View From a Height
Commentary from the Mile High City
Sunday, November 02, 2003

NPR on the Defensive

This week's Intermountain Jewish News contains a reply by NPR's president and CEO, Kevin Klose, to recent criticism in the paper. The paper's editorial page characterizes the reply as "we're wrong, but we won't admit it," and then goes on to hope the reforms proposed are real. He does that symmetrical criticism from both sides is no proof of objectivity or fairness - as long as the two sides don't have symmetrical goals: "Palestinian critics want a pro-Palestinian radio station, with no dispassionate reporting, no objectivity, no concession of any point to Israel. We want a neutral, dispassionate radio station that lets the facts speak for themselves. When that happens, we'll let NPR be."

In the meantime, let's take a look at what Mr. Klose has to say about the changes NPR has implemented.

First, NPR has developed a document entitled "Middle East Reporting Guidelines," which establishes standards for our coverage and terminology.

I was unable to find this document, either searching by name, or under the Middle East Reporting section of the website.

Second, for listeners to have an informed opinion on our coverage, it is important that they have access to all of NPR's stories in their entirety.

No, they don't. It may help for someone doing research on NPR's unofficial positions to have all their reports at hand. But if I listed to a story a week on the subject, and 95% of the time it's tilted one way, I don't need to go digging through their entire ourve to see where they stand. Moreover, NPR is engaged in producing radio shows, to which people listen while driving to and from work. Most people don't have the time to go reading all of NPR's valuable reporting on a subject, that's why they listen. Also, presenting all reports on a website appears to give them all equal value, when Morning Sedition and All Things Crescent have by far the highest listenership. Bob Edwards introducing a story on the latest massacre in Jenin carries far more weight than a Sunday Evening Weekend Edition report on a joing swallow-watching program in the Galil.

In our most recent report, we found that in 60 Middle East-related pieces that aired on NPR in the first three months of 2003, Israeli voices were heard 65 times and Palestinians (and other Arabs) were heard 49 times. In addition, Israelis were quoted (but no tape played) 61 times and Palestinians (or Arabs) were quoted 57 times.

Fine, but what points of view did they express? NPR is also scrupulous about reporting on the Israeli opposition, especially the Peace Left, insignificant a political force though they may now be. The Palestinians may not be right, but they sure are sure of themselves. Somehow, I doubt many of the Palestinians quoted expressed their strong personal beliefs in the right of a Jewish state to exist.

Fourth, we have added a section to our Web site that allows listeners to submit story ideas on the Middle East.

This is nice and charming and all that. How about you decide that you're going to report the obvious stories fairly, and then we can get on with the others. You're the guys with the reporters on the ground; you discharge your professional responsibilities to report what's going on.

Go to the NPR site. Look at Mr. Dvorkin's work. See if you think he's taking a tough line on this. See if you would take this criticism seriously.

Sixth, NPR executives have met with numerous representatives from both the Jewish and Arab-American communities during the past several months to better comprehend the diverse perspectives about the Middle East conflict.

Again, these people are on the outside, with an obvious agenda, although the agendas differ in their objectives. It's NPR's job to sort this stuff out; and in any case, since when is meeting with the ADL the same thing as meeting with CAIR? Finally, by associating Arab-Americans with the Palestinian cause, and Jewish-Americans with Israel, just contributes to making these people (read, the Jews) targets for those with a gripe about Israel.

Seventh, NPR is currently organizing a series of symposia in major cities across the nation to create an open dialogue on the issues of accuracy, fairness and balance in reporting on highly emotional and contentious topics, such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Read: we're wrong, but we won't admit it.

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