Feb 5 2002

NPR Continues Distortion on Mideast “Calm”

On January 10, FAIR put out an Action Alert asking people to write to National Public Radio about an apparent blind spot in its Middle East reporting. NPR had been referring to the situation in Israel and Palestine around the New Year as a time of “relative calm” or “comparative quiet,” explaining at one point that “only one Israeli has been killed in those three weeks.” What NPR didn’t explain was that during this “quiet” period, an average of one Palestinian per day was being killed by Israeli occupation forces. (See http://www.fair.org/activism/npr-israel-quiet.html.)

In answer to our alert, at least several hundred people wrote to NPR, calling for Middle East reporting that paid attention to the victims of violence on all sides. Yet even as these letters were pouring in, NPR continued to present the same distorted view of the conflict.

All Things Considered anchor Noah Adams opened a January 14 report on the assassination of a Palestinian militia leader, and the militia’s revenge murder of an Israeli civilian, by declaring that “deadly violence returned to the Middle East today”–as if deadly violence hadn’t been happening to Palestinians on an almost daily basis all along. On the January 17 All Things Considered, anchor Melissa Block prefaced a question by asserting, “Until early this week there’d been almost a month of relatively reduced violence there”– a premise that was not corrected by correspondent Linda Gradstein. And on January 18, correspondent Peter Kenyon referred on Morning Edition to “the recent lull in violence.”

NPR ombudsman Jeffrey Dvorkin, to whom the activists’ letters were addressed, does seem to recognize the problem. Appearing on January 17 with media critic Ali Abunimah on WJHU, a Baltimore NPR affiliate, Dvorkin agreed with the criticism and said that NPR‘s foreign desk had told hosts and correspondents to reflect the reality of the situation. But this intervention does not seem to have resulted in changed coverage– in fact, two of the repetitions of the distortion noted above occurred within the next 24 hours. Even as late as January 30, Linda Gradstein was referring to the “period of relative calm,” as if no one had ever pointed out to NPR that this characterization ignored the deaths of dozens of Palestinians.

Despite the hundreds of individual letters he has received, Dvorkin has yet to issue a formal comment on the issue. But in a brief January 25 response to a FAIR activist, Dvorkin wrote, “After FAIR pointed out the phrase ‘relative calm,’ NPR corrected that inaccuracy in future reports.” In fact, the inaccuracy was repeated, and keeps being repeated. Something seems to be amiss in the way NPR handles legitimate complaints from the public.

ACTION: Please write to NPR ombudsman Jeffrey Dvorkin and ask him to respond substantively to the hundreds of letters he has received about NPR‘s Mideast coverage, including an explanation of how NPR can repeat the same distortion after it has been “corrected.”

CONTACT: Jeffrey Dvorkin, NPR Ombudsmanombudsman@npr.org