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
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
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