The NPR ombudsman’s office is trying to dismiss the criticism it has received from CAMERA members regarding its biased article on Israeli settlements. The gist of NPR’s message to critics is that “no single news report can encompass the full history of the region or include every important viewpoint or perspective.” Authors Greg Myre and Larry Kaplow have similarly defended their article by stating that it “did not address all the many other issues and historical events important to both sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict because they’re too numerous to include in a single piece.”
This type of mantra, generally used by journalists to justify a one-sided or partisan approach to a subject, is a straw man argument that avoids addressing problems with the article or its journalistic shortcomings.
Of course, it is unreasonable to expect a journalist to provide “a full history of the region,” or to address “all the many other issues”or to include “every” viewpoint in a single article, but no one is demanding that. What news consumers rightfully expect is that professional journalists will provide objective and accurate information about the specific topic they are addressing at any given time and that they not mislead their audience with half truths.
Regarding complaints about the devious half truth that “no Israeli citizens” were living in the West Bank and that Jerusalem had a population “that was then entirely Palestinian” in 1967, the NPR ombudsman’s office responded that the “information is accurate and provides helpful context to listeners in a story which notes that there are now hundreds of thousands of Israeli citizens residing in the West Bank.”
Contrary to the ombudsman’s assertion, such partial information overtly misleads the audience. It is not simply a different “viewpoint” or irrelevant history that the authors claim they have no room for, but essential information whose absence creates a false implication. By isolating their point of reference and concealing the fact that Israeli citizens were forcefully kept out of the territory for 19 years, the authors imply that Israel holds no rightful claim to it. As for the “helpful context” the ombudsman insists this provides, it is only helpful to those partisans who already have made up their mind before peace negotiations that the disputed territory rightfully belongs to the Palestinians.
By mechanically reciting that “NPR’s journalists are committed to accuracy above all else and they are guided by NPR’s rigorous code of ethics,” the ombudsman is fooling no one.