Dvorkin Agonistes

CAMERA apparently got under the skin of former NPR Ombudsman Jeffrey Dvorkin — really under the skin. Years after an intensive CAMERA campaign seeking to redress pervasive bias against Israel at the influential radio network, Dvorkin is still railing against CAMERA. In a rather comic and incoherent account in a Salon.com story he rambles on (erroneously) about NPR’s coverage of the Arab-Israeli conflict, CAMERA, the Patriot Act and the decline of the ombudsman’s role in journalism.

Kevin Williamson at NRO provides an excellent take-down of the piece, referring to Dvorkin’s “journalistic jackassery” in once more pointing fingers at all and sundry but never NPR or himself.

Factually Challenged

As was the case so often during his ombudsman stint at NPR, Dvorkin has a shaky grip on the facts. For instance:

He alleges that NPR had been faulted for pro-Israel bias at the beginning of the intifada but this sentiment shifted because of certain Middle East events that supposedly reshaped listener responses. He cites the Passover massacre, writing that:

[I]n March 2003, a suicide bomber blew himself up at a Passover seder just outside of Tel Aviv, killing more than 40 people. …

The Passover bombing marked the first time in the Intifada that Israelis were killed in a specifically Jewish (as opposed to Israeli) circumstance. For many NPR listeners, that raised the existential threat of anti-Semitism and many pro-Israel and Jewish listeners responded passionately. (emphasis added)

• Actually, the Passover bombing occurred in March 2002, not 2003. It killed 30 people, not 40. It occurred in Netanya which is 19 miles north of Tel Aviv, not “just outside” that city.

• Nor, of course, was NPR considered a pro-Israel media outlet among many listeners prior to this as evidenced in the scores of CAMERA Web site postings chronicling bias and dating back a decade and in the many news stories in Jewish publications on NPR’s controversial reporting.

• The Passover attack was not the first on a Jewish religious event; on March 2, 2002, ten people were killed and over 50 were injured, 4 critically, in a suicide bombing in the Beit Yisrael neighborhood in the center of Jerusalem where people had gathered for a bar-mitzva celebration.

• Moreover, there is no factual basis in Dvorkin’s broader claim that those concerned about Israel reacted to the Passover bombing as an “existential threat” in contrast to the carnage that came before. Many were already horrified by the intensifying terrorist onslaught beginning almost two years earlier (and including the Dolphinarium attack where teenagers were slaughtered, the Sbarro Pizzeria bombing where children and families were slaughtered, the Ben Yehuda mall attack where more teenagers died – and many other such events). The Passover massacre was part of a continuum of violent assaults that had stirred outrage since the fall of 2000.

The sloppiness with facts and logic apparent in just these few sentences is indicative of the mentality the public has encountered all too often in seeking to discuss rationally the problems of factual errors, gross lack of balance in presenting Israeli and Arab speakers and omission of crucial information in NPR coverage.

• It is also crucial to note that NPR’s coverage of the Passover massacre and numerous terrorist attacks that followed shortly afterwards was appalling even by its own standards. A 10-day CAMERA study began with the following observation:

As Israel endured the blows of unprecedented Palestinian terrorist attacks in the last terrible days of March 2002, National Public Radio continued its long pattern of sharply under-reporting and depersonalizing violence against the people of that nation while emphasizing the feelings, perspectives and accusations of the Palestinians. In a 10-day period from March 27 through April 5, not one of the terror victims was mentioned by name, not one bereaved family was interviewed, not one injured survivor was the focus of a story.

NPR did, however, give listeners the full name of the killer who detonated himself in the midst of a Passover seder. And NPR did report in touching detail, and with the inclusion of their names, the personal story of two Palestinians, a father and son, injured in an Israeli counter-strike against the terror campaign.

In that period, the network presented 62 Palestinians or other Arabs giving their views, often filled with bitter accusation against Israel, but just 32 Israelis were interviewed. Numerous anti-Israel speakers, some extreme, were also heard blasting the Jewish state, especially as the Israeli military moved into West Bank towns to uproot the terror bases.

The CAMERA analysis further noted:

NPR bureau chief Peter Kenyon said the Netanya bombing that killed 29 “ripped a hole in U.S.-led cease fire efforts.”

But among those who were actually “ripped” apart, though ignored by NPR, were Idit and Andre Fried who had immigrated from Hungary in the1970s. Idit was a nurse at a Netanya hospital where her two children raced in search of their parents after the terrorist bombing at the Passover Seder. The children had been saved when they arrived late at the holiday meal.

Ernest and Eva Weiss were concentration camp survivors seated at the same table with a friend, George Yakabovitz. All were killed. Frieda Britvich, a survivor or Auschwitz, was also slain.

Dvora Karim, originally from Iran, like several other victims, was buried with her husband, Michael, who was murdered with her and is survived by two daughters.

Twenty-one others with names and families were killed by the Netanya bomber and scores more were maimed.

That is to say, Dvorkin identifies the Passover massacre as a turning point in attitudes toward NPR because, he claims, listeners were agitated and Jews filled with existential fears. In reality, intensified anger at NPR was likely caused by the strikingly biased network coverage that ignored the human dimension of Israeli losses even when people were being blown up in record numbers at a religious event. Listeners likely objected to NPR’s coverage in which Israelis were burying aged Holocau st survivors killed by Palestinian terrorists, while the network gave yet another platform to lopsided and sympathetic Palestinian denunciations of Israel.

More Double Talk on Cause and Effect

Similarly, regarding Dvorkin’s deflecting responsibility and blaming listener emotions, he charges:

Some of that passion was stoked by one particular lobby group, known as CAMERA (Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America). This group, based in Cambridge, Mass., was particularly effective in generating real anger around NPR’s reporting. Its criticisms were occasionally right, but only occasionally.

• Dvorkin — as usual — has cause and effect backwards; NPR was the entity “generating real anger.” The network broadcast virtually daily biased, inflammatory, lopsided coverage of the Arab-Israeli conflict. That caused the “real anger” and CAMERA gave voice to listener sentiment about the abuses.

As to CAMERA’s being “occasionally right, but only occasionally,” the network has corrected on-air at least 16 errors brought to editors’ attention by the organization.

• CAMERA is not “based in Cambridge” but in Boston.

• CAMERA is not a “lobby” but a non-profit, media-monitoring group with a nation-wide grassroots membership.

• The many critiques of NPR coverage by CAMERA, including more than 100 entries on the Web site, constitute the most extensive analysis of any media outlet by CAMERA.

• So damaging to NPR’s credibility were CAMERA’s detailed studies, mailings and ads documenting bias that the network — rather than addressing the journalistic shortcomings — hired PR firms specializing in “crisis management” and sent senior executives around the country to meet with Jewish groups in efforts to counter the losses in esteem, underwriting and public support. Many such meetings were counterproductive, serving to underscore NPR arrogance toward its listeners.

The Boston Globe’s former media critic, Mark Jurkowitz, reported on one such appearance by NPR President Kevin Klose at a packed event of 900 in Boston. In his story on January 15, 2003 entitled “NPR is losing the war of words on Mideast coverage” he recounts the patronizing and evasive stance of the network head in the face of audience ire about the reporting, a stance that won few friends.

Dvorkin, The Victim

Dvorkin is also incensed about vast numbers of phone calls, some evidently unpleasant, that began pouring in after CAMERA stepped up its efforts in response to the extreme bias on NPR. He opines that:

as a consequence of its campaign against NPR, CAMERA acted as the enabler for some seriously disturbed people.

As always he seems oblivious to the ironies. Who can calculate how much unwarranted anti-Israel and anti-Jewish animus have been spread by NPR in story after story that leveled serious charges against Israel without including even a single voice in that nation’s defense. How many “disturbed people” have been pushed toward enmity on hearing one-sided allegations of Israel demolishing houses, seizing water resources, violating human rights and thwarting peace efforts?

Jeffrey Dvorkin’s name-calling and finger-pointing ill-served the public during his tenure at National Public Radio; and his Salon.com whining about the demise of ombudsmen such as himself can only bring cheer to those who remember him in that role.

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