The following is on its way to the program director of KVPR, my local Public Radio station.
As you might remember, I stopped supporting your station in 2006, after becoming outraged at NPR’s biased coverage of the war in Lebanon. But a couple of years ago I “rejoined” because, after all, I listen to it.
NPR provides arguably the best, most complete radio news coverage widely available in the US. But it consistently portrays events in the Mideast with a steep anti-Israel tilt. And since one of the most important sources of funding for NPR is the fees paid by local stations, those of us who have a problem with NPR also have a problem with the local stations.
For example, this morning’s newscasts carried a piece by Peter Kenyon, reporting from the Egyptian side of the border between Egypt and the Gaza strip. Kenyon slanted his story in several ways:
- He 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
- He used the Selective Omission Technique to mislead without explicitly lying
- He quoted false statements without comment or challenge
Let’s look at some of it.
DEBORAH AMOS (host): The Gaza Strip doesn’t get many high profile visitors since the Islamism group Hamas took over three years ago and Israel imposed a blockade. But the territory is now back in the spotlight. International pressure has been building on Israel to end, or at least ease, the blockade. The head of the Arab League Amr Moussa was in Gaza yesterday to express solidarity with the people of Gaza. NPR’s Peter Kenyon traveled to the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and Gaza, and sent this report.
PETER KENYON: Gazans were heartened by Amr Moussa’s visit and were glad to hear him repeat the Arab Leagues call for lifting the blockade.
Mr. AMR MOUSSA (Leader of Arab League): (Through translator) The position of the Arab League is clear: the siege must be ended. The Palestinian people deserve to be supported, not only by the Arab states, but by the whole world now.
KENYON: But on the Egyptian side of the Rafah border yesterday, international support wasn’t translating into much more than a trickle of Gazans making their way into Egypt. Those who did make it through, like Mohammed Awul Anane(ph), said the rest of the one-and-a-half-million Palestinians in Gaza were watching their economy and their society suffocate under the Israeli sanctions.
Kenyon and Amos have suggested that the “trickle” of traffic is due to the Israeli blockade. But this is the border with Egypt. What is omitted here is that Egypt has also closed its border with Gaza, because Hamas is aligned with the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, which is trying to subvert the Mubarak regime and install a radical Islamist one. These are the same folks that murdered Anwar Sadat for trying to make peace. This counts as selective omission.
The listener is also left with the assumption that Gazan society is ‘suffocating’, because a Palestinian says so. But actually there is a huge amount of international aid reaching Gaza, plus a vibrant smuggling economy. Nobody is suffocating, but Kenyon doesn’t comment on this false implication.
Mr. MOHAMMED AWUL ANANE: (Through translator) How can I describe it? There’s no other word for it but tragedy, a tragedy. People are living as if they’re already in their graves.
KENYON: Israel defends the blockade, saying it has no intention of letting Gaza’s Hamas rulers acquire new weapons and military-style fortifications so they can resume firing rockets at southern Israeli towns. Israeli officials have also defended their decision to send an elite naval commando unit to raid a Turkish-registered aid ship two weeks ago. The raid left eight Turks and a Turkish-American dead and sparked an outcry that has evolved into mounting international pressure to at least ease the blockade and perhaps allow in items such as cement and steel to help rebuild Gaza’s shattered infrastructure.
This is wonderful! First, notice how the Palestinian complaint is put in the mouth of a real person, who speaks with emotional intensity, while the Israeli position is presented in one dry sentence. It’s a paradigm case of the Emotive Bias Technique.
Now look at the statement about the interception of a Turkish ship attempting to break the legal blockade of Gaza. Kenyon omits the most important facts about the incident, which are that the Israeli boarding party was viciously attacked by a group of thugs who boarded the ship separately from the other passengers, who did not undergo security checks, who were well-organized and armed with pipes, knives, axes, slingshots and other weapons, wore gas masks and ceramic vests, who took over the upper deck of the ship and attempted to tear the Israelis to pieces as they landed (you can read more about it here and here or watch the video here).
Saying that the raid “left eight … dead” obscures the fact that the Israelis acted in self-defense — the dead were killed while trying to commit murder. That’s one hell of a selective omission!
The piece continues:
KENYON: Twenty-five-year-old Mohammed Howaja(ph) has a slightly dazed look as he steps onto the Egyptian side of Rafah. It’s the first time in his life that he’s set foot out of Gaza, he says, and he’s off to Alexandria to study law. When asked how he got approval to leave, he said as with many of his fellow travelers, he paid someone off.
Mr. MOHAMMED HOWAJA: (Through translator) Five times this month I tried to get a permit, and each time I was turned down. Finally, I brought money. I paid in order to come out.
KENYON: When asked how many Gazans would leave if they had the chance, he immediately said all of them. And it was hard to tell if he was joking.
Keep in mind that this is the Egyptian border. He paid Egyptians, Hamas people, or both; not Israelis. And we are not sure that he wants to leave because of the blockade: maybe he’s secular, Christian, a Fatah supporter, gay, or any number of things that would make life under Hamas quite literally impossible.
At the moment, support for the Palestinians of Gaza seems to be on a rare upward trend, while analysts say Israel is looking increasingly isolated. Israel’s defense minister canceled a trip to Paris – in part, officials said, because of difficult questions he might face. But as far as 35-year-old Palestinian Essam Ellion(ph) is concerned, Gazans have a long and forlorn history of trying to live on kind words of solidarity, and it’s not working.
Mr. ESSAM ELLION: (Through translator) As far as I can tell, it’s just empty talk, just words piled on words. I’m without hope right now. There’s nothing real, nothing we can touch or see on the ground when it comes to ending the siege.
KENYON: These Palestinians who have just walked out of a tiny, overcrowded coastal strip where 80 percent of the population lives on less than $2 a day, say that kind of pessimism may be one of the few things growing in Gaza these days.
Israel’s Defense Minister, Ehud Barak, canceled his trip to Paris not because of the possibility of “difficult questions,” but rather because anti-Israel activists were planning to embarrass him by filing trumped-up “war crimes” charges against him in French courts.
Regarding the long-suffering Gazans, keep in mind that all Hamas would have to do to end the blockade (it is not a ‘siege’, there is plenty of food, medicine, etc. getting in) is to stop the continuous attempts to infiltrate and tunnel into Israel in order to kill Israelis and take hostages, to stop firing rockets into Israel — yes, they are still doing that — and last but not least, release Gilad Shalit, who has been held incommunicado in an underground bunker by Hamas for four long years.
Jim, I think this makes it clear why I have a problem with NPR. I am suggesting that you and the station take it up with the network, because they certainly don’t care what I think.
But I hope that you do.