A Study in News Manipulation

From time to time the CAMERA Media Report presents an extended analysis of the Middle East coverage of a single media outlet. This edition provides the results of a six-month study of National Public Radio and an account of the meeting held by CAMERA representatives with NPR officials regarding the study findings.

Why NPR?

In response to continued complaints by CAMERA members over several years about the hostile and slanted coverage of Israel purveyed on America’s public radio network, and on the basis of numerous transcripts and tapes of NPR programs, CAMERA issued a number of Action Alerts to its members in the spring and fall of 1991 and published columns in the Jewish press critiquing NPR and urging better balance and accuracy. CAMERA sent formal letters of protest to Douglas Bennet, president of National Public Radio, in August, 1991, and, receiving no reply, to Bill Buzenberg, Vice president of News Programming, in early October, 1991. In mid- December, 1991, CAMERA received a response from Managing Editor, John Dinges.

Mr. Dinges stated that NPR would look closely at its coverage for a period of three months during the fall of 1991 and that a meeting could follow that study. CAMERA then requested access to NPR archives in order to commence an overlapping, but more extensive, study covering the six months from July 1, 1991 through December 31, 1991.

In February, 1992, CAMERA representatives conducted research at the NPR library.

The Study

CAMERA has long argued that NPR offers biased coverage of Israel and the Arab-Israeli conflict. More particularly, CAMERA has maintained that the issues considered in stories, the issues ignored by NPR, and the perspectives and rhetorical slant of NPR stories consistently fail to take account of Israeli concerns and Israeli perceptions of events. Rather, coverage is skewed towards the perspectives of Israel’s enemies.

The Consensus Israeli Perspective

The following are views endorsed by a broad consensus of both those who favor territorial concessions and those who oppose them:

  • The key issue in the Arab-Israeli conflict is Arab refusal to recognize Israel's legitimacy and right to exist in the Middle East. Major forces in the Arab world, including in the Palestinian community, continue to see war, with the aim of annihilating Israel, as an option, and Arab states are actively expanding their military capabilities toward this end.

  • The Arab goal of destroying Israel transcends the Palestinian-Israeli issue of territorial boundaries. The Arab states' campaigns to destroy Israel have not been waged for the sake of the Palestinians, and no Palestinian-Israeli accommodation, however desirable for other reasons, would be an assurance of peace.

  • Neither the status quo nor annexation of the West Bank and Gaza is desirable. Since territorial compromise would inevitably entail military risks vis-a-vis the Arab states, any agreement must allow Israel to retain areas necessary for defense.

  • Israel's primary consideration in resolving the territories issue must be security, and this issue far outweighs considerations of the historical or religious significance of the territories. Moreover, Israel's insistence on the right to defensible boundaries bears at least as much moral authority, and authority of international precedent, as any other principle of negotiations.

Information relevant to this perspective

  • History of the conflict, which includes events before 1967.

  • Sabre-rattling, attacks, and arms build-ups by Arab states and the PLO.

  • Exploitation by Arab dictators of militant anti-Israel policies in domestic and inter-State politics.

  • Arab anti-Semitism, as reflected in statements of leaders, in texts, and throughout the Arab media.

  • Rise of Islamic fundamentalist groups, including HAMAS, with their outspoken rejection of the peace process and demands for Israel's annihilation.

  • Statements by the PLO, particularly those made in Arabic for Arab consumption; and the standing injunctions of the PLO charter calling for Israel's destruction.

  • Arab Moslem attitudes towards and treatment of other minorities in the Middle East.

    • Kurds.
    • Blacks in the Sudan.
    • Christians in Egypt, Lebanon and elsewhere.

Numbers Betray the Bias

NPR's index cites 278 stories on Israel and the Arab-Israeli conflict between 7/1/91 and 12/31/91.

How many NPR stories reported:

1. The military threat to Israel
The balance of military power 0
The threat to Israel posed by Arab acquisition of nuclear, biological, chemical, and missile technology 0
Other strategic issues 0
2. The strategic significance of the disputed territories and how they figure in Israel's security concerns
With regard to the Golan Heights 1
With regard to the West Bank and Gaza 0
3. PLO goals and actions 0

The status of the PLO's "two-step" plan which advocates the acquisition of whatever territory can be gotten through negotiation as a first step toward the annihilation of a weakened Israel

Statements by PLO leaders still endorsing the plan 0

4. The stated aim to destroy Israel and campaigns of violence of HAMAS, the Palestinian fundamentalist group that enjoys the support of an estimated 40% of Palestinians...


5. The Teheran rejectionist conference (10/22/91) whose theme, emblazoned in banners at the gathering, was "Israel must be destroyed"


The official PLO delegation led by the President of the Palestine National Council


The official Jordanian delegation led by the Speaker of the Jordanian Parliament

The official Syrian delegation 0
6; Iran's objection to the Madrid talks
6. The nature of the cold peace between Egypt and Israel 0
7. Arab anti-Semitism 0
8. Arab-Moslem treatment of minorities
The newly-discovered Kurds (out of 154 Iraq stories)..... 15
Blacks in Sudan 0
Moslem-Christian clashes in Egypt 0
Moslem-Christian tensions in Lebanon 0
Iraq 0
West Bank 0
9. Rise of Islamic fundamentalism
Algeria 2
Pakistan 1
Egypt 0
Sudan 0
Palestinian 0
Lebanon (Fundamentalists cited only in context of hostage stories) 0

10. The Intrafada (killings of Palestinians by other Palestinians that in 1991 took three times as many lives as were lost in clashes with Israelis)


11. Syrian seizure of and ongoing domination of Lebanon (out of 79 stories on Lebanon)


The Consensus Arab Position

The following reflect standard Arab assertions about the Arab- Israeli Conflict:

  • The Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and Israeli expansionism, are the heart of the Arab-Israeli conflict and the source of all turmoil in the Middle East.

  • In 1967, an expansionist Israel seized Arab territories, and Israel's continued occupation is illegal and immoral.

    The only legitimate issue to be negotiated is recognition of the territorial rights of the Palestinians and the Arab states and Israel's withdrawal from the territories.

  • In the absence of withdrawal, the Palestinian-Israeli, and, secondarily, the Arab-Israeli conflicts will remain the Middle East's, indeed the world's, major powderkeg.

  • As long as Israel does not accede to these legitimate Arab demands, Arab violence is justified.
  • Palestinians claim, in addition, that Israeli withdrawal from the territories and creation of a Palestinian state will lead to real peace in the region.

Stories and Speakers Advance the anti-Israel Bias

More detailed examination of NPR reports on Israel and the Arab- Israeli conflict reveal further evidence of the tilt in NPR coverage.

Number of program segments in sample group reviewed: 39


43 Arabs (36 Palestinian, 7 other Arab speakers)

• No representatives of HAMAS

• No representatives of so-called hardline factions of the PLO

22 Israelis

• Of 10 non-government speakers, 7 are from the far-right (settlers focused on religious/historic justifications for their presence on the West Bank), 3 are far-left critics of Israel (Ehud Sprinzak compares Israel to South Africa; Akiva Eldar, who is heard twice, argues that Israel has been spoiled by the U.S. and can't stand U.S. playing the honest broker.)

No speaker from the centrist Labor party

• No speaker to articulate concepts of territorial compromise or security concerns

The disproportionate reliance on Arab speakers and the misrepresentation of Israeli opinion is exacerbated by the fact that the extended interviews on these programs are predominantly with Arabs (5 out of 7). The extended interviews were:

  1. 7/23: Bob Edwards with Hisham Milhem (Lebanese journalist)
  2. 10/23: Bob Edwards with Rashid Khalidi
  3. 10/31: Bob Edwards with Hanan Ashrawi
  4. 12/4: Bob Edwards with Rashid Khalidi
  5. 12/9: Bob Edwards with Hanan Ashrawi
  6. 12/3: Extended interview with Israeli journalist Akiva Eldar, emphasizing how wrong Israel is vis-a-vis the U.S. and peace talks.
  7. 10/31: Extended interview with Israeli foreign ministry spokesman, Baruch Bina, right after the first extended interview with Ashrawi. While Edwards merely paraphrases Ashrawi's statements and asks no probing questions, the interview with Bina is all tough questions and challenges.

CAMERA's Meeting with NPR

On June 1, 1992, CAMERA representatives met with NPR officials, presented the results of the study, and urged reform of the network's Middle East news coverage. Among specific recommendations made were the following:

• Strict NPR monitoring of their own journalists for adherence to Federally-mandated statutes calling for balance and objectivity in the choice of stories, interviewees and experts. Clearly enunciated and enforced prohibition against reporters employing NPR as a vehicle for advancing personal political views.

• An end to the practice of misconstruing small, leftist splinter groups as representative opinion, or as the voice of conscience of Jews; an end to the use of right-wing, religious extremists to exemplify the segment of opinion concerned about territorial issues.

• An end to broadcasting Palestinian allegations of Israeli wrong-doing without normal standards of verification and without including equal time for the Israeli response.

• Adherence to a policy of treating the suffering and deaths of Israelis with the same sympathetic attention as those of Palestinians.

CAMERA presented a list of critical issues excluded entirely from or severely underreported on NPR and stressed the importance of integrating these fundamentals into Middle East coverage.

  1. Israel's Security Concerns
    • Views of centrist American and Israeli strategic and military specialists. (eg: General Thomas Kelly, Edward Luttwak, Michael Ledeen, Hirsh Goodman)

    • The strategic significance of Syria's take-over of Lebanon, weapons buying, and expansionist ambitions.

    • New weapons technologies and enlarged arsenals, including nuclear development, in Arab countries at war with Israel, and their impact on the strategic balance.

    • Arab fundamentalism's burgeoning power and its central aim of destroying Israel.
    • The political use by Arab dictatorships of aggressive policies towards Israel t
      o deflect attention from domestic failures and to unite diverse groups.

    • The stunning absence of democracy and tolerance for pluralism in the Arab world, including in the PLO, and the effect on Israel's long-term security.

    • Arab intolerance towards and persecution of non-Arab minorities in the Middle East and the implications for Arab acceptance of Israel.

  2. Arab Anti-Semitism
    • HAMAS and its virulently anti-Semitic charter and terrorist activities.
    • The recent government-promoted, anti-Semitic campaign by Egypt that included charges that Israelis were spreading AIDS, agricultural pests and hoof-and-mouth disease.

    • The Arab publishing industry's promulgation of both infamous European and newly-written Arab anti-Semitic books.

    • The regular appearance of anti-Semitic slanders in the mainstream Arab press.

    • The role of Gulf money in world-wide dissemination of anti-Semitic literature and funding for anti-Semitic groups.

    • Anti-Semitic statements by Palestinian leaders, including Arafat and the Mufti of Jerusalem.
  3. Minorities in the Middle East.

    Information about how non-Muslim and non-Arab minorities are treated in the Arab world is vital to an understanding of Israel's security concerns.

    • Slavery and indentured servitude in Mauritania, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and other Gulf states.

    • The Arab massacre and deportation of hundreds of thousands of Christian and animist blacks in the Sudan.
    • Discrimination and violence against non-Arab or non-Muslim minorities such as Copts, the Christian communities of Lebanon, Kurds, Druze, Berbers and Jews.

  4. The Intrafada

    Today Palestinian lives are at most risk, not from the Israeli army, but from masked Palestinian executioners. In 1991 more than three times as many Palestinians were killed by their brethren as died in clashes with Israelis (238 to 74). NPR's virtual blackout of this issue underscores the network's indifference to Palestinian suffering unless it can be invoked for criticism of Israel.

  5. The Arab Propaganda Machine and Lobby in America
    • Organizations, funding, links to the U.S. oil industry, links to far-right and far-left anti-Semitic organizations

    • Targeting of the American education system, including textbooks and encyclopedias, with anti-Israel and anti-Jewish propaganda

    • Targeting of American professional organizations and meetings to include anti-Israel propaganda
    • relations with the American press

The NPR Response: Business as Usual

NPR's reaction to CAMERA's charges? Despite the evidence of massive NPR distortion, network officials denied any large-scale bias. A few instances of factual inaccuracy, such as specific Linda Gradstein statements, were conceded and NPR acknowledged that if, as CAMERA had discovered, Arab speakers were interviewed twice as often as were Israeli/Jewish speakers, that was "a problem."

Although an NPR spokesman had told CAMERA the network was undertaking an internal study of its own (an assertion that guided the structure of CAMERA's evaluation), no mention was made of the results of such a study. NPR officials insisted they had reported on Israeli security matters but were able to cite only a single piece from the Gulf War which described the size of Israel in the context of Iraqi scud attacks. CAMERA noted that, in any case, the current study covered a later period because this was the period NPR had chosen for its own study. NPR offered no examples of any programming during the six month period of the study, which included the period of the Madrid peace talks, that examined security issues, except the one story noted on strategic issues concerning the Golan Heights.

NPR claimed they had broadcast two stories on security issues we had not noted. The stories they cited included one on water use and another on Israelis returning to the Etzion area of Israel since 1967. When NPR was questioned how either of these stories related to Israeli concerns about Arab strategic threats to Israel and the buildup of Arab military forces, no coherent explanation was given.

In a particularly revealing exchange CAMERA noted that no speakers from the violent and anti-Semitic HAMAS organization were interviewed in the coverage of the peace talks and related stories. An NPR official replied that was because HAMAS doesn't talk about peace! The CAMERA representatives found this stunning evidence of the contorted mindset at NPR.

Although NPR identifies Linda Gradstein as its "Middle East Correspondent," it was conceded she covers only Israel, omitting 98% of the region. The question was asked whether NPR officials would consider it appropriate for a "European Correspondent" to cover only London. This was acknowledged to be a "fair criticism," but an insoluble problem for "budget reasons."

NPR conceded that funerals of Israeli and Palestinian victims should be covered with equal sympathy and attention. Nevertheless, an NPR official expressed admiration for Gradstein's extraordinarily detailed, tendentious and inaccurate report on the Palestinian funeral cited and charged that CAMERA simply opposes any stories that entail criticism of Israel. (CAMERA had distributed transcripts to the NPR officials of reports of the Israeli and Palestinian funerals to illustrate the stark discrepancy between coverage of the two.)

NPR did not consider the government-promoted convulsion of anti-Semitism that erupted in Egypt in February and March of 1992 newsworthy. The event was dismissed as "just one of many, many such propaganda campaigns in every country." (Although there has never been any government-inspired anti-Moslem campaign in Israel.) NPR explained the network relies on the correspondent "in place" to call stories to network attention. CAMERA argued that such virulent displays of antipathy towards Israel must be reported because they illustrate the hostile environment in which Israel lives and are critical to understanding the forces affecting achievement of real peace.

NPR did not consider Linda Gradstein's tendentious reference to the "young men of Palestine and the young men of Israel" to be an abuse of her professional status in its advocacy of political views.

NPR officials expressed pride in the work of their staff and accused CAMERA of being "unfair" and determined to "destroy" the network. CAMERA found this accusation particularly startling as a response to the presentation of a carefully documented analysis drawn entirely from the network's own archives.

Above all, NPR officials seemed unable to raise their sights from their obsessed focus on Israel to view the broad landscape of Middle East and world events in rational perspective. They seemed impervious to their abject record of coverage and, though annoyed at our criticism, comfortable with what can only be characterized as pitiful rejoinders to the evidence of wholesale bias. While obviously hoping to fend off an intensified CAMERA camp
aign, fearing most of all a reduction in financial support, NPR offered concessions only where faced with inescapable factual error. But the gravest charge against a tax-supported, listener-funded network is the single most damning conclusion of the CAMERA study: That NPR has impeded public understanding of the Middle East by consistently and systematically proffering a fraudulent version of reality.

NPR Study - Methodology

For use as an index of its Middle East coverage during the last six months of 1991, NPR provided us with its Program Library Geographic Report, which lists, by country or region, all broadcast stories more extensive than brief, headline-like glosses. The lists contained 278 stories on Israel and the Arab-Israeli conflict. Titles of five to eight words conveyed the subject of each story and allowed some evaluation of issues considered in NPR coverage.

The Geographic Report also enabled us to compare coverage of Israel and the Arab-Israeli conflict to coverage of other issues in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world.

As the large number of stories on Israel and the Arab-Israeli conflict precluded our doing an in-depth study of the contents of all of them, we sought some selection criterion that would give us a manageable representative sample. The Geographic Report also characterizes each story by a keyword system (e.g., HOSTAGES; ARBITRATION, RECONCILIATION; PEACE) While NPR's assignment of these keywords to stories is somewhat arbitrary, we decided to look at all the stories under a particular keyword in order to have an unbiased selection criterion. We chose the stories under the keyword PEACE, as this was the largest group and seemed to offer the widest range of material and yet the numbers were manageable. One CAMERA representative reviewed the transcripts of all "Morning Edition" and "Weekend Edition" stories under the keyword PEACE, while another taped the "All Things Considered" stories under this keyword. The transcripts included the entire "Morning Edition" and "Weekend Edition" program for that day, and we included in our survey any other stories on Israel and the Arab-Israeli conflict that happened to be in those transcripts. We were subsequently informed that not all the "All Things Considered" tapes were available and we decided to discard the "All Things Considered" material from this part of the review in order to avoid introducing a potential bias into the selection criterion. We consequently focussed our closer analysis on the thirty-nine stories from "Morning Edition" and "Weekend Edition."

Also made available to us were lists of all programs broadcast on "Fresh Air" and "Talk of the Nation" during the six months under review. "Talk of the Nation," a two-hour program, typically devoted an entire hour to a particular subject, and the lists were of these subjects. "Fresh Air," although less rigidly structured, likewise typically offered two main stories, hosted by Terry Gross, for each daily two-hour segment, and the lists were typically of these stories and a daily item by an arts reviewer.

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