broadcast by Jennifer Ludden that claimed that Israel was using tanks, anti-tank weapons, and helicopters, quote "All directed against young kids with stones." None of those armaments were being directed at kids with stones; they were all being directed at snipers, at gunmen shooting at Israelis. We presented that complaint and we were told they were satisfied with that report. We think that was an inappropriate response to that complaint. That we then ran as an ad, taking our concerns to the public, which is often then what we have been compelled to do, not getting a response from them.

MARTIN: What else have you done?

LEVIN: We ran the ad, and the response we got to that, and again this is kind of a typical reaction from NPR, was to say that CAMERA has occasional complaints, but overall NPR's coverage is full, fair and balanced. And they said that they had done their own study, a two-month study, and that they found that everything was just fine. Balance was perfect, evenly presented points-of-view and so on. So we decided, okay, we will do an overlapping, or a similar study and we did a two-month analysis. And whereas they came up with something like 50 speakers, evenly divided, almost perfectly divided, we found over a period of two months, from September 26 to November 26, 350 speakers and far from being evenly divided, they were skewed heavily towards Palestinian points of view. If you broke that down to segments which presented only Palestinian points of view or Arab points of view, there were twice as many segments that excluded entirely any Israeli voice, or pro-Israel voices, and those segments were four times as long. That is to say, Israel got one-quarter of on-air time in segments that had no Arab voices. And that's just to give you an indication of the sort of empirical problems that we have seen. So what we have done is to basically substantiate the problem which is not confined to an occasional problem, but stretches across the coverage generically. 

MARTIN: If you will, let's talk for a second about some other, some specifics post September 11. You have a letter here directed to Kevin Klose in reference to coverage on October, I'm sorry, November 24, and another reference to some other dates. I'm wondering if you could talk about this for a second. What was it about this story, umm, first of all if you could describe the story. What was it about this story that you feel, again, is indicative of the bias of NPR?

LEVIN: This particular story is sort of a very classic NPR presentation. The long-form, not a breaking news story, but an in depth piece, so they weren't under the pressures of time. It dealt with the… going to an olive grove. The reporter, Linda Gradstein, was relating that Palestinians were being prevented from harvesting olives because of Israel's policies, their harsh policies. It was introduced by Scott Simon, who says that this has been a contentious issue, and that in fact settlers had recently, this year, killed an 18 year-old Palestinian girl who was picking olives with her family. And the rest of the piece then is given over to others who are deploring Israeli conduct. To some Israelis from the far left who condemn Israel. In fact there is a material error in the piece. As it happens, the young women, the 18 year-old Palestinian who was killed, was not killed by setters, she was killed in the context of violence that was launched by the Palestinians, and this is borne out in detail in the New York Times piece and many other wire-service stories. Only NPR, in our research, turned up this accusation against the settlers, and omitted the fact that this violence occurred in the context, according to the Times, of the Palestinians planting a bomb. And the Israelis expressed regret for the loss, and said that the Palestinians must understand that putting civilians in the line of fire resulted in these kinds of things. Moreover, in the remainder of the piece the Israelis who are also denouncing Israel are doing so interestingly here in a way that is even more skewed then when these same people are interviewed elsewhere. What I mean by this is that although, for example, Eric Asherman, who is this Rabbi deploring Israel's conduct, in other reports, without fail, says that he understands Israel's security concerns, and then goes on to make his complaint. In the NPR case, there is no such caveat, there is not even a reference to Israel's having security concerns in the context of this story. So the net of this story is that Israel shoots to death an innocent young girl who is picking olives, prevents people from harvesting their crop, and all for no apparent reason, no apparent reason at all. 

MARTIN: So in other words, again just so listeners understand this, what you're saying is that here you have a story ostensibly about, at least 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 disassociation 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. . . ?

LEVIN: That's correct.

MARTIN: . . . Is that correct?

LEVIN: That's correct. That's absolutely right. The context in which Israel would be compelled to prevent someone from reaching an olive grove, which is to say there is some sort of security fence around the community, is entirely absent. And I'm saying that it is manipulative, because even those voices who are invoked here, who are so critical of Israel are elsewhere putting even their criticism in a more nuanced context. This is without context, completely without context, without reference to Israel's perspective, particularly its mainstream, which is a concern for the survival and welfare of its own people.

MARTIN: Let me do this. . . Let me turn to Alex for a second, because I think that, and again correct me if I'm wrong, so one of the things that seems CAMERA has been coming up with reports for years -- I've been looking at the web-site for a week now -- and what seems to be happening in Boston, at least, is that your concerns seem to be catching on with mainstream Jewish audiences and others, can you tell me, what is CAMERA doing to, to basically make known this information and to, uh, if you will, correct some of this information, via the mainstream population?

Alex Safian: Well, we have run ads in various newspapers across the country, in the New York Times, which of course is read here in Boston as well, and across the country. We've also placed ads in other newspapers across the country outlining some of our findings about NPR's coverage, and the result of this has been that people who have supported NPR in the past very substantially, including being underwriters, in other words advertisers on NPR, have started to say that they no longer what to be advertisers. They have canceled their advertising contract through NPR. This has happened in Boston most publicly, and it's also happened elsewhere in the country, and the reason that these people are pulling out from advertising with the local NPR affiliates is because these affiliates pay NPR for the programming. They pay NPR substantial amounts of money for "All Things Considered" and for other NPR programming, and the money that they collect in the local community is how they raise that money. In fact, when they do their fund-raisers that's exactly what they say, they say "pay for 'All Things Considered,' pay for 'Morning Edition' -- contribute to us." And some people are saying, "Well, we'd love to contribute to you, we really like the basic thrust of NPR's programming, and the style, and the format, but we're not happy with the coverage of the Middle-East, so therefore we cannot continue to support you until this is fixed and taken seriously. And they've done that through the local affiliates, which have a great deal of influence over NPR. After all, NPR is more or less a member organization, the members being the affiliates across the country. And the affiliate heads sit on the NPR board, and so somebody like Jane Christo here in Boston who is the head of WBUR, the very prominent NPR affiliate in Boston, has a lot of influence with NPR, which I think she ought to be exercising in order to try to fix this problem. I'm not sure she's done that yet, which is why people here in Boston have cut back on their support for the station. 

MARTIN: Now, this again, this cut-back, for example there was another ad that you had in the New York Times about two years ago, maybe a year ago, I don't remember, you didn't have a response like this. What's different now?

SAFIAN: I think the press of events is what's different. I think people pay more attention to the coverage, when the coverage is more intense itself, when the quantity is greater, and when perhaps the coverage itself seems more anti-Israel. After all, when you have a situation where Israelis are being attacked and are trying to defend themselves as best they can, I think people who follow Middle-East coverage then follow it more closely because things are, things are happening unfortunately, including some very unfortunate things happening, a lot of people getting killed, therefore its gets a lot more attention. I think, also, especially since September 11 people in this country have had to be more realistic about how you deal with terrorist attacks. It's very easy to be abstract about it when we ourselves can view it from a distance, but when we have to view it in our own cities that puts a very different perspective on it, and I think therefore people are concerned about coverage that portrays Israel in a very negative light for trying to defend itself when at the same time the United States is in the same situation trying to defend itself, and being portrayed in quite a different way, by NPR for example.

MARTIN: Well, one of the things that seems have occurred since September 11 is that there seems to be less debate around the term terrorist as opposed freedom fighter, for example. There seems to be more straightforward use of the word terror when a bus explodes in Tel Aviv, or when a bomb goes off in a mall. Is, would you say that's true also of NPR, and does that make a difference in the coverage?

SAFIAN: Well, I don't believe NPR refers to HAMAS and Islamic Jihad as terrorist groups, and they often refer to people who go and shoot Israelis, including in the last few weeks, as militants. In fact they will misconstrue things, they will say "The Israeli Army said, 'Palestinian militants shot up the bus.'" Well that's not what the Israeli Army said. The Israeli Army said Palestinian terrorists shot up a bus, for instance, which happened recently. Uh, but NPR portrays it as militants. Do they use the word terror or terrorism more often now then they did in the past? I think so. Some media outlets are banning the use of the word terrorist. Reuters and BBC are two that come to mind. NPR I don't think has gone that far, but they still are not quite willing, although I must say I have not done a systematic check to see if this is still the case, but they still seem to be unwilling to refer to HAMAS, and Islamic Jihad, and Hezbollah, for example, as terrorist groups, whereas they have no problem referring to Al-Qaeda or Mr. Bin Laden as terrorists.

MARTIN: Just a final question if you will . . . go ahead, I'm sorry.

SAFIAN: Well, no, no, one issue that we are very concerned about that has not received proper coverage is the continued banning of journalist Steve Emerson by NPR, which is also something we have written about on the web site. Two years ago, Mr. Emerson appeared on NPR after the bombing of our embassies in Africa, and there was a furious reaction from Arab-American groups, in particular Ali Abunimah, an Arab-American activist in Chicago. And he published e-mails back and forth between himself and some NPR producers in which it was revealed that Emerson had previously been banned by NPR in a secret way, not with any announcement, but that they had agreed that he would no longer appear on NPR because he has been, his main field of investigation has been the Jihad in America, the Jihad being prepared in America by certain groups. In fact he did a documentary for PBS back in 1994 with precisely that title, 'Jihad in America.' And because of this, and because he has pointed a finger at HAMAS front groups in the United States, he has been demonized by certain elements in the Arab-American community. The Council on American-Islamic Relations, and various other groups have demonized him, and it turns out, as I said, that NPR had banned him. And then he appeared on NPR after the embassy bombings, very briefly, and Abunimah had this furious correspondence with NPR, and they said, 'we're sorry, and he'll never appear again, it was a mistake.' And he said, 'well how many times can it be a mistake? We'll be watching very closely.' And they said, 'No, No. We're really sorry, it'll never happen again. You have our word, it's NPR policy.' 

Well, when that became public, of course it became quite an issue that NPR was banning a respected journalist. NPR said that the producers in question did not have the authority to say that, that one of them was young, the producer was young and she misspoke, -- but they left out the fact that Michael Fields was also involved and he's a Senior Producer -- and that there was no ban, and that Mr. Emerson will appear at an appropriate time we expect. Well, ever since then he has never appeared on NPR. He predicted back in May in an article in the Wall Street Journal, he said that terrorists associated with Bin Laden are training in Lebanon on how to take down large buildings. He said in Congressional testimony four years ago that they can do, that they are preparing mass-murder on U.S. soil such as we have not seen the possibility of since World War 2. And yet none of this is on NPR because he continues to be banned, despite the fact that NPR denies that there is any ban, the fact is he has not appeared. An NPR reporter actually interviewed him a few weeks, or months ago, now, but the story never appeared. In addition, when this has come up in the media, like for instance in the Chicago Tribune, Mr. Dvorkin's answer has been, among other things, there is no ban and as if offering proof he says Emerson has appeared on 'Market Place.' Now most people who listen to Marketplace I think probably are not aware that it is not an NPR program, it's produced by NPR's competitor PRI. The reporter for the Chicago Tribune did not understand that and Mr. Dvorkin made no effort to set the record straight, and therefore the reporter believed and wrote that in fact there is no ban, Mr. Emerson has appeared on NPR. That was the answer, no he has not appeared on NPR, he has appeared on Marketplace. Now this, I think, is just an unconscionable attempt by Mr. Dvorkin to muddy the waters and to deceive people. To say that he's appeared on Marketplace knowing full well that most people will assume that's NPR and making no effort to clear that up, he knows very well it's not an NPR program.

MARTIN: [inaudible] Alex, I'm going to stop -- I'm going to -- I'm going to be speaking to Jeffrey Dvorkin about that. Just another quick question for information's sake. What other stations, you said WBUR, some donors from BUR obviously, but what other stations in what other cities?

SAFIAN: The other donors who pulled out preferred to do so in a more quiet way . . . [phone rings]

MARTIN: Sorry about that. 

SAFIAN: The other donors who have pulled out both in Boston, there are other donors in Boston who pulled out, and there are other donors in other cities that have pulled out, I can say Chicago is one of them, prefer not to get involved in the controversy. One reason I'd say . . .

MARTIN: So Chicago.

SAFIAN: Chicago is one, yes.

MARTIN: All right.

SAFIAN: One reason is, as Mr. Stavis will describe, is the hate mail that he's received and the threats that he's received from people who, I guess, support NPR's coverage. He's received hate mail and threats, and he's a rather public person. He has a store right in Harvard Square, and so I think he has to take these kinds of things seriously. So I think he has to take these kinds of things rather seriously. And other people anticipate this kind of reaction, therefore they prefer to do this quietly.

MARTIN: Ok. I'm going to -- hopefully I'll speak to him about this. Final question. The . . . where have you spoken, I know spoke in Sharon for example. Did you speak in Sharon? I'm trying to figure out where did I hear you speak. Where have you spoken?

LEVIN: All over the place. I've spoken in, I don't know. 

MARTIN: Just give me an idea of forums you've spoken in.

LEVIN: Um, I speak to community groups, synagogues and conferences, and . . .

SAFIAN: Specifically in Boston?

MARTIN: Well, yes, specifically in Boston. Well, you know someone else must have ... he must have heard someone else in your office speak, perhaps. This was in Sharon. This is a professor at a business school, an individual donor.

LEVIN: Oh, very recent?

MARTIN: Yeah.

LEVIN: Oh, Maxine. One of our, we have a number of staff and some of whom speak. It was probably someone . . . 

MARTIN: That's probably, now that, Okay. This is just for me to write the script. But here, let me just check this. I'm going to get some background noise real quick, and just check this really quickly. It's fine. Just get some background noise. Thank you. It's always amazing -- actually. It's always amazing-- It's amazing, people know more about NPR than I do. Thank you very much. I'll, this is probably airing this Sunday. Yeah. I'm pretty sure, you know it airs both Saturday and Sunday. I'm afraid I have to run. Should I give you any idea if it's going to air. Thanks, I appreciate it.

LEVIN: Not at all.And when they call us an advocacy group you can tell them we're advocates for journalistic accuracy and integrity . . .

MARTIN: Well actually I was going to use the term advocacy group is that a correct term. Do you take issue with that term?

SAFIAN: Media watch group.

MARTIN: Media watch group, that's fine, I'm glad you mentioned that.



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