Another NPR Winter of Distortion

As sure as the calendar moves toward spring, National Public Radio stations turn to a fresh season of fund-raising. For listeners wondering about the status of the network’s longstanding bias against Israel, a snapshot of coverage in early 2005 offers few signs of positive change. Instead, the tilt toward Arab positions continues. Network gestures of accountability, including sporadic corrections and quarterly self-examinations of Middle East reporting, amount to little more than public relations damage control efforts.

Sloppiness with factual precision is still commonplace. NPR’s Peter Kenyon, for instance, declared on March 9 that “most observers believe under international law all Israeli settlements in the occupied territories are illegal.” Who these unnamed “observers” are and how Kenyon tallied up their views to conclude “most” consider settlements illegal is unclear. His count would necessarily exclude American policymakers, since the official U.S. view does not hold that settlements, regardless of considerations of their strategic utility, are illegal.

The round-up of guest speakers was also numbingly familiar, with, for instance, no fewer than nine interviews in eight weeks with Palestinian-Jordanian journalist Rami Khouri, editor at large of Lebanon’s Daily Star. An outspoken advocate of Arab views, Khouri, for example, argued on March 8 that Hezbollah is “a very impressive, legitimate, even heroic resistance movement” and he dismissed any menace that group poses to the Jewish state. “Hezbollah,” he declared, “is not a big threat to Israel.” Neither Khouri nor the NPR host mentioned Hezbollah’s declared dedication to Israel’s destruction, or Israeli estimates that 13,000 Iranian supplied artillery and short-range Hezbollah rockets are trained on northern Israel, some in reach of major population centers.

Nor are any references made to Hezbollah’s Nazi-style anti-Semitic rhetoric, widely disseminated on the group’s Al Manar television. Omitted too are Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah’s screeds against Israel, terming the nation a “cancerous entity,” an “ultimate evil,” and a “predatory beast.” Excluded are rantings such as: “Throughout history the Jews have been Allah’s most cowardly and greedy creatures.”

Among others repeatedly invited to comment on events was Khaled al Maeena, editor of Saudi Arabia’s Arab News who has written that Israel “commits mass murder against Palestinians” and has railed against the monitoring group MEMRI for its exposés of Arab anti-Semitism.

Robert Malley, an outspoken proponent of the view that Israel was insufficiently forthcoming at the Camp David/Taba talks in 2000/2001 when it offered the Palestinians a state in more than 95 percent of the West Bank and Gaza, made another of his frequent appearances. So too did author Patrick Seale, a notorious apologist for the late Hafez al Assad. In each of these and other similar cases the guest speaker was presented as a neutral commentator.

During this same time, NPR’s Robert Siegel spent several weeks in Israel, reporting from the region and filing at least fourteen stories. Although he was there during the February 25 terrorist attack on a Tel Aviv nightspot, he did not cover the breaking story or do a follow-up on the victims. There were predictable segments with Hanan Ashrawi, Nabil Shaath and Saeb Erakat.

There were familiar paired segments of Israeli and Palestinian students and predictable NPR laxity in challenging blatant Palestinian falsehoods. When Arab students recited a litany of distorted allegations about Israel, Siegel interjected one apologetic corrective, noting that contrary to a Palestinian student’s claim that Israel had failed to open checkpoints or release prisoners: “By Palestinian standards a very small release, but a few hundred people have been released so far.”

To the ludicrous claim that “during Oslo period, there was no bombings, there was nothing,” Siegel was silent, failing to remind listeners that Oslo spawned unprecedented terror bombings. In fact, the Palestinians killed some 250 Israelis between Arafat’s arrival in the territories in July 1994 and his launching of the terror war in September 2000.

But Siegel does not just fail to counter distortions, he himself presents Palestinian views as fact. On March 1, for instance, he declared that “one of the real obstacles of the moment…is the security barrier…” He added: “In many parts, it is pretty – although the word is disputed – it sure is a wall.”

In the Israeli view, “one of the real obstacles of the moment” is the ongoing failure of the Palestinians to eradicate the terrorist infrastructure, and the fence is a monument to Palestinians’ refusal to control the killers in their midst. Nor is it accurate and professional of Siegel not to report the actual makeup of the security barrier, which is 95 percent fence and 5 percent wall.

Early 2005 has been more of the same on NPR. Listeners who care about factual, balanced and unbiased reporting should keep this in mind when they’re asked to send a check.

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