NPR ignores its own watchdog

You may recall that I ripped NPR a new, er, antenna, a couple of weeks ago because of their over-the-top bias against Israel. I pointed out that their reporter

  • used the Emotive Bias Technique to ensure that the Arab side of the story would stick with the listener while the Israeli side would be forgotten,
  • used the Selective Omission Technique to mislead without explicitly lying, and
  • quoted false statements without comment or challenge.

I sent a link to the local Public Radio station — which, by the way, was in the middle of one of its periodic schnorrs fund drives. I pointed out that NPR gets a great deal of funding from the local stations and that maybe they would clean up their act if the stations complained. I wasn’t surprised when I did not even get a “your opinion is important to us” in return, because I’m sure the local management is quite happy with NPR’s ideological slant.

I also sent it to NPR. They did send a response, and although it was boilerplate that did not relate to my specific concerns, it’s worth a further look. After saying that “there’s no room for bias in our organization” and drawing attention to their code of ethics, they add,

…in an effort to continually monitor the way we cover the Middle East, NPR has hired a freelance researcher to conduct quarterly reviews of our coverage. The reports are prepared by John Felton, a former foreign affairs reporter and NPR foreign editor who covered international affairs and U.S. policy for more than 30 years, and submitted to NPR’s ombudsman.

So I looked at some of Felton’s reports. While he claims that NPR coverage is fair overall, many of his specific reports are damning. For example, here is one about a story aired in March 2009 (emphasis is mine):

In a March 26 piece for Morning Edition [Eric] Westervelt reported on several allegations that the Israeli army used excessive force during the war. Westervelt’s piece centered around two reports in the Israeli news media: A March 21 report by Israel’s Channel 10 quoting an Israeli officer, in briefing his soldiers, as expressing little or no regard for the lives of Palestinian civilians; and reports in [left-wing papers -- ed] Haaretz and Maariv on March 19-20 quoting Israeli soldiers as citing accounts of unprovoked killings of civilians.

Westervelt’s piece also quoted Yehuda Shaul, director of a leftist veterans group, Breaking the Silence, who said he had interviewed soldiers who told similar stories of abuses of civilians during the war. In addition, the piece dealt with allegations that the army’s chief rabbi and his aides had encouraged soldiers to show no quarter when dealing with Palestinians. Finally, the story cited Human Rights Watch allegations that the Israeli army improperly used white phosphorous as an illuminating device, injuring innocent civilians when the phosphorous descended to the ground…

Although I am glad that NPR brought this story to its listeners’ attention, I do have concerns about this particular piece:

– The piece relied heavily on Shaul’s accounts without telling listeners that he is an active, vocal campaigner against Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories. Shaul is far from an unbiased source. While the information Shaul collected might well be true, he had an agenda in making this type of information public. Listeners should have been told more about him and his agenda.

– The central element of the Israeli atrocities allegations came from a February 13 meeting of Israeli veterans of the Gaza war held at the Yitzhak Rabin pre-military preparatory course at Oranim Academic College in Tivon. Haaretz, and later Maariv, published stories on March 19-20 based on that transcript. Israeli soldiers told several stories, including accounts of the unprovoked shootings of an elderly Palestinian woman and of a woman and child. Westervelt cited both incidents but did not make clear (as additional Israeli media reporting had found prior to March 26) that the soldiers recounting these incidents had not witnessed the events and had only heard about them.

– In the days after Haaretz first broke the story (on March 19) about Israeli soldiers accusing colleagues of committing atrocities, subsequent stories in the Israeli news media began to cast doubt on some allegations. The Jerusalem Post, YNet news, and other Israeli news organizations quoted soldiers as disputing both the specific atrocity accounts and the general idea that soldiers had disregarded Palestinian lives. Westervelt’s piece, however, did not mention any of these subsequent reports, which emerged before the piece was aired.

Westervelt’s piece did quote an Israeli army spokesman, Major Avital Leibovich as saying the alleged atrocities were under investigation and suggesting that the soldier’s accounts were “hearsay” [the effect was to make the IDF appear evasive -- ed].

Five days after the piece aired, the army’s judge-advocate general closed his investigation into misconduct allegations during the war, saying the newspaper reports were based on “hearsay” and had proven to be false. The soldiers who made the allegations had not actually witnessed or participated in the events they had described, the judge-advocate general said. Several human rights groups protested the ending of the investigation and suggested it was a whitewash.

Westervelt reported the closing of the investigation in a [short --ed] news spot that aired on March 30.

In short, the NPR reporter parroted accusations of murderous atrocities made by highly biased sources — sources which he should have known were biased — and then NPR aired the report after the horrific allegations had been shown to be false!

I well remember my fury when I woke to hear this dishonest story, and posted this: “NPR’s shocking lack of journalistic integrity“.

But apparently the NPR brass doesn’t pay attention to Felton, because they keep doing the same thing, again, and again, and again.

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One Response to “NPR ignores its own watchdog”

  1. Shalom Freedman says:

    This is an excellent piece of investigative work which clearly shows up NPR ‘s bias.

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