May 17 2005

CPB Turns to NPR as Latest ‘Bias’ Target

Right-wing group may study "pro-Arab" slant

According to a May 16 New York Times report, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) is considering “a study on whether NPR‘s Middle East coverage was more favorable to Arabs than to Israelis”—further evidence that the agency intends to police public media for content it deems too “liberal.”

The Times reported that two of the CPB board members had expressed concern over the alleged bias of the public radio network’s reporting. Gay Hart Gaines, formerly a Republican fundraiser, “talked about the need to change programming in light of a conversation she had had with a taxi driver about his listening habits.” Her colleague on the CPB board, Cheryl Halpern, reportedly raised complaints about NPR‘s reporting. The Times noted that Halpern is “a former chairwoman of the Republican Jewish Coalition and leading party fund-raiser whose family has business interests in Israel.”

While NPR‘s Mideast coverage has frequently been criticized by pro-Israel partisans, research and analysis by FAIR has found a strong and consistent slant on NPR toward an Israeli perspective on the conflict. A FAIR study (Extra!, 11-12/01) found that during a six-month period, NPR‘s main news shows reported 81 percent of Israeli deaths in the conflict and only 34 percent of Palestinian deaths. Tellingly, when Israeli minors were killed, NPR reported on their deaths 89 percent of the time, while mentioning only 20 percent of the Palestinians youths killed.

FAIR Action Alerts (1/10/02, 2/5/02) repeatedly criticized NPR for describing periods when only Palestinians were being killed in the conflict as times of “relative calm” or “comparative quiet”—odd choices of words for an outlet that is supposedly “more favorable to Arabs than to Israelis.”

As if the idea of a political inquiry launched by an institution that is supposed to protect public broadcasting from political inquiry weren’t disturbing enough, the Times also reported that CPB chair Kenneth Tomlinson had contacted conservative media analyst Robert Lichter of the Center for Media & Public Affairs (CMPA) about the possibility of conducting research for the agency. Lichter is no stranger to battles over public broadcasting’s so-called “liberal bias.” In 1992, as congressional debate over PBS‘s funding was heating up, the Center released a study alleging rampant left-wing bias on PBS. But the methodology was dubious, at best: The CMPA studied only documentaries that aired on PBS, neglecting popular conservative programs like William F. Buckley’s Firing Line and Morton Kondracke’s American Interests show.

The CMPA study broke down the documentaries into over 35,000 segments—yet only “studied” 614 of those segments that had a clear “thematic message.” And the findings that CMPA presented were hardly evidence of liberal bias. The Center’s report explained one form of bias: “Racial discrimination was described as a condition of American society 50 times without a single dissenting opinion.” Apparently acknowledging the existence of discrimination is a “liberal” idea. Another example bizarrely counted as a “liberal” viewpoint by CMPA was a Catholic priest’s opposition to in vitro fertilization. The report argued that PBS has a pacifistic bent, even though 1,309 military personnel appeared as sources during the period studied. The rest of the CMPA’s study is similarly flawed—see: “Study of Bias or Biased Study?” for more.

The news of a possible investigation into NPR‘s Mideast slant comes on the heels of a similar report about CPB’s plans to monitor PBS programming for liberal bias (FAIR Media Advisory, 5/5/05). Under Tomlinson’s direction, the CPB has successfully lobbied to add conservative programming to PBS‘s public affairs lineup, apparently in an attempt to “balance” the program Now, which until recently was hosted by Bill Moyers. One new show that Tomlinson pushed for is the Journal Editorial Report, a program that is virtually 100 percent conservative opinion.

ACTION: Please write to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and urge it to abandon the idea of a politically motivated investigation of NPR‘s Mideast coverage.


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