On NPR’s Fresh Air, Terry Gross Relieves Hamas of War Crime Charge

Listeners to National Public Radio’s popular Fresh Air talk show recently heard host Terry Gross explain that, after the war between Israel and Hamas, it is Israel that’s on the docket. “Human rights groups are calling for an investigation into possible war crimes that were committed by Israel in Gaza,” she told her guest during a Jan. 27 segment.

This might be the truth; but it definitely isn’t the whole truth. And in journalism, half truths — otherwise known as errors of omission — can mislead the public almost as much as an outright lie.

The major human rights groups, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, have long been criticized for anti-Israel bias. But contrary to what Gross implies, they did not, in this case, single out Israel; rather, they “called for an investigation” into the Palestinians’ behavior, too.

Less than two weeks before the Fresh Air segment aired, Human Rights Watch alleged that Israel’s use of 155mm shells amounted to illegal “indiscriminate attacks,” but went on to assert that “Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups have also violated the laws of war by continuing to fire unguided Qassam and Grad rockets at population centers in Israel” (press release, Jan. 16, 2009). On the day of the Fresh Air broadcast, the group reiterated that it calls for “an impartial international investigation into allegations of serious violations of the laws of war by Israel and Hamas …”(press release, Jan. 27, 2009).

Amnesty International likewise called for investigation of all the parties involved in the fighting. A Jan. 22 open letter to the UN Security Council by Amnesty urged “a comprehensive independent international inquiry into all allegations of violations of international humanitarian and human rights law by Israel, Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups participating in the conflict.”

Did Gross, who transformed HRW and AI’s criticism of both sides into a one-sided condemnation of Israel, feel the groups were not biased enough?

It is especially remarkable that listeners were led to believe Israel alone is accused of violating international law when one considers the Palestinian side’s behavior throughout (and prior to) the war. Hamas based itself in crowded Palestinian civilian areas, and used them to fire rockets at crowded Israeli civilian areas. As noted by top United Nations humanitarian official John Holmes on Jan. 27, “the reckless and cynical use of civilian installations by Hamas, and the indiscriminate firing of rockets against civilian populations, are clear violations of international humanitarian law.” He went on to say that there are “major questions” and “obvious concerns” about Israel’s adherence to the principles of distinction and proportionality. So Gross essentially exculpates the side that surely committed war crimes, while casting only the other side, about which there are “questions,” as potential violators of the law.

Gross did mention Hamas rocket attacks during the segment; but she gave no hint that these are regarded as clear violations of international law. Nor did her guest, New York Times reporter Ethan Bronner, inform listeners that the Palestinian side committed war crimes.

This isn’t the first time NPR left international criticism of the Palestinians on the cutting room floor to promote one-sided condemnation of Israel. In March 2008, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon told the Security Council he “condemn[ed] Palestinian rocket attacks and call[ed] for the immediate cessation of such acts of terrorism,” and that he “recogniz[ed] Israel’s right to defend itself” but “condemn[ed] the disproportionate and excessive use of force.” Robert Seigel of NPR’s All Things Considered proceded to ignore the first half of the statement even as he relayed the second half.

Whether one calls it a half-truth, an error of omission, or simply a distortion, NPR’s selective reporting of the news will surely raise further doubts about whether the tax-payer funded broadcaster is providing “strict adherence to objectivity and balance in all programs or series of programs of a controversial nature,” as required by law.

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