May 3–In perhaps the most distorted coverage of the brutal murder of a pregnant Israeli mother and her four young daughters, NPR’s Julie McCarthy blamed the victims for their own slaughter. In the atrocity in Gaza on May 2, the gunmen reportedly fired on the family’s car from 20 yards away. When 34-year-old Tali, a social worker who was in her last trimester of pregnancy, lost control of the vehicle, the Palestinian terrorists approached the vehicle and executed Tali and her daughters — Hila, 11; Hadar, 9; Roni, 7 and Merav, 2 — one by one at close range. According to press reports, the younger children were still strapped into their car seats, the car was blood-soaked, and it took the ZAKA recovery crew a long time to extract all of the bullets and collect the body parts.
Julie McCarthy’s egregious statement on “Morning Edition” today came at the end of a report about Ariel Sharon’s referendum loss on his “disengagement” plan. McCarthy reported:
The settlers rallied support saying Israel was withdrawing under fire. But there was ample evidence yesterday to show that their continued presence in Gaza is provoking bloodshed. Israeli troops shot dead two Palestinian gunmen after the men ambushed mother and her four small daughters outside the Gaza settlement of Gush Katif. The family was shot and killed on their way to the Israeli city of Ashkelon where they intended to campaign against Ariel Sharon and his plan to uproot them from Gaza. Julie McCarthy, NPR news, Jerusalem.
BLAMING THE VICTIM
McCarthy’s editorializing that the Jewish community’s “continued presence in Gaza is provoking bloodshed” is consistent with the Palestinian Authority view that the killing of settlers is a natural and legitimate outgrowth of the fact that Jews dare to inhabit territory that the Palestinians claim as their own. According to Ha’aretz, “A senior Palestinian source said he thought there was no chance the Palestinian Authority would express reservations, since every settler was considered an integral part of the occupation against which action must be taken” (Danny Rubinstein, 5/3/04).
Of course, though, there is no justification whatsoever within international law that justifies the killing of civilians simply because they live in territory which others claim as their own. Unfortunately, McCarthy’s report suggests justification where there is none. ‘
REVERSING CAUSE AND EFFECT
McCarthy further distorts the killing of the Hatuel family members by reversing the chronology of events. She states: “Israeli troops shot dead two Palestinian gunmen after the men ambushed a mother and her four small daughters outside the Gaza settlement of Gush Katif.” Why is the Israeli response mentioned before the Palestinian murder? The result is that the defensive Israeli action is amplified while the Palestinians’ barbarous act is de-emphasized.
SOFT-PEDALLING THE MURDER
McCarthy’s sanitized description of the Hatuels’ murder employs equivalent language to describe Israel’s shooting of murderers and the murderers’ butchering of young children and their mother. Thus, “Israeli troops shot dead two Palestinian gunmen,” “the men ambushed a mother and her four small daughters,” and “the family was shot and killed.” From these indistinguishable descriptions, listeners would have no clue as to the brutality of the execution of a mother and four children whose bodies were riddled by dozens of bullets shot at point blank range.
May 5 Update: NPR’s Follow Up
In response to a deluge of complaints received about Julie McCarthy’s May 3 report on the killing of the Hatuel family, NPR distributed the following statement and posted it on their Web site:
In a story that aired Monday, May 3, on the political setback to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s plan to disengage from Gaza, correspondent Julie McCarthy reported on the killing of an Israeli mother and her four daughters outside a Gaza settlement by Palestinian gunmen who were later shot dead by Israeli troops. However, in the report McCarthy said “… there was ample evidence yesterday to show that their [the settlers’] continued presence in Gaza is provoking bloodshed.” The purpose of the report was to take note of the continuing violence. The story in no way meant to suggest that the killings were justified. NPR regrets that the report made any such implication.
May 14 Update: NPR Ombudsman, Boston Globe, Weekly Standard Weigh In
In a May 12 column on NPR’s Web site, Jeffrey Dvorkin, the network’s ombudsman, notes that the correction to Julie McCarthy’s report did not air, and was only posted on the NPR site (“NPR Language Upsets Some Listeners”). He wrote:
This is not enough for many listeners who feel that NPR needs to acknowledge its mistake and makes its apology in an equally prominent way.
I think these listeners are correct and that NPR has compounded the offense by not airing the apology.
As the Public Radio Ethics Guide states:
“. . . our credibility depends on how quickly we acknowledge and correct errors on the air, online and in other appropriate media. We should correct substantive errors promptly and prominently at a time when you are ready to reach many of the people who heard the original mistake.”