NPR Critiques Itself

In the face of numerous CAMERA studies documenting bias in National Public Radio’s coverage of the Arab-Israeli conflict, the network began in early 2003 to produce its own detailed self-analyses on the subject. These reviews, available on the NPR Web site, are largely self-congratulatory, noting occasional, small points of concern but concluding overall that network reporting has been responsible and balanced.

The first of the studies covers the period of Jan. 1 through March 31, 2003 and presents yet again a case example of the shoddiness that typifies so much of the network’s actual reporting. CAMERA conducted a study of the same period and found serious deficiencies in the NPR critique, blunders and errors that reverse the cheerful conclusions reported by Kevin Klose, network president and signatory of the analysis.

Events in the three-month span included the run-up to the Iraq war, elections in Israel, two major terrorist attacks–one in Tel Aviv that killed 23 and another in Haifa that killed 17–and extensive Israeli military operations against Hamas in Gaza that killed more than 30 Palestinians.

NPR Excluded 40 Percent of the Relevant Transcripts

The program segments included in NPR’s review are described as “60 produced pieces, interviews and two-ways” on “Israeli and Palestinian matters.” That is, in the period of 90 days covered in its review, NPR suggests on at least one-third of the days there were no relevant reports at all. In fact, according to CAMERA’s analysis, this is not the case; there are 96 transcripts dealing with the Arab-Israeli conflict during this time. Many stories related to Iraq digressed into references, often hostile and distorted ones, to Israel. Although not every report on the war was relevant, a substantial number were. (Eleven stories mentioning Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon and the loss of the Columbia spacecraft were excluded from both studies.)

From this fundamentally flawed beginning, NPR drew a variety of baseless and inaccurate conclusions, especially regarding issues of balance in the choice of speakers.

NPR Misrepresentedthe Speaker Count

In a muddled account of its use of Israeli and Arab speakers, NPR wrote:

The person most frequently heard or quoted during this period was Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of Israel (eight times). The second most frequently cited source was Major Sharon Feingold of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). Hirsh Goodman of the Jaffe Center in Jerusalem was interviewed four times during the period. Arab journalist Rami Khouri was interviewed twice.

Although Ariel Sharon was “heard or quoted” eight times, NPR omits entirely the fact that Saddam Hussein was “heard or quoted” eight times speaking about Israel, decrying “criminal Zionists” and urging “long live jihad and Palestine.”

The third most frequently heard person was not Sharon Feingold, who was included four times, but Rami Khouri, a frequently strident critic of Israel, who was interviewed six times. NPR falsely states that he was heard just twice. Khouri was interviewed on Feb. 6, Feb. 25, March 9, March 16, March 18 and March 23. In each of these, the journalist commented directly on Israel or, in one instance, spoke positively about a Hamas leader killed by Israel.

Hirsh Goodman was interviewed five times, not four.

NPR also erred in its count of “American sources,” saying:

As with all major news organizations, NPR from time to time interviews American sources to seek their analysis of events. During the period, NPR interviewed only two such experts: Dennis Ross, the former U.S. special envoy to the region, and Henry Siegman of the Council on Foreign Relations.

This is inaccurate. There were not just two American sources for “analysis of events,” but at least nine others. They were James Bennet, General William Nash, Leon Panetta, John Mearsheimer, Walter Russel Mead, Scott Atran, Alan Krueger, John Newhouse and former president Jimmy Carter.

Regarding overall representation of Israeli versus Arab speakers, NPR claimed:

In the 60 pieces, Israeli voices were heard 65 times and Palestinian (or other Arabs) were heard 49 times.

CAMERA found that in the 96 segments in which the Arab-Israeli issue was raised, 70 Israeli or pro-Israeli voices were heard, while there were 101 Arab or pro-Arab speakers. Thus, Arab or pro-Arab speakers were heard over 40 percent more often than Israeli or pro-Israeli speakers. NPR’s chronic practice of skewing speaker selection in favor of Arab and pro-Arab views continued in this three-month span.

News Segments Distorted Events

In addition to the quantitative skewing in numbers of speakers on NPR, there were numerous segments marred by distorted commentary, with Israel regularly assailed for alleged misconduct while Palestinian actions were often overlooked or whitewashed.

Israel as Middle East Menace: Violating U.N. Resolutions

A March 18 “Talk of the Nation” segment with NPR’s Neal Conan was similar to others in which guests–here the frequently interviewed Rami Khouri–charged that United Nations Resolutions directed at Israel and Iraq are not equitably applied. The claim is that Iraq is unfairly faulted and attacked while Israel flouts the U.N. and is let off the hook. Conan was either unable or unwilling to point out that this is nonsense, that the Resolutions in question are different. Chapter Seven Resolutions, those related to Iraq, entail enforcement and sanction measures. Chapter Six Resolutions–the only type applied to Israel–and including U.N. Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338–are advisory only and do not entail sanctions or international intervention.

Despite intensive coverage of the impending war and repeated complaints by Arab guests and others about alleged uneven treatment of Iraq and Israel, NPR apparently found it unnecessary to address the merit of the accusation of a double standard. Instead speakers were permitted to repeat without challenge or comment the inaccurate charges.

Spawning ‘Saddams’

Similarly, in a Feb. 6 “All Things Considered” interview conducted by Michele Norris with Khaled Al-Maeena, editor in chief of the Arab News in Saudi Arabia, the guest repeatedly alleged that Israel and “Palestine” are the main Middle East problem. He declared:

I think that Iraq is a defanged tiger. I don’t think that Iraq is a threat. I think the threat for us in the Middle East is Israel. And for God’s sake, I mean, try to solve that problem, and you won’t have any more Saddams.

Although the speaker, a fellow jo urnalist, implied that Israel somehow causes Arab dictators and is more of a threat than Iraq, Norris offered no hint of skepticism or challenge. Such tolerance of extreme statements by Arab speakers about Israel is commonplace.

Contemplating New Occupations

A March 19 “Morning Edition” story with Peter Kenyon was vintage NPR. The report included four Palestinians and one Israeli–a critic of the Israeli government. The topic was Israel’s possibly using the cover of the impending Iraq war to reoccupy Gaza. A Palestinian mother described the “panicky” feelings of her three-year-old when she hears “shooting.” Another Palestinian declared that Israel will “for sure” move on “Jenin, Rafah and [Khan] Yunis.” A third referred to having witnessed “the assassination” of “Hamas founder Ibrahim al-Maqadma” at a nearby crossroads.

Israeli Menahem Klein was also “worrying” about Israeli intentions, according to NPR’s Peter Kenyon, specifically about more military “practice runs.” No Israeli military or government speaker was included to indicate Israeli concerns about the violence emanating from Gaza or to respond to the assertions about Israeli intentions. There was no reference to Maqadma’s being linked to more than a score of Israeli deaths.

Censoring Free Expression

On Jan. 1, in a “Morning Edition” segment, Linda Gradstein reported on efforts in Israel to ban the movie Jenin, Jenin, an inflammatory, false portrayal of events in Jenin during the Israeli incursion in that West Bank city in the spring of 2002.

The NPR segment is representative of the network’s obsessive scrutiny of Israel. While harsh censorship and human rights abuses are endemic in virtually every neighboring country, it is Israel being examined for a rare attempt to prevent showing of a film. (Nor did NPR follow up later to report that the Israeli Supreme Court overturned the censorship board ban.)

Gradstein presented a soundbite from the film in which a Palestinian man claims to have been beaten by Israeli soldiers, then shot in the hand and foot. As in many NPR reports, the statements made by Palestinians were presented here at face value. A later investigation of these charges by an Israeli doctor showed the Palestinian was actually hiding among gunmen when he was hit in the hand by a ricocheting bullet. The foot injury was entirely invented. (See CAMERA’s review of Jenin, Jenin.)

Although the film is a propagandistic mix of fabrication and distortion that casts Israeli soldiers as war criminals, its director, Mohammed Bakri, is said in the NPR piece to be targeting “Israelis who have demonized Palestinians during the past two years of conflict” to show there are “fathers and mothers and children” on the “other side.”

Defending the Palestinians:

Actions by the Palestinian leadership or public that reflect negatively on them have regularly been omitted or airbrushed by NPR.

Anti-American Animus Softened, Suicide-Bombers As ‘Loved Ones’

A March 21 “Special Coverage” piece on the Iraq war turned to events in the West Bank and Gaza where, NPR’s Robert Siegel said, “thousands marched to protest against the war in Iraq.” He added there were “also rallies in the Gaza Strip, where pro-Iraq and pro-Hamas sentiments are strong.” As in much of the Iraq coverage, the fierce anti-American and anti-Israel content of the “rallies” was omitted.

Other media outlets were more candid. The New York Times reported:

In the Palestinian cities of Ramallah and Bethlehem in the West Bank, and in Beit Hanun in the northern Gaza Strip, hundreds of Palestinians denounced the U.S. attacks, burning American flags and brandishing Iraqi banners. “Death to America, death to Bush,” the marchers in Gaza shouted. “We will sacrifice our soul and our blood for Saddam.”

An Israeli monitoring group, Palestinian Media Watch, also reported on the anti-American rhetoric in the Palestinian Authority media. Cartoons such as that on March 3 in the main PA newspaper cast the United States as an Arab-devouring alligator.

In the same NPR segment, correspondent Peter Kenyon also reported: “There’s a group known as the Arab Liberation Front which is distributing more Iraqi money to families who have lost loved ones due to the conflict with Israelis.”

Who were the “loved ones” lost “due to the conflict with Israelis”? Once again, the network radically sanitized the facts to soften the negative implications for the Arabs. As other media, such as the New York Times and AP reported, the recipients of Saddam’s largesse included families of suicide bombers. The Times‘ wrote:

Also in Gaza, the Arab Liberation Front, a small, pro-Iraqi group, handed out $10,000 checks that Hussein sent to 21 families of Palestinians killed in the fighting with Israel. The Iraqi leader has sent more than $35 million to Palestinians since their uprising began 30 months ago, including checks for $25,000 to [each of] the families of Palestinian suicide bombers.

The PA Shielded From Its Role in Hate-Indoctrination

NPR continued to omit coverage–as it has for more than a decade–of the PA’s indoctrination of Palestinian society in genocidal hatred of the Jewish people. Several segments during the period of this study touched on the popularity and motivations of suicide bombers. But nowhere did NPR report on the responsibility of the PA for engendering hatred of Israel.

A March 7 segment of “Morning Edition” discussed the makeup of suicide bombers with academic researchers who noted that poverty is not an indicator of who will become a bomber. A Palestinian psychiatrist frequently heard on NPR, Eyad Sarraj, said most of the bombers

are usually nice, timid, introvert[s], have had a problem with power in their childhood, and most of them have had personal experience with serious traumatic events in their lives and particularly witnessing the helplessness of their fathers and the humiliation of their fathers.

But personal psychological factors are, at best, a partial explanation for the waves of suicide killers. NPR wrongly suggests Palestinians have been simply helpless, humiliated victims.

Omitted is the systematic action of the PA in creating a society saturated in the glorification of death and hatred. The PA has raised a generation of young people to seek paradise by killing Jews, but rather than report this reality, NPR covers it up.

A Jan. 28 “Morning Edition” story with Peter Kenyon examines the phenomenon of very young Palestinians attacking Israelis and the popularity of “martyrdom” operations. Although the report notes that Palestinian society extols “martyrs” and attaches prestige to the role, the impression is also given that there is no overt pressure on children to become suicide bombers. Nor is there mention of Arafat’s direct exhortations to jihad and of the explicit Palestinian media messages ur ging young people literally to put down their toys and pick up arms in the path to paradise. The report, like many, refuses to implicate the Palestinian Authority. Instead it falls back on trauma and “frustration” as causes.

A Jan. 22 “Morning Edition” piece by Linda Gradstein reflects the same trend, recounting how Islamic Jihad successfully attracts youths to be suicide bombers. The rationale for taking this path is said to be humiliation, unemployment and frustration. There is no hint of responsibility on the part of Palestinian society.

Notably, during the time of the NPR study (Jan–March 2003), official Palestinian calls for jihad and suicide killing were being directed against both America and Israel as the Iraq war got underway. For example, a Hamas spokesman called for creation of a suicide army (MEMRI, Jan. 9, 2003) and a Palestinian Christian leader praised “martyrdom attacks” and said “Zionist Jews are foreigners in this land. They have no right to live or settle in it. They should go somewhere else in the world to establish their state and their false entity…” (MEMRI, Jan. 23, 2003). These statements were never reported by NPR.


NPR’s self-assessment must be viewed primarily as a public relations effort aimed at deflecting charges of anti-Israel bias and at countering questions and criticism arising among the network’s financial supporters. In addition, there have undoubtedly been concerns expressed by some affiliate stations facing public complaint and monetary losses.

Nevertheless NPR’s review methods and conclusions cannot reassure anyone serious about assessing the journalistic performance of the network in the vital area of Middle East coverage. As noted, NPR neglected to include nearly 40 percent of the relevant programs in its analysis, skewing completely its claims about speaker balance. NPR then alleged there was a preponderance of programs with an “Israeli perspective”–though how it was decided what constitutes such a “perspective” was undefined. (President Kevin Klose conceded “There is a subjective element to this analysis, to be sure…”) The reality is NPR presented the same tilt in favor of Arab and pro-Arab views in the Jan. 1–March 31, 2003 period as has been the case in every other time span CAMERA has investigated.

Observations by NPR about its qualitative performance are no more rigorous. A section on “story selection” speaks generally about covering the major events of the period, but singles out for mention “a story that received intense coverage…the Jan. 5 bomb attacks [note: not “terror attacks”] in Tel Aviv…” Having often given little or no attention to Israeli terror victims, NPR touted these three reports on an atrocity that took 23 lives and wounded120. NPR did not, however, tout in its summary–or mention at all–airing five stories focused mostly or entirely on Palestinian grievances about life in Gaza. And so it goes throughout the self-critique.

Evidently believing such reviews help quell widespread public ire about its pro-Arab tilt, NPR generated similar reviews each quarter during 2003. On Feb. 19, 2004, Klose reported on the NPR Web site: “Through the self-assessment process, we have subjected NPR to reviews that are more rigorous, continuous and detailed than any I have seen in four decades in journalism.”

On the basis of CAMERA’s first parallel review of an NPR quarterly assessment, Klose’s grandiose praise is just more PR spin. Listeners are encouraged to compare the CAMERA analysis with NPR’s and to consider whether taxpayers should be compelled to support a network that can’t get the original story or the self-appraisal right.

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