Archive for the ‘NPR’ Category

NPR’s shocking lack of journalistic integrity

Thursday, March 26th, 2009

This morning (Thursday) NPR’s ‘Morning Edition’ ran a piece by their correspondent in Jerusalem, Eric Westerveldt. Naturally it was about alleged bad behavior by IDF soldiers in Gaza. On Tuesday evening I had posted an item about how some of the most serious accusations, the ‘testimony’ of IDF soldiers that in two cases innocent Palestinian women and children had been shot and killed by Israeli snipers, were proven to be entirely false: rumors that had grown legs before the truth got its pants on, to mangle a remark by Mark Twain.

Now I do not think that NPR editors read my blog, but on Tuesday this fact was made public by CAMERA, on their website and in a mass email after it was published in the Israeli newspaper Ma’ariv in Hebrew on Monday. It also appeared — in English — in the Jerusalem Post and on the Post’s website on Wednesday. Even before this, doubts had been raised about the third-hand nature of the allegations and the bias of Danny Zamir, who reported them to the press.

So, at 6:05 this morning when I heard Westerveldt begin, I assumed that he was going to say something about how this evil slander was untrue. “Listen,” I said to my wife, “they’re going to say it didn’t happen.”

Yeah, right.

Westerveldt, unable to hide a tone of moral outrage in his voice, proceeded to recite a whole series of allegations of war-crimes and misbehavior by the IDF, including the reports that the women and children were shot by IDF snipers. He interviewed Yehuda Shaul of the extreme left-wing “Breaking the Silence” organization, who passionately added more of the same. Westerveldt also repeated Human Rights Watch accusations of the use of white phosphorus ammunition against human targets, etc.

The IDF point of view was provided by a spokesperson who said, correctly but woodenly, that the accusations were “anecdotal and uncorroborated”, “hearsay unless our investigations will prove otherwise”. Well, they have proven otherwise, but the clear sense of the piece was that it was all over but the public hanging.

The ‘shocking’ part of this is not so much that NPR is biased against Israel — I’ve written about them numerous times, particularly about their sophisticated use of emotional content (see here and here) — but that by Thursday morning they should have known that the accusations of sniper shootings — accusations that the IDF is guilty of murder — were false.

I don’t know when Westerveldt recorded his piece, but I do know that NPR’s editors should not have allowed it to air on Thursday. My guess is that it was just too emotionally juicy to pass by.

Congratulations, NPR. You have put yourself in the same class as the UK Guardian and Pacifica Radio.

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NPR’s original take on the Sinai Subway

Monday, December 8th, 2008

Leave it to NPR to come up with a fresh perspective on things. This morning correspondent Eric Westerveldt did a story on what I call the ‘Sinai Subway’, the huge complex of hundreds of tunnels underneath the Gaza-Egypt border.

Over the past years these tunnels have been used to transport many things, but in particular they have enabled Hamas to build up its military capability. For example, some of the items smuggled in 2006 alone included 14,000 assault rifles and 28 tons of explosives. Anti-tank, anti-aircraft and surface-to-surface missiles have been brought in. Not only do goods come in, but terrorists go out — to Iran for training — and back. And al-Qaeda agents are thought to have entered via the Subway as well.

This is not new phenomenon. Between 2000 and 2004 — before Israel withdrew from the Strip in 2005 and before Hamas took full control in 2007 — ninety tunnels were found by the IDF and destroyed (and those were the ones they found). Since Israel left, Hamas has been able to dig unhindered.

But Westerveldt didn’t notice any of this. According to him, the Subway was built to supply Gaza residents suffering under the Israeli ‘siege’. The story begins as follows:

Israel imposed an economic blockade on Gaza when the radical Islamic group Hamas seized control last year. To bring in goods — from weapons to cigarettes — smugglers are using tunnels under the Gaza-Egypt border.

Then it goes on to describe the huge enterprise — controlled and taxed by Hamas — which carries everything from appliances to zoo animals, emphasizing the privations of Gazans under ‘siege’, forced to buy tacky, low-quality plastic Egyptian shoes.

There was only one more reference to weapons, something like “Israeli officials say the tunnels are used to smuggle rockets and explosives”.

So in other words, the Sinai Subway is not primarily a supply line for Hamas’ Iranian-financed military buildup, but rather a reaction to Israeli limitations on access! The story is not about how Hamas is preparing for war with Israel, but rather about how Israel is oppressing the Palestinians.

But the ‘blockade’ is a response to Hamas rocket attacks — more than 200 rockets fell in Sderot and Ashkelon last week. So one could say that the tunnels — at least the contents thereof — caused the blockcade, rather than vice versa.

As usual, NPR gets it backwards.

Update [1532 PDT]: I titled this post “NPR’s original take on the Sinai Subway”, but actually it isn’t original at all. Substantially the same piece appeared in Al Jazeera on October 5.

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NPR and talking with Hamas

Tuesday, March 18th, 2008

Maybe I need to change the station on my clock radio.

A few days ago I awoke to an NPR interview with a Palestinian plumber, in which the usual complaints about checkpoints, humiliation, and above all the security barrier were rehearsed in personal, emotional detail. Israel’s point of view was represented in entirety by the following statement by NPR’s Eric Westerveldt:

Israeli officials insist the wall and checkpoints are needed to stop Palestinian attacks inside Israel.

NPR has been criticized for their biased coverage on numerous occasions, and they say that although one piece may present a particular point of view, there will be others expressing the other side. So I said to myself “they owe us one”.

Today I got what they probably consider the Israeli point of view: “Israelis, Government Divided on Dealing with Hamas“. Big surprise, the four minute segment is almost all Israelis who want to talk to Hamas. Perhaps 30 seconds is given to a government spokesman who claims that the government is opposed to such negotiations — except indirect talks about the release of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit, held by Hamas for over a year — and one woman who doesn’t trust Hamas.

NPR mentions a recent poll in which “two thirds of Israelis favored direct talks with Hamas“, but failed to explain that the question asked referred to talks intended to bring about the release of Shalit! So actually the government is in agreement with popular opinion on this issue.

Then they bring on Shlomo Brom, a former general who is far to the Left in Israeli politics, calling for a cease-fire, opening the crossings between Israel and Gaza, and for Israel to ‘supply the needs’ of Gaza’s population.

The impression is given that this position — which is held by only a tiny minority of Israelis — is actually popular, as opposed to the hard-line stance of the government. But of course this is not so.

The reasons to not hold direct talks with Hamas and especially not to negotiate a cease-fire are simple.

For one, Hamas is dedicated to the destruction of Israel. It’s not possible to reach an accommodation with someone whose goal and bottom line is wiping you out. There isn’t a middle path between being and non-being.

A cease-fire would be advantageous to Hamas and bad for Israel. Barry Rubin writes,

A cease-fire is riddled with problems, paradoxically bringing even more violence. Hamas won’t observe it, letting both its own members and others attack Israel while inciting murder through every institution. The ceasefire won’t last long; Hamas would use it to strengthen its rule and army while demanding a reward for its “moderation”: an end to sanctions and diplomatic isolation; even Western aid.

Hamas is not a ‘normal’ political organization, as NPR wishes us to think. Hamas was dedicated to destroying Israel when it was out of power, and continued to be so dedicated after it took control of Gaza. Hamas did its best to murder Israelis when Gaza was under occupation, and continues to do its best now that Israel has completely withdrawn. When Hamas could have had international recognition (and aid) simply by agreeing to recognize Israel, renounce violence and accept prior agreements between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, they refused.

Hamas today is funded massively by Iran, which uses it as one of its proxies (the other main ones are Syria and Hezbollah). Iran is very interested in eliminating Israel, as I recently wrote:

There are multiple reasons for Iranian policy towards Israel, which include religious motives, the desire to earn propaganda points in the wider Arab and Muslim world, and their understanding that Israel is a base for American power in the Mideast which must be neutralized in order to expel Western influence from the region.

Naturally, NPR and Shlomo Brom don’t mention the Iranian context at all.

Update [19 Mar 2008 1729 PDT]:

Soccer Dad points out that there is a new poll in which only 25% of Israelis and just 17% of Israeli Jews want to talk to Hamas. Why the difference from the Ha’aretz poll? Read his explanation here.

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NPR in Gaza

Tuesday, October 30th, 2007

Some time ago, I took National Public Radio (NPR) to task for employing what I’ve come to call the Emotive Bias Technique in its reporting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This morning, reporter Eric Westervelt provided another perfect example (as if any more are needed).

Westervelt interviews an ‘ordinary Gazan’, Salahadin al-Sultan, owner of a grocery store in Beit Hanoun, one of the prime locations from which Qassam rockets are fired daily at southern Israel.

Sultan shows him that there is almost nothing in the store, and that he has even had to sell off much of his family’s possessions to survive. This is because Israel — after the Hamas takeover — has “tightened its crossing points into the territories” (Westervelt does not mention that Hamas often attacks the crossings with mortar fire), so that “only limited humanitarian food and medical supplies are getting in”. What is getting in since Hamas took over, of course, are explosives — 112 tons of them — but he leaves this out too.

Westervelt admits that rockets are continuing to be fired into Israel, and so “Israel has declared Gaza a hostile entity” and is “tightening the screws”. Then we go back to Sultan, whose customers are unemployed or “government workers” (most of whom were likely employed by the ‘security services’) who get only partial salaries. Most of Sultan’s furniture is gone, sold to pay for food and bills. Sultan’s wife’s gold jewelry has been sold and — you can hear the heartstrings twanging — also his wedding ring.

A child passes with a donkey cart, selling vegetables from “forlorn boxes”, carefully driving around a refilled crater produced by an Israeli bomb not far from the shop. The explosion smashed his windows. We don’t know what the rocket launchers which must have been there did to Sderot. At one point, so many rockets were launched from Beit Hanoun, that angry residents wanted the army to return random barrage for barrage. Of course, the army only targets launchers and their operators.

The Emotive Bias Technique depends on the human propensity to remember emotionally loaded experiences much more than the recitation of facts. So Sultan’s depressing situation, his lost wedding ring, the child skirting the crater with his miserable vegetables — these make an impression. The matter-of-fact statement that, yes, rockets are being fired from Beit Hanoun does not.

In addition to Emotive Bias, Westervelt leaves out important context. Hamas is spending huge sums of money smuggling explosives and weapons into the strip, building fortifications near the border, digging tunnels under the border to attack Israel, manufacturing rockets, etc. This money could be spent on ameliorating economic conditions in Gaza, if Hamas wished to do so. Israel’s “tightening the screws” is a direct result of the rocket and mortar fire, sniping, and attempts to kidnap Israelis that are occurring every day. If Hamas would stop them, the restrictions would stop too.

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National Palestinian, er, Public Radio

Wednesday, May 16th, 2007

On the 6 PM (Pacific time) newscast today, here is how NPR described events in Gaza:

Despite promises to observe a cease-fire, fighting broke out today between Palestinian factions in the Gaza strip. Palestinian security officials say the fighting killed at least 16 people. They said fighters from the ruling Hamas movement shot and killed 6 guards belonging to the rival Fatah party. Hamas gunmen also mistakenly killed 5 of their own fighters in an apparent friendly fire incident. Israel fired missiles at Hamas positions in Gaza, saying the attack was in response to Hamas rockets fired into Israeli territory. — NPR (transcribed from streaming audio, no link available)

Ignoring errors (fighting didn’t ‘break out’ today, it’s been underway for some time), was NPR unaware that about 50 Palestinian rockets were fired into Sderot in the last 24 hours, causing numerous injuries and resulting in the evacuation of hundreds of residents? Shouldn’t they have mentioned this?

The report gives the impression that Israel just attacked for the hell of it, ‘saying’ that it was in response to Hamas’ rockets. Of course I understand that the conscientious journalists of NPR don’t really know the motivation of the Israelis, so they have to depend on what they say — but honestly NPR, is it a mystery that Israel would want to stop the Hamas rocket barrage?

I’ve discussed NPR’s subtle and not-so-subtle pro-Palestinian bias before. The next time your local Public Radio station asks for your donation, tell them ‘no’, and explain exactly why.

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