NPR Bias Persists As CAMERA Action Prompts Fox News, PBS Coverage

BOSTON, September 15, 2002 —In late summer 2002, Fox News, PBS’s NewsHour and numerous other electronic and print media turned to CAMERA for interviews and comment about National Public Radio’s controversial Middle East coverage. Yet, as media interest intensified, along with public ire at the bias and funding losses from donors, NPR responded by — hiring a PR agency (DCS Group) to help repair its damaged reputation. A far better strategy for restoring listener support and ending the negative criticism would, of course, be to end the distorted reporting. That has not happened. Severely unbalanced, incomplete and factually inaccurate coverage persists.

Repeated, in-depth studies by CAMERA underscore the continuing bias; quantitatively and qualitatively, the network fails to present balanced, accurate and complete coverage. Many segments, for example, presenting harsh, distorted accusations against Israel permit not even a single speaker to respond on Israel’s behalf. Corrections of inaccurate Israel-related reports are rare, misleadingly worded, issued only under duress and typically not broadcast but merely posted on the NPR Web site.

Below are some of the problems we found:

  • Speaker imbalance

NPR has invariably countered criticism of individual, one-sided programs by claiming the coverage is balanced over time. In response, CAMERA has undertaken multiple in-depth studies which have repeatedly confirmed the severe lack of balance “over time” in presenting contending Israeli and Palestinian/Arab views. In three separate studies in less than two years, CAMERA found NPR programming severely skewed, giving substantially more air-time to Arab/Palestinian and pro-Arab speakers than to Israeli and pro-Israeli voices and often omitting any Israeli or pro-Israeli voice at all:

1) September 26–November 26, 2000

In a two-month review of all major news and interview programs, CAMERA found Arab and pro-Arab speakers were given 77% more time on the air (in words spoken) than Israeli and pro-Israel speakers. Entirely one-sided programs were commonplace, whether devoted to assailing Ariel Sharon as a “war criminal,” to characterizing Israel as a “Jim Crow” nation which should be done away with in its “apartheid” form, or to blaming Israel for excessive violence, anti-American riots in Arab capitals and erosion of supposed Arab commitment to peace. There were 41 segments in which only Palestinian/Arab or pro-Arab speakers were heard and just 24 programs in which only Israeli or pro-Israeli speakers were heard.

2) March 27–April 10, 2002

In a ten-day review of all major news and interview programs, during a time of unprecedented terrorism, including the Passover massacre of 29 people, the Matza restaurant attack in Haifa that killed 14 and multiple other lethal bombings and shootings, 62 Palestinians or other Arabs were heard on NPR, often expressing bitter accusations against Israel, while just 32 Israelis were interviewed. Numerous anti-Israel speakers, some extreme, were also heard denouncing the Jewish state. Adam Shapiro, notorious for defending Yasir Arafat in his Ramallah compound, was featured in a segment and Jeff Halper, who advocates the end of Israel as a Jewish state, was heard. Not a single Jewish victim of the terrorist onslaught was mentioned by name, not one bereaved family was interviewed and not one injured survivor was the focus of a story.

3) June 1– July 31, 2002

In a two-month review of all major news and interview programs, CAMERA found, again, only 41% of the speakers in Middle East related stories were Israeli or pro-Israeli while 59% were Palestinian/Arab or pro-Arab. Even smaller percentages of actual time allotment were given to the Israeli side which received only 35% in terms of words spoken compared to the Arab/Palestinian’s 65%. Segments that excluded any Israeli voice while presenting exclusively Arab or pro-Arab views numbered 29, compared to just 9 in which only Israeli views were heard with no Arab voices. That is a difference of 76.3% to 23.7%.

Israel’s concerns as conveyed by its citizens, officials and sympathetic analysts are, on the basis of air-time alone, regularly obscured in coverage disproportionately tilted toward Arab views.

  • Partisan language

On NPR the only “moderates” in the Arab-Israeli conflict are Palestinians and other Arabs. In CAMERA’s June-July 2002 study, only Marwan Barghouti (now on trial by Israel for his involvement in terrorism), Sari Nusseibeh, Khalil Shikaki, Madi Abdel Hadi, along with Egyptian officials and the government of Saudi Arabia, were termed “moderate.” No Israeli or Israeli leader was described as moderate. Israelis were, on the other hand, called “hard-line” or “hard-liners.” Hamas officials were never described as “hard-line” but were referred to in neutral terms as “Hamas official,” “Hamas leader,” “Hamas spokesman” or “Hamas founder.” Hamas leader Sheik Ahmed Yassin was termed a “spiritual leader” as well as “charismatic” and “popular.”

Although various Arab leaders were labeled “popular” or “prominent,” including Marwan Barghouti, Sheik Yassin, Sari Nusseibeh and Hanan Ashrawi, no Israelis were characterized as “popular” or “prominent” (During this time, even the New York Times ran multiple articles noting the popularity of the Israeli government.)

  • One-sided reports and unfounded Palestinian charges

Among the most objectionable features of NPR coverage is the broadcasting of entirely one-sided stories leveling serious charges against Israel with no Israeli chance to reply. One example among many was a July 1, 2002 report from Gaza in which correspondent Peter Kenyon interviewed only Palestinians and European critics of Israel who claimed IDF “snipers” relentlessly target defenseless sewer line repairmen in Gaza. NPR said a European spokesman explained “repair work is only possible because these Italians, Belgians and French Moroccans have placed themselves in between the workers and the Israeli snipers…” The same man claimed “for the past six months Palestinian technicians have been shot at every time they tried to repair the [sewer] lines…” Although NPR was accusing the Israeli military of shooting at civilians for “six months” and preventing essential, public -health-related repairs, there was not even a token comment by an Israeli.

The IDF spokesman’s office told CAMERA it categorically rejects the charge that soldiers are targeting civilians. The same office said NPR had never contacted them to check the allegations. Responding to public protest about the report, NPR posted a “correction” on its Web site expressing regret that no Israeli had been included. The “correction¿ was not broadcast and there was no follow-up report to present the Israeli side of the story.

  • Unprofessional “Corrections” policy

NPR’s correction policy is a travesty. Although the Middle East is heavily reported and is overwhelmingly the most controversial aspect of the network’s broadcasting, only four of 34 corrections posted on its Web site concern that subject. (There could as easily be 40 corrections concerning the Middle East in the same two-year period.) Moreover, 32 of the se corrections were broadcast on the air, reaching a large audience, but of the four corrections related to Israel just two were broadcast. Many of the non-Middle East corrections, promptly aired after the error was made, were truly trivial, such as noting a name was spelled “Johnston” — not “Johnson.”

In one instance, when NPR did broadcast a “correction” of a seriously inaccurate Middle East story, the action came nearly two months after CAMERA contacted the network and only after enlisting NPR Foundation Board Members to intervene. NPR had charged that Israeli settlers “shot dead” a Palestinian girl while she was picking olives. In fact, the girl was killed in the crossfire when Palestinian gunmen near civilians initiated shooting at Israeli soldiers who then returned fire, striking her accidentally. NPR’s “correction” omitted the Palestinian-launched violence entirely, saying only “other news organizations attributed the shooting to Israeli soldiers.” In fact, “other news organizations,” such as the New York Times, United Press International and others reported the violence by the Palestinians, which was entirely omitted by NPR. The refusal of the network to set the record straight about this false broadcast is indicative of its profound unwillingness to cover the full context of the Arab-Israeli conflict overall.

Transcripts and audio of some NPR coverage are available on the NPR Web site:

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