Another NPR Winter of Distortion
March 18, 2005
by Andrea Levin
As sure as the calendar moves toward spring, National Public Radio stations
turn to a fresh season of fund-raising. For listeners wondering about the
status of the network's longstanding bias against Israel, a snapshot of
coverage in early 2005 offers few signs of positive change. Instead, the
tilt toward Arab positions continues. Network gestures of accountability,
including sporadic corrections and quarterly self-examinations of Middle
East reporting, amount to little more than public relations damage control
Sloppiness with factual precision is still commonplace. NPR's Peter Kenyon,
for instance, declared on March 9 that "most observers believe under
international law all Israeli settlements in the occupied territories are
illegal." Who these unnamed "observers" are and how Kenyon tallied up their
views to conclude "most" consider settlements illegal is unclear. His count
would necessarily exclude American policymakers, since the official U.S.
view does not hold that settlements, regardless of considerations of their
strategic utility, are illegal.
The round-up of guest speakers was also numbingly familiar, with, for
instance, no fewer than nine interviews in eight weeks with
Palestinian-Jordanian journalist Rami Khouri, editor at large of Lebanon's
Daily Star. An outspoken advocate of Arab views, Khouri, for example,
argued on March 8 that Hezbollah is "a very impressive, legitimate, even
heroic resistance movement" and he dismissed any menace that group poses to
the Jewish state. "Hezbollah," he declared, "is not a big threat to
Israel." Neither Khouri nor the NPR host mentioned Hezbollah's declared
dedication to Israel's destruction, or Israeli estimates that 13,000
Iranian supplied artillery and short-range Hezbollah rockets are trained on
northern Israel, some in reach of major population centers.
Nor are any references made to Hezbollah's Nazi-style anti-Semitic rhetoric,
widely disseminated on the group's Al Manar television. Omitted too are
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah's screeds against Israel, terming the
nation a "cancerous entity," an "ultimate evil," and a "predatory beast."
Excluded are rantings such as: "Throughout history the Jews have been
Allah's most cowardly and greedy creatures."
Among others repeatedly invited to comment on events was Khaled al Maeena,
editor of Saudi Arabia's Arab News who has written that Israel "commits mass
murder against Palestinians" and has railed against the monitoring group
MEMRI for its exposÚs of Arab anti-Semitism.
Robert Malley, an outspoken proponent of the view that Israel was
insufficiently forthcoming at the Camp David/Taba talks in 2000/2001 when
it offered the Palestinians a state in more than 95% of the West Bank and
Gaza, made another of his frequent appearances. So too did author Patrick
Seale, a notorious apologist for the late Hafez al Assad. In each of these
and other similar cases the guest speaker was presented as a neutral
During this same time, NPR's Robert Siegel spent several weeks in Israel,
reporting from the region and filing at least fourteen stories. Although he
was there during the February 25 terrorist attack on a Tel Aviv nightspot,
he did not cover the breaking story or do a follow-up on the victims. There
were predictable segments with Hanan Ashrawi, Nabil Shaath and Saeb Erakat.
There were familiar paired segments of Israeli and Palestinian students and
predictable NPR laxity in challenging blatant Palestinian falsehoods. When
Arab students recited a litany of distorted allegations about Israel, Siegel
interjected one apologetic corrective, noting that contrary to a Palestinian
student's claim that Israel had failed to open checkpoints or release
prisoners: "By Palestinian standards a very small release, but a few
hundred people have been released so far."
To the ludicrous claim that "during Oslo period, there was no bombings,
there was nothing," Siegel was silent, failing to remind listeners that Oslo
spawned unprecedented terror bombings. In fact, the Palestinians killed some
250 Israelis between Arafat's arrival in the territories in July 1994 and
his launching of the terror war in September 2000.
But Siegel does not just fail to counter distortions, he himself presents
Palestinian views as fact. On March 1, for instance, he declared that "one
of the real obstacles of the moment...is the security barrier..." He added:
"In many parts, it is pretty - although the word is disputed - it sure is a
In the Israeli view, "one of the real obstacles of the moment" is the
ongoing failure of the Palestinians to eradicate the terrorist
infrastructure, and the fence is a monument to Palestinians' refusal to
control the killers in their midst. Nor is it accurate and professional of
Siegel not to report the actual makeup of the security barrier, which is
95% fence and 5% wall.
Early 2005 has been more of the same on NPR. Listeners who care about
factual, balanced and unbiased reporting should keep this in mind when
they're asked to send a check.
Andrea Levin is Executive Director of CAMERA, Committee for Accuracy in
Middle East Reporting in America. www.camera.org