NPR’s Biased Corrections

National Public Radio, the taxpayer-supported public radio network, has earned an unenviable reputation as the most anti-Israel news source in the mainstream U.S. media. In an effort to help NPR improve its coverage, CAMERA had repeatedly suggested in meetings with senior network officials that they follow the print media practice of correcting inaccurate or biased reports. Not only would this set the record straight, it would also encourage reporters to do better work, thereby sparing themselves the embarrassment of a correction.

For years the network resisted, claiming that its radio format made this difficult or impossible. Finally, with the rise of the internet, we suggested that NPR at least post corrections on its web page, and we were hopeful when the network finally adopted this policy around the fall of 2001.

Unfortunately, however, it seems that NPR’s anti-Israel bias runs so deep that even its corrections are tilted against Israel. Thus, as of August 12, 2002, NPR had posted 34 corrections on its web page, with most – 31– also broadcast on the air. However, there were only four corrections related to the Arab-Israeli conflict (there could have easily been 40 during this time period), and only two of these were also on-air corrections.

While systematically neglecting serious errors, NPR’s corrections instead tended to dwell on the truly trivial. For example, on June 13, 2002 the network broadcast an admission that three days earlier it had incorrectly reported that the 1990 World Cup-winning German soccer team had represented a unified Germany. In fact, it had represented just West Germany. And on April 18th NPR promptly corrected the name of a test pilot who had first flown the B-52 bomber 50 years ago. It was Tex Johnston, not Tex Johnson.

Another prompt on-air correction pointed out that in an essay read by an Israeli teenager her hometown of Efrat “was not identified as an Israeli settlement, land occupied by the Israelis in the 1967 war.” Of course, if NPR wants to get technical about this sort of thing, why not also note that Israel is present in the West Bank because, as the late King Hussein admitted, Jordan attacked Israel during the 1967 war? Why not add, as also admitted by the King, that Jordan’s attack came after Israel had promised to leave Jordan alone if Jordan would leave Israel alone? Or that Jordan’s possession of the West Bank was illegal and the result of aggression against Israel in 1948? One would wait in vain, however, to ever hear such facts on NPR.

Unfortunately, one does not wait in vain for NPR to mangle the statements of Israeli officials. For example, after virtually every Palestinian attack, an NPR reporter or anchor can be counted on to utter the phrase, “Israeli officials say a Palestinian militant …”, or something similar. Well, in fact, the Israeli official probably said terrorist rather than “militant” or “gunman” or “activist,” or any other of NPR’s preferred euphemisms for those who maim, murder and dismember Israeli civilians.

Sometimes NPR’s instant revisionism is taken to absurd lengths, as in a June 21 newscast reporting a Palestinian home invasion and murder of an Israeli mother and three of her children. According to NPR, Israeli officials had attributed the attack to “Palestinian commandos.” Commandos, of course, usually rescue hostages rather than murdering them.

Interestingly enough, even though NPR claims to post on its website transcripts of all its Middle East coverage, this “commando” transcript was omitted, and the network ombudsman, Jeffrey Dvorkin, flatly denied that there had even been such a broadcast. Finally, almost a week later, the network admitted using the phrase “Palestinian commandos,” and posted a correction on its website claiming that a “newscaster misspoke.” This correction, however, was never broadcast.

Indeed, besides the inane Efrat “correction,” only one other report concerning Israel has been corrected on air – a November 24, 2001 segment which claimed that Israeli settlers had shot and killed a Palestinian girl as she worked in her family’s olive grove. Two days after this broadcast CAMERA contacted NPR President Kevin Klose privately, informing him that according to independent press accounts the girl had died after armed Palestinians hiding in the olive grove shot at Israeli soldiers, who then returned fire. Settlers had nothing to do with the girl’s tragic death, and if anyone was to blame, it was the Palestinians who launched an attack despite the presence of nearby civilians.

While the Efrat story was corrected within a day, it took a full seven weeks, and much private pressure, for NPR to finally address the clear-cut, material error in its November 24th story. But rather than broadcast a forthright correction, NPR instead effectively informed listeners that while Israeli settlers hadn’t murdered the Palestinian girl, Israeli soldiers had. In what seems to have been a malicious omission, there was no mention whatsoever of the Palestinian ambush that led to the girl’s death:

A correction on a story that aired on this show last November. In the introduction to a story about Palestinian farmers and the frictions between them and Israeli settlers, we stated that “a Palestinian girl was shot dead by settlers as she picked olives.” Reports by other news organizations attributed the shooting to Israeli soldiers. We have been unable to verify that settlers did the shooting and should not have stated that as fact. (Aired January 12, 2002)

How can anyone believe NPR will report honestly when, given seven weeks, it can’t even correct honestly?

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