NPR reporter Kate Seelye, a former Manager of Media Relations for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), regularly interviews speakers from the Arab world and routinely gives them a platform for distorted, self-serving claims about Middle East events. Rarely, if ever, does she ask challenging questions or contradict her guests.
Two recent stories are typical examples of this long-standing problem.
**** In an April 17 interview with Syrian officials about Syrian-American diplomacy, Seelye interjected misinformation, blaming Israel for the failure of negotiations over the Golan Heights. She said:
Syria came close to reaching a peace agreement with Israel in 1999, but the deal broke down over Israel’s refusal to return all of the Golan Heights, a key Syrian demand. . .
In fact, in the 1999 negotiations, Israel offered to withdraw entirely from the Golan Heights. The deal fell through because Syria demanded Israel hand over additional territory, all the way up to the Sea of Galilee, land which was never legally Syrian. The only official border between the two countries historically was the 1923 International boundary slightly east of the Sea of Galilee and the Jordan River. (Britain and France deliberately drew up the boundary this way to protect Palestine’s sparse water sources from Syria.) In 1948, Syria invaded Israel, conquering land west of the boundary, but afterwards accepted the 1949 Armistice terms requiring a withdrawal from that area.
Negotiations also “broke down” over questions of whether Syria would fully “normalize” relations with Israel after it signed a peace treaty, and over what security guarantees Syria would give Israel.
Blaming Israel for the breakdown of Syrian-Israeli negotiations is the generally-held Arab perspective. Seelye presents it as fact.
**** In an April 21 story from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Seeyle interviews a prominent Saudi business woman, Lubna Olayan. The topic is what Olayan believes the United States should do to improve American-Arab relations.
Lubna says she hopes the US will also try to repair its strained relations with the Arab world. Many Saudis have scaled back their links to America, but Lubna continues to maintain close ties to the United States. . . . Lubna says with certain steps the US could regain Arab trust.
Seelye quotes Olayan saying:
If America really cares to get the Arab world back, then they have to do a major PR [sic] and build Iraq to what it was. And then solve the Israeli-Palestinian problem, which is what they said they will do. If they do this, I’ll tell you, the Arab world will look at Americans as heroes.
At no point in the broadcast does the reporter challenge Olayan or ask any probing questions about Saudi Arabia which, after all, was home to 15 of the 19 terrorists who killed almost 3,000 American civilians on 9/11. Instead, without a hint of irony or reference to Saudi responsibility, Olayan offers recommendations for how the U.S. can “repair” its strained relations with the Saudis. Seelye omits any reference to the many policies and actions by the Saudis that strain relations.
** There is no mention that Saudi Arabia has used its enormous wealth to export the extremist Wahhabi strain of Islam globally. (In a Feb. 9 New York Times Magazine article, the brother of the alleged would-be Sept. 11 suicide terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui acknowledged that Wahhabi groups in Europe were his brother’s inspiration. Similarly, Hasan Akbar, the American soldier who attacked his colleagues in Kuwait, killing two and injuring 15, was affiliated with Saudi-funded institutions in California. Likewise, Al-Qaeda member Christian Ganczarski, a Polish convert to Islam suspected of the 2002 bombing of a Tunisian synagogue in which 21 were killed, was also involved in Wahhabi institutions in Saudi Arabia.)
** Nor is there mention by NPR that Saudi-US relations are damaged by anti-American and anti-Semitic propaganda in Saudi media. (Prince Nayef Ibn Abd-Al-Aziz, Saudi Minister of Interior, gave an interview to a Kuwaiti newspaper which was translated into English Nov. 29, 2002 by a weekly news magazine published online by the Saudi royal family:
We put big question marks and ask who committed the events of September 11 and who benefited from them. Who benefited from events of 11/9? I think they [the Zionists] are behind these events. . . .It is impossible that 19 youths, including 17 Saudis, carried out the operation of September 11. . . (Ain-Al-Yaqeen).
See www.memri.org for additional examples.
** Nor is there reference to the extreme religious intolerance in Saudi Arabia, where non-Muslims are prohibited from openly practicing their religion, including visitors, journalists, and American serviceman who are protecting their country.
Seelye’s role in acting as an uncritical mouthpiece for Arab regimes is one more instance of NPR’s abusing its tax-supported status and violating its mandate to provide objective, balanced coverage.