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Media Analyses

NPR Unrelenting in Anti-Israel Bias

National Public Radio's hostility toward Israel and willingness to bend facts and journalistic norms in presenting that nation as morally reprehensible and unreasonable are well known. But recent broadcasts offer a particularly sharp view of NPR's reflexive enmity and disregard for journalistic ethics.

In February, reporting on Israel's concern about the rise of Nazi apologist Joerg Haider in Austria, NPR's Jennifer Ludden described the public's dismay and Israel's swift action in recalling its ambassador from Vienna. Then she added, "Yet some say the government is overreacting, that by cutting ties it cuts chances of influencing Austria's new government. Still others criticize the government's moral stance as hypocritical. They note Israel has its own record of racism against Palestinians and its own Arab citizens. One analyst said Haider does not seem nearly as racist as some Israeli politicians who are accepted on the political scene here."

Few other mainstream media outlets would dispense such incendiary charges about a country without offering an iota of evidence or even an identified source. (NPR's own standards require reporters to "attribute all facts to a reliable source and to identify that source as accurately and completely as possible.") Consistent with NPR tradition, this reckless censure was reserved for Israel alone. America, a nation where racial issues make regular headlines, also took measures against Austria, but NPR did not cite unnamed sources who consider America hypocritical and racist. The European Union deplored Haider's rise, but prejudice and violence against non-Europeans on the continent did not prompt NPR to chide EU nations.

At the same time the Haider affair was making headlines, NPR remained mute concerning a related story of major importance in Israel. On January 31st the editor of the Syrian regime's daily newspaper Tishrin published an anti-Semitic screed denying the Holocaust and triggering headlines and commentary in Israeli newspapers. The editorial claimed Zionism "invents stories regarding the Nazi Holocaust in which the Jews suffered and inflates them to astronomic proportions..."

So troubling was the Syrian attack that Holocaust scholars and Jewish leaders in the U.S. joined in deploring the tirade, signing full page ads carried in the New York Times and other publications. Tishrin's editorial raised newsworthy questions about the intentions of Syria, ostensibly involved in negotiating peace with its neighbor. NPR, though quick to malign Israel as more reprehensible than Joerg Haider, was silent when the nation was viciously slandered by its would-be peace partner.

Jennifer Ludden was silent again in March when, during the Pope's visit to Israel, the Palestinian Authority's top Muslim cleric in Jerusalem, Sheik Ikrima Sabri, accused Jews of exaggerating the Holocaust and "using this issue" to "blackmail the Germans financially." Other media covered the anti-Semitic statements prominently. The New York Times' Deborah Sontag devoted a story to the episode, writing that Sabri's "words clashed starkly with the pope's message of reconciliation, and particularly his conclusive embrace this week of the enormity of the Holocaust. This embrace included an emphatic rejection of denial or minimization of the Holocaust."

Challenged by a listener to explain why she had not reported the incendiary remarks that made headlines in other media, NPR relayed Ludden's answer: "Actually, I probably should have included them... But as for reasons why I didn't... the guy has said the same thing before - he has a reputation for being inflammatory - and he made the remarks Saturday when I wasn't filing... Sunday I asked another Palestinian official to respond and he completely contradicted the mufti and said what a tragedy the Holocaust was.... The Vatican made no comment and the issue just seemed to fall by the wayside."

She concluded, "Basically it wasn't headline making news given the guy's record ... but it could have added to the context of the visit and the failure of the Pope's efforts at interfaith reconciliation (which I did mention) ... so I guess I accept the criticism..."

Ludden's groundless rationale for her non-coverage and the network's acceptance of her explanation are indicative of the shoddy journalism that prevails on tax-supported radio. In fact, the Sheik's remarks were "headline making news" — there are headlines to prove it. And those headlines appeared on the "Sunday" Ludden was "filing" (March 26, 2000) when she claims the issue had fallen "by the wayside." Moreover, the argument that she could neglect to cover the cleric's ravings because "the guy has said the same thing before" is astonishingly disingenuous. People who get their news from NPR would never have heard about the Sheik's anti-Semitic tirades. A NEXIS search of NPR coverage turns up not a single mention of any of them.

Moreover, again, the newsworthiness of such diatribes by the senior Palestinian-appointed religious cleric is obvious and not merely for the reasons Ludden reluctantly mentions — that they add context to the "Pope's efforts" at promoting reconciliation. Virulent anti-Semitism regularly promulgated by a Palestinian religious leader is newsworthy because it adds context to the challenges Israel confronts in achieving peace with Arab neighbors to whom it has ceded land, resources and power in hopes of ending years of violence and enmity.

There are reasons why America's preeminent public radio network, with 600 affiliate stations and upwards of 20 million weekly listeners, continues to broadcast year after year the most severely biased coverage of Israel by any mainstream media outlet in the country. One is an apparently extreme ideological cast of mind among some reporters and editors regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict. For example, Foreign Editor Loren Jenkins has, in his writing, linked Israelis to Nazis and has repeatedly referred to Israel as a colonizer in Jerusalem. He is unresponsive to direct and specific requests that his reporters cover the severe anti-Israel and anti-Semitic invective in the Arab and Palestinian media and education systems.

Another reason appears to be a sense of immunity from public accountability. NPR President Kevin Klose, for example, was challenged to explain why his network has yet to cover the important story of Palestinian textbooks which are inculcating anti-Semitic and anti-Israel attitudes in a new generation of Palestinian children. He responded that the story had been covered in a broadcast on November 15, 1999, but, in fact, that segment contained only one sentence about Palestinian books and was focused instead entirely on Israeli schools teaching about Arab views of history!

That is to say, Klose's rebuttal actually underscored the accuracy of the complaint.

National Public Radio has virtually censored out the story of Arab anti-Semitism, thus failing in two ways to do its job. It conceals from listeners an essential part of the reality Israel confronts and, by its failure to expose Arab anti-Semitism, the network actually fosters demonizing of Jews and Israel.

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