CAMERA Op-Ed: National Public Radio’s Predictable Evasions

Nothing underscores National Public Radio’s shoddy Middle East reporting and evasion of accountability quite like its official rejoinders to criticism. News Vice President Bruce Drake replied to a Jerusalem Post column critical of NPR coverage (“National Public Radio Off the Map,” May 23, 2003) dodging and obfuscating in familiar style.

The column had noted the network’s chronic refusal to cover the anti-Israel and anti-Semitic hate indoctrination by Palestinian media, schools, mosques and political figures that fuels terrorism against innocent Israelis. NPR’s first reports on the road map had, true to form, included only passing mention of the need to end such incitement — this presented in a single phrase in one sentence by an Israeli official. The same segment included a much-reiterated NPR theme that Israeli actions “inflame” Palestinian hatred, turning “peace supporters” into “Hamas supporters.”

Unable, of course, to cite any NPR coverage of hate indoctrination, Drake pronounced the piece with the Israeli official a “balanced presentation of the views of both sides.” He claimed oddly that the Post column had “neglected” to note the Israeli official’s reference to incitement, which it very specifically had.

Ignoring without comment other errors and distortions criticized in the column, Drake concluded: “In her effort to depict NPR’s coverage as one-sided, Levin also conveniently omits Linda Gradstein’s May 9 story in which she visited the settlement of Efrat to get the reaction of Jewish settlers to the latest peace initiative. There were many other studied omissions in Levin’s column, but I’ll leave it there.”

In fact, the original column noted that while ignoring the hate-indoctrination subject, NPR predictably “allotted a whole program to an issue frequently reported by the network: settlements.” But Drake not only goofed in his claim that the settlements story was unmentioned — he was deceptive, to put it politely, in characterizing that segment as being focused on “the reaction of Jewish settlers to the latest peace initiative.” In fact, the piece was largely concentrated on a Peace Now activist critical of settlements.

NPR would certainly prefer, in Drake’s words, to “leave it there,” glide over distortions and errors and, however biased its coverage and laughably sloppy its rejoinders to critics, continue to broadcast agenda-driven “news.” Thus he had nothing to say about criticism of Linda Wertheimer’s erroneous caricature of Ariel Sharon as “a tough customer” who is “extremely tough in his responses to every act of terrorism…” As the column pointed out, citing just one such example, NPR itself reported that Sharon exercised “restraint” and did not respond to the terrorist slaughter of 22 young people at the Dophinarium in June 2001.

“Tough customer” and “hard-liner” are simply automatic tag-lines for the Israeli prime minister. Hamas leader Sheik Yassin, on the other hand, is a “spiritual leader.” Similarly, on NPR, “terrorists” are those who kill Americans in the Twin Towers or civilians in the Philippines. Jewish civilians blown up in the buses, streets and cafes of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv are not victims of “terrorists” but of “militants.”

The bias goes on. Trademark NPR programs continually amplify the messages of fringe voices critical of Israel, inevitably presented as peace-loving. A May 27 broadcast told of a newly recruited Jewish “peace activist…” in the International Solidarity Movement. According to NPR’s Linda Gradstein, who has reported admiringly about ISM members previously, this “Palestinian-led organization [is] committed to nonviolent resistance.” ISM founders Adam Shapiro and Huwaida Arraf say otherwise. “We accept that the Palestinians have a right to resist with arms” they write. “Palestinian resistance must take on a variety of characteristics – both nonviolent and violent…” They also believe Palestinians killed in nonviolent protests will have died in a manner “… no less noble than carrying out a suicide operation. And we are certain that if these men were killed during such an action, they would be considered shaheed Allah.” (Palestine Chronicle, January 2002)

Nor is Gradstein evidently troubled by ISM members’ ties to terrorists. Two “activists” hid suspected terrorist Shadi Suqiyeh in a Jenin office and helped him try to evade arrest, while others served tea to two terrorists who blew up Mike’s, a Tel Aviv night club, killing three and injuring 60 more.

Another story focusing on another fringe group critical of Israel aired a day later, its featured subjects a tiny group of religious settlers who believe Israel is behaving immorally, abuses the Palestinians and must abandon the settlements. The NPR host did note in a line at the close that many more religious Jews disagree.

As author and columnist Zev Chafets has said, “NPR has such a relentless point of view that you know what it thinks if you listen to it – and you know what it thinks if you don’t.”

What many listeners think is Americans should not be taxed to support a “public” radio network that violates the norms of journalism and the federal statutes mandating objectivity and balance, under which it receives funding.

Originally published in Jerusalem Post on June 20, 2003.

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