WAMU-FM recently completed its spring on-the-air fund drive. WETA-FM has
placed its pledge campaign on hold, programming changes minimizing classical
music and emphasizing talk and information coming first.
That means metro-D.C. area listeners who care about public broadcasting but
cannot abide National Public Radios Arab-Israeli reporting can set our
checkbooks aside. Besides, NPR President Kevin Klose acknowledges he
doesnt really need our money.
Klose was testifying recently on NPRs budget before a House
Appropriations Committee subcommittee, simultaneously claiming journalistic
excellence and crying poverty. Rep. James Walsh (R-N.Y.) told him that public
radio "is a wonderful service." But, said Walsh, the more he became
involved with issues as a congressman, "the more I realized NPR is
portraying a ... liberal-oriented slant" to the news. And, he said,
members of the Syracuse Jewish community have complained to him that NPR news
carries a strong "anti-Israel bias."
Syracuse-area audience members are hardly alone. On May 14, 2003
approximately 100 Washington-area listeners protested the networks
anti-Israeli tilt during a noon-hour demonstration in front of NPRs
Massachusetts Avenue headquarters. Similar protests took place at several dozen
affiliates across the country.
The Corporation for Public Broadcasting is supposed to oversee NPR
compliance with requirements for "objectivity and balance in all programs
or series of programs of a controversial nature" in exchange for federal
funds. CPB continues to receive listener complaints of an anti-Israel spin in
NPR news. So do affiliates across the country.
Picking up on Walshs comments, subcommittee member Rep. Nita Lowey
(D-N.Y.) reminded Klose that she had discussed charges of anti-Israel reporting
with him previously. In fact, Lowey was one of 11 House members to sign a 2003
letter to Klose asserting that "for many years, National Public Radio
programs have presented a view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that is too
often biased against Israel."
Another of the signers, Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) told a CPB open forum
last September that the problem persists.
Klose insisted to Walsh that "we have a very strong ethics, news and
editorial code ... Our goal is objectivity." He added that "if we're
satisfied that mistakes were made, we do on-air corrections and post them on
our Web site."
Under pressure. Many of those corrections result from errors documented by
the organization I work for, CAMERA the Committee for Accuracy in Middle
East Reporting in America. Correcting mistakes is vital, and NPR deserves
recognition when it does so. But the process often seems grudging,
unnecessarily lengthy, and requires repeated requests and documentation.
Yet NPRs pattern of mistakes in its Arab-Israeli coverage continues.
These errors virtually always tend in one direction falsely portraying
Israeli actions as illegal, excessive, or stubborn, and unjustifiably excusing
or softening Arab aggression, rejection, and responsibility.
This unobjective, imbalanced coverage results neither from shortage of funds
NPR's current annual budget totals $119 million but the network
received a $225 million bequest, announced last year, from the estate of
McDonalds Restaurant heiress Joan Kroc, and a $15 million grant in 2003
from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Together, the gifts
equal two years worth of network operating budgets.
Rather than mention the found money to the subcommittee, Klose lamented
"decreasing financial support from state and local governments" for
public radio, and "federal financial support [that] has not kept pace with
increases in listeners or with our expanding mission to cover the news
Yet somehow the network president didn't explain "while
other news organizations downsized over the past several years, NPR News added
reporters, correspondents and offices worldwide." Klose noted that last
summer National Public Radio "announced a major expansion of its news
operation with plans to invest $15 million over the next three years to add
reporters, editors, producers and managers, and to open new domestic and
So, NPR News has the staff and financial wherewithal to produce coverage
meeting journalism's highest standards, according to its president. Since its
Arab-Israeli reporting chronically fails to do so, Congress and the Corporation
for Public Broadcasting ought to find out why. Meanwhile, public broadcasting
supporters should make future support dependent on NPR coverage that meets the
networks legal not to mention journalistic obligation to
objectivity and balance.
This article originally appeared in the Washington Jewish
Weekon March 31, 2005. An
version of the article appeared in the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent
on March 19, 2005.