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Terry Gross's "Tit-for-Tat" Interview with James Bennet

On March 12, 2003, NPR's “Fresh Air” broadcast an interview with host Terry Gross and New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief James Bennet. Among other things, Gross asked Bennet about Israel's anti-terrorist actions in Gaza–but she didn't term them anti-terrorist actions. Instead, she repeatedly referred to “tit-for-tat murders,” drawing a parallel between Hamas's terrorist attacks against Israeli children and the Israeli army's attempts to root out the killers. In case the audience didn't grasp Gross's moral equation, she elaborated:

You've been writing a lot about the latest tit-for-tat murders; you know, bombings against Israelis, military assassinations of Hamas leaders. I'm just wondering what kind of issues it poses for you as a reporter to have to write so much about these deaths, you know, to have to report so much on the deaths, to have to talk to the families on both sides who have lost loved ones and who are, you know, totally bereft.

While Bennet did not overtly clarify the difference in Hamas's terrorist attacks targeting of Israeli schoolchildren and Israel's targeting the leaders and planners of such attacks, he presented both sides of the picture, describing Israel's charges against Hamas leaders and the Palestinian position with the conclusion that “I guess what you're constantly reminded is that it is possible here to have compassion for people on both sides of the conflict.”

Apparently not satisfied she had driven home her point, Gross reiterated her “tit-for-tat” question to Bennet, this time highlighting her point by detailing allegedly analagous back and forth actions and terming the slaughter of Israeli innocents “redundant and predictable” stories. She asked:

When you are required to report on these tit-for-tat killings, what is your approach to writing about it? I mean, 'cause on the one hand, like, every death is so important; and on the other hand, the story becomes almost redundant and predictable; yeah, you know, this leader is killed and then the suicide bomber goes to Israel and blows up a lot of civilians and then there's a retaliation by Israel and a retaliation by Hamas, and it goes on and on and on. So when you try to figure out how to cover something like that, what are the things that you think about?

Bennet again demurred, asserting that “as someone who's covered a lot of suicide bombings now—more than I would care to by quite a stretch—and a lot of other sorts of violence here, that it never feels redundant when you get to the scene.”

Gross was nothing if not tenacious. She revisited the issue for the third time at the end of the interview with the following question:

In the meantime, the road map for peace in the Middle East has been put on hold till after the Bush administration tries to deal with Iraq. So do you expect that while things are officially on hold like that that we're going to just see continuing tit-for-tat murders?

Gross seemed determined to cast the Palestinians as persecuted by the Israelis and to obscure the victimization of Israelis at the hands of terrorists. Thus she never inquired about the effect of Palestinian terrorism on the Israeli economy, and only briefly, toward the end of the interview, questioned Bennet about the level of fear and anxiety due to “possible attacks from Palestinians” and the war in Iraq. She did, however, direct questions to Bennet about Arafat's confinement in his compound, and the “living conditions of Palestinians within the West Bank and Gaza” as a result of “the [Israeli] restrictions on them.”

Indeed, the prevailing conviction at NPR seems to be that the only victims in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are the Palestinians and that Israelis are only casualties of their own aggressive actions. Terry Gross's interview is yet one more example of NPR's agenda-driven coverage.

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