Overview of Recent NPR Bias

As many National Public Radio affiliates conduct fall fundraising campaigns, listeners being asked to donate to the tax-funded network should consider its continuing, slanted coverage of the Arab-Israeli conflict, as well as NPR’s lopsided reporting about Jewish American and Muslim American concerns.

NPR focuses much attention on American Muslims’ perceptions of discrimination, but it mostly ignores Jewish Americans’ apprehensions regarding their safety, despite the July 5, 2002 shooting by an Egyptian at the Los Angeles Airport’s El Al ticket counter, in which two Jews were murdered and 4 wounded, and despite the July 28, 2006 shooting at the Seattle Jewish Federation in which 58-year-old Pamela Waechter was murdered and 5 others injured. The murderer, Naveed Afzal Haq, was an American of Pakistani descent and was described in the Seattle Times as having displayed “a streak of anti-Semitism.”
Murderous Attack at Seattle Jewish Federation All But Ignored
Remarkably, the network did not do a single story about the Seattle killing on any of its news programs (Morning Edition, Weekend Edition, All Things Considered, Day to Day, Talk of the Nation) and apparently carried only brief headline reports on the violence that are not, unlike stories on its news programs, archived on the NPR Web site and news databases. Nor has there been a single follow-up story on, for example, the pregnant woman shot and injured by the gunman or another who nearly succumbed to severe injuries and suffers with a bullet in her spine and long rehabilitation ahead.

NPR Ignores Extremism

At the same time, NPR has done numerous news and feature stories on Muslim concerns about their treatment in America. Indeed, on the occasion of the fifth anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks, and two months after the fatal shooting in Seattle, the network presented a week-long series on the experiences and feelings of Muslim Americans. The series, which aired on Morning Edition, Day to Day and All Things Considered in exceptionally long segments, focused on moderate Islam, or individuals represented as trying to moderate the religion.

Features on the concerns of moderate Muslims are certainly newsworthy. But just as NPR’s news programs ignored the murder of Pamela Waechter, these segments made only passing mention, or none at all, of uncomfortable issues that might raise questions about extremism within the Islamic world.

For example, one installment of the NPR series looked at Syrian director Najdat Anzour’s television special running during Ramadan this month. The title of the segment is: “Ramadan TV special sends anti-terrorism message.” Interesting, indeed. But not once during the segment did the NPR anchor mention the darker side of Syrian media. A Syrian-produced 2003 Ramadan television series, for example, leveled a gamut of anti-Semitic charges, from accusations of Jewish ritual murder to claims that the Jews started both World Wars. Also overlooked in the NPR segment was the U.S. State Department’s International Religious Freedom Report 2006 for Syria, which notes:

Government officials occasionally used radio and television programming, news articles, and other mass media to condone anti-Semitic material. Anti-Israel material was widespread, some of which carried anti-Semitic overtones. For example, in January 2006, the government-owned al-Thawra newspaper published an article suggesting that the Government of Israel had genetically engineered the avian flu virus in order to damage “genes carried only by Arabs” and thus “to realize the Zionist goal of harming the Arabs.”

NPR’s piece on Anzour leaves the impression that Syrian television is a force of moderation, whitewashing the important issue of anti-Jewish/anti-Israel incitement in the Arab media.

Similarly, even though a couple of NPR guests mention the problem of “demonizing the Jews” and “anti-Jewish rhetoric” in the American Muslim community, the network doesn’t explore the topic in any serious depth, let alone devote one of its many segments about Muslims in America to the problem. (In fact, another NPR news show at around this time [Talk of the Nation, Aug. 31] hosted a guest who suggests that, rather than being a real issue, charges of anti-Semitism are merely a way for Israel to stifle debate about Israeli “behaviors.”)

Perhaps NPR felt that serious exploration of anti-Semitism on Syrian television or in the American Muslim community, like the shooting in Seattle, would distract from the network’s chosen focus on positive trends in Islam. But as German chancellor Angela Merkel recently said, “Self-censorship does not help us against people who want to practice violence in the name of Islam.” And it certainly does not make for fair and comprehensive news coverage.

It might also be worth noting that NPR had no multi-part features about the feelings of Jews at a time of rising global anti-Semitism, despite the fact that, according to the FBI, about 86 percent of hate-crimes in the U.S. motivated by religious bias were directed at Jews—more than any other group (including Muslims, who made up 13 percent of the victims).
Indeed, while NPR seems at pains to display sensitivity to Muslims, it has for decades, in countless programs, evinced the opposite where Jews are concerned.  CAMERA faulted the network for its July 6, 2006, outrageous softball interview of Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer, authors of the notorious “Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy,” a study posted on Harvard’s Kennedy School Web site that many have termed anti-Semitic for its stereotyping and scapegoating of Jews.
Notably, callers to the CAMERA office expressed anxiety that the lengthy, indulgent interview aired in prime listening time on Morning Edition, during which the two academics assailed the “lobby” for “humiliating” the American president and betraying U.S. interests, could itself incite anti-Jewish feeling.

Slanted Reporting about Israel and the Middle East Ongoing
In another troubling indication of bias, the network persists in broadcasting extremely one-sided segments dealing with the Middle East conflict.

A prime example was NPR’s September 18, 2006 discussion of Samir Kuntar, a Palestinian terrorist who infiltrated with three others from Lebanon into Israel breaking into an apartment on April 22, 1979. The terrorists dragged a father, Danny Haran, and his 4-year-old daughter, Einat, to a nearby beach. There the father was shot to death and then, according to eyewitnesses, the child’s head was crushed with a rifle butt. Kuntar, now held by Israel, is one of the prisoners Hezbollah has tried to coerce Israel into releasing.

In this Morning Edition segment, host Steve Inskeep claimed that NPR i s looking at “both sides” of the Kuntar issue: “In Israel, Kuntar is described as a monster. In Lebanon, he’s considered a resistance fighter. NPR’s Jamie Tarabay has been speaking with people on both sides of the issue, including Kuntar’s brother.”

What does NPR consider a fair look at “both sides”?  After the reporter explains that Kuntar denied having killed any civilians, listeners hear Kuntar’s brother cast further doubt on Kuntar’s guilt while suggesting that the terrorist (who recently suggested he did not regret his crime) should be given less than a 27-year sentence: “Let’s say that if I want to adopt the Israelis’ story and I want to consider him as a criminal, now if he is sentenced in the international criminal court, I think after 27 years he would be freed.” 
Then, after the reporter explains that another Lebanese activist, Mohammad Safa, feels Kuntar should have already been freed, and that the murder was “justified,” listeners hear Safa blaming Israel for Kuntar’s terrorism, and saying that “Kuntar is not a killer, [he] is a Lebanese resistance [sic]”.

What do we hear from the other side of the issue? One paraphrased sentence buried between the comments of the two supporters of Kuntar: “Smadar Haran Kaiser, the widow of the man Kantar was convicted of killing, called the killings of her husband and four-year-old daughter murders of unimaginable cruelty.”

But Smadar Haran Kaiser has plenty more to say about Kuntar, as told by the widow herself in a column in the Washington Post. (Click here to read that heartbreaking column.) 

Israel’s Perspective Omitted
Similarly skewed against Israeli perspectives was a September 6, 2006, segment of All Things Considered, in which NPR gave Israel no opportunity to comment on or respond to harsh accusations leveled against the country.  During the program, reporter Peter Kenyon spoke with a guest about a former Israeli-run prison in southern Lebanon destroyed during the recent war. The guest, a Lebanese Hezbollah-supporter and supposedly a former inmate at the prison, charged the Jewish state with “cruelty,” and claimed he was tortured several times while incarcerated.

Despite these allegations of torture and Israeli cruelty, not a single Israeli voice is heard during the program to rebut the guest’s charges, to explain what purpose the prison served, to explain why the Lebanese man was incarcerated, or even to confirm that the Lebanese man was ever a former prisoner.

NPR still has a real and serious bias problem when it comes to factual, balanced coverage of events involving Arabs, Muslims and Jews.

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