Media coverage of terrorist acts committed by Palestinians against Israelis is often a litmus test that reveals sharp bias. If, even when innocents are blown apart by bombs, a journalist is loath to tell the story straight and place blame squarely on the perpetrator, there is little doubt that severe partisanship is at work. If a reporter gives only perfunctory reference to the atrocity while accentuating Arab grievances and trumpeting Israeli retaliation, these too are obvious signals of unprofessional deference to the Palestinian cause.
National Public Radio, the prestigious tax-funded network, is an exemplar of such skewed coverage – and the pattern is entrenched. From the time of the earliest and bloodiest terrorist attacks at the beginning of the Oslo process, NPR has hastened to soften the image of those who kill Israelis.
Three days after the 1994 Hamas bus bombing in Tel Aviv that took twenty-two lives, NPR’s Daniel Zwerdling cheerily told listeners that Hamas members are “terrific community organizers” who help to “develop young people” and who promote “business projects like honey, cheese making and home-based clothing manufacture.” A passing reference to terrorism made it seem a minor sideline.
After a suicide bombing in Netanya in 1995 that took nineteen lives, NPR aired a piece on the bomber portraying him as a likable family man who, the story implied, was driven to his desperate action by crowding, unemployment and unpaved streets in Gaza.
And so it has also been during the recent crisis that erupted in late September. When a terrorist bomb killed Ayalet Levy, a young mother and Hanan Levy, a young lawyer out on a lunch break, near the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem on November 2, NPR’s Jennifer Ludden reported the event briefly, without personal detail, then shifted her focus to the anti-Arab chanting of several Jews. (Other journalists had pointedly noted the somber mood of passers-by and how few expressed overt anger.) Thus the same reporter who had neglected to cover a virulent Holocaust-denial screed by the PA-appointed Mufti of Jerusalem last spring made a point of quoting high school girls saying they hate and mistrust the Palestinians.
Unlike NPR segments devoted to Arab grievances against Israel – which often include only Arab speakers and Arab views – this piece about the killing of Jews was “balanced” with comments from a Palestinian. Health-care specialist Mustafa Barghouti declared, “We don’t want violence, but we want to prove our right and there can be no peace without the ending of occupation… Israel is occupying the Palestinian people and it is the one that is practicing aggression.”
Ludden did not, of course, mention that the “occupation” ended several years ago, and that 97% of Palestinians govern themselves. She wrapped up her story with one last reassurance, saying “Palestinian officials tonight condemned the Jerusalem car bombing.” She did not tell listeners that Yasir Arafat had not, despite pledging to do so, expressed his public condemnation.
The grim fate of the Jewish dead was further obscured and rationalized when NPR segued immediately to a segment in Gaza with reporter Anne Garrels. Without any pretense of balance, her story presented unsubstantiated, one-sided and distorted allegations against Israel. Casting Gazan Arabs as the victims of brutish Israeli policy, Garrels charged that: “Israeli forces reduced nearby Palestinian dwellings to rubble” when clashes occurred near a road leading to the Jewish community at Netzarim. In fact, the “dwellings” included two multi-story buildings from which snipers had been firing on Israelis, and a structure called the “Factory” where Palestinians stored quantities of ammunition.
Nevertheless, Garrels, a newly-minted Middle East expert, editorialized that “Palestinian property means nothing if the security of the settlements is at stake.”
She accused Israel of wrecking olive and fruit groves and an Arab speaker charged Israel with destroying the community water source and shooting at Palestinians.
Not one word of rebuttal was given to any Israeli.
Nor was there mention, of course, that Israeli presence to protect Netzarim was agreed to by the Palestinians under the Oslo Accords. Garrels could have said, “Agreements with Israel mean nothing to the Palestinians if extracting concessions through violence is at stake.” But that would have violated the standard NPR bias.
In the November 20 terrorist attack, near Kfar Darom in Gaza that killed two and maimed numerous others, Jennifer Ludden began her report not with the heinous bombing of the school bus, but with Israel’s response. Again she was careless with facts, referring to two maimed children in one family where there were three. She made no mention of the murdered teacher, a mother of five, or to the slain father of six. As before, however, she did give a Palestinian opportunity to speak. Aman named Haddar was heard declaring that the Palestinian “revolution” will continue.
Ludden concluded with the observation that “Palestinians and many Israelis believe the settlers’ presence is inflammatory and part of the problem” – though she conceded that Prime Minister Barak “said the nation must support the settlers.”
Indeed, not just the “settlements” but Israel’s very “presence” itself is challenged at NPR. In a segment typical of the extreme positions the network promotes, far-left Allegra Pacheco was given a lengthy, uninterrupted monologue in which she called for the dissolution of Israel in its sovereign form, terming the country’s policies “apartheid” and “Jim Crow.”
Not a word of rebuttal was afforded any Israeli, nor did the program host challenge any of the wild accusations against Israel.
NPR’s unabashed anti-Israel programming reaches an exceptionally influential listening audience where its damage to public understanding of the realities in the Middle East can only do serious harm. Redress might be assumed to come more easily because the network receives millions in tax dollars, but the opposite has proven true. NPR has consistently stonewalled public complaint, considering itself, thanks to routinely assured government funding, above accountability.
Originally appeared in the Jerusalem Post on December 1, 2000