Is NPR anti-Israel?
October 24, 2001 1:10 PM   Subscribe

Is NPR anti-Israel? I listen to NPR all the time and hadn't noticed any (overt) bias against Israel, but I only listen in the mornings...maybe it's on in the afternoon.
posted by mrmanley (46 comments total)
Convenient that the article doesn't explain the basis for the alleged bias. Of course, though, people sensitive to a pro-Palestinian bias are likely (in my experience) to consider a straight reporting of the facts to be slanted pro-Palestinian. e.g., while there is bad stuff occuring on both sides of the conflict, the overall situation doesn't look good for Isreal.
posted by fleener at 1:15 PM on October 24, 2001

No, the stuff you heard on the radio actually happened, which is often something you can't say about other news outlets. (Although "Bah Bedwards" is a real pinko.)
posted by rschram at 1:18 PM on October 24, 2001

On this issue, no matter what, you'll find people who say any news organization is biased. For a more specific account of how NPR is biased for Israel, try this source:

To my ears, NPR tries to get to the facts and presents both sides of the story, and gives more context than the regular network news. Some people aren't going to like what they hear no matter what.
posted by cell divide at 1:20 PM on October 24, 2001

Thank you, cell divide, for the Abunimah link. You beat me to it. (He is a great source for balanced alternative news.)

The allegations of anti-Israel bias are so common now as to be laughable. Any time there is any critique of Israel, even in the form of reporting on facts (for example, kids being killed by Israeli gun fire), the knee-jerk response by the pro-Israel lobby is to cry "anti-Israel!!"...the sub-text, of course, being that anyone who is critical of Israel is at heart really an anti-Semite.

The real issue is that Israel is an occupying army dispensing terror and oppression on a subjugated people, and daily it gets worse.

Now, I sit and wait for the deluge of ad hominem attacks on me...
posted by mapalm at 1:26 PM on October 24, 2001

I heard Daniel Shorr tell a story about a colleague of his who had a standard form letter to those accussing him of bias.

Dear Sir/Madam,

Are you aware there are more biased readers than there are biased reporters?
posted by chrismc at 1:32 PM on October 24, 2001

Those Aren't Stones, They're Rocks
The pro-Israel critique of Mideast coverage
American journalists probably feel more pressure about their coverage of Israel and Palestine than any other subject. That is true even of Extra!; despite having a readership that is overwhelmingly sympathetic to our progressive critique of the media, our Middle East coverage invariably elicits angry letters and complaints, sometimes resulting in cancelled subscriptions.
According to Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor of the liberal Jewish magazine Tikkun, his publication has felt "tremendous pressure" to alter its editorial position that Israel's occupation of Gaza and the West Bank is the "fundamental source of the problem." Hundreds of subscribers have cancelled their subscriptions, and donors have announced publicly that they will stop giving money to the magazine....
many of you have already seen this nice piece on the language used by US media in reporting on the israeli/palestinian conflict:

Missing from Mideast Coverage: Occupied territories no longer "occupied" on TV news
The turmoil in the Middle East has been a top international story on television news since fighting broke out between Palestinians and Israeli troops and settlers in the West Bank and Gaza in late September. But amid the constant flow of footage showing violent confrontations between Palestinians and Israeli soldiers, a central fact of the conflict has been missing from almost all network TV coverage: The West Bank and Gaza are occupied territory.
The three major networks' evening news broadcasts-- ABC's World News Tonight, NBC Nightly News and the CBS Evening News-- aired 99 stories mentioning the West Bank or the Gaza Strip from the outbreak of fighting on September 28 through November 2. But only four of these stories informed viewers that Israel occupies those lands....
posted by rebeccablood at 1:34 PM on October 24, 2001

The intellectually honest may well disagree on the interpretation of facts, but only moral cowards dispute or seek to alter, suppress or skew the facts themselves.

The news media should ideally provide us with the facts and give us sufficient context that we can understand them. But they rarely stop there, alas. Humans are agenda-driven, and the choices made in presenting facts is all-too-often editorializing.
posted by rushmc at 1:42 PM on October 24, 2001

Tonight, see if NPR mentions that the IDF is reported to have rounded up 11 known terrorists, including 2 of the 4 thought to have assasinated their Cabinet member last week. If they only report that 6 died in the mission, you know they're biased against Israel.

Yes, Israel occupies lands: lands it captured in wars it didn't start; lands subsequently given away by Jordan and Egypt; and lands most of which almost everyone in Israel, including Ariel Sharon, would be DELIGHTED to give to the Palestinians on reasonable terms. Stop the BS.

Personally, my chief complaint against NPR is that it's often slow and boring.
posted by ParisParamus at 1:43 PM on October 24, 2001

This is the Mark Jurkowitz article in today's Globe that Dan Kennedy refers to.
posted by idiolect at 1:45 PM on October 24, 2001

and lands most of which almost everyone in Israel, including Ariel Sharon, would be DELIGHTED to give to the Palestinians on reasonable terms.

Nonsense. "Reasonable" is relative. Besides, Sharon has demonstrated that he is now bent on breaking the backs of Palestinians, and he, and many Israelis, would much rather expel all non-Jews from Jordan to the Mediterranean than to try to build a just and lasting peace.
posted by mapalm at 1:48 PM on October 24, 2001

paris: wait a minute. am I completely mistaken in my belief that israeli settlers continue to move into the occupied territories and build new houses for themselves? I'm seriously asking.

this has been my understanding, and I think it speaks to israel's fundamental intentions toward the territory.
posted by rebeccablood at 1:48 PM on October 24, 2001

"Everyone has to move, run and grab as many hilltops as they can to enlarge the settlements because everything we take now will stay ours... everything we don't grab will go to them."

--Ariel Sharon, 1998.

Clearly the words of a just and honest man who would love to return lands in accordance with international law.
posted by cell divide at 1:52 PM on October 24, 2001

Rebecca: the settlers are a diverse group. While some radical, fanatic Israelis do indeed move to the Occupied Territories as a political or religious statement, many more are given incentives to do so by the government. These are primarily new immigrants, and younger, poorer Israelis who cannot afford housing in Tel Aviv, Haifa or Jerusalem. So, the government offers subsidized housing as an incentive, the goal being to create a de facto situation of growing Israeli presence in Palestine.

Even more disturbing is that the geographic placement of these settlements is absolutely calculated in such a way as to make unviable any future state of Palestine. Until Israel realizes the fallacy of this policy, peace will continue to be unobtainable.
posted by mapalm at 1:54 PM on October 24, 2001

All news is biased, in the same way that history is biased: the news media chooses what to report, you choose what to read, and then you choose how to interpret what you've read. The question we have to ask ourselves is if we want to read news or propaganda.

I sometimes wonder if the whole concept of news is obsolete in today's society. We seldom look to be challenged or informed by what we read; we simply want to have our opinions reinforced.
posted by mrmanley at 2:09 PM on October 24, 2001

Now, I sit and wait for the deluge of ad hominem attacks on me...

mapalm I really am interesting in hearing your response.
posted by Wulfgar! at 2:23 PM on October 24, 2001

Without getting entangled in the pro Israel or pro-Arab issue, I gave up listening tl "public" radio when it became clear it was a captive of the MONEY guys who fund my freiends who listened and continue to listen tell me, there has been a shift over time from the Center to the rRight, relfecting, they say, the perspectives of those that financially support the station.
As for the other issue: there will be no peace till there are peace talks, and Sharon has made it clear that he will not negotiate under fire; and Hamas and Fatah and Hebullah have made it clear that they plan to continue doing what they are doing.
For the occupied lands: this too is an option that might be negotiated and in fact was seemingly dealt with before the talks fell apart because Arafat took a walk.
No one gives back anything without a treaty and guarantees of anarrangement in writing. This has not happened.
posted by Postroad at 2:23 PM on October 24, 2001

Please don't misinterpret what I'm about to say but the truth is that the whole world, apart from the U.S., is at least marginally pro-Palestinian. Is it so wrong that Israel should have one steadfast friend?
posted by MiguelCardoso at 2:30 PM on October 24, 2001

maybe not steadfast for long if israel doesn't tuck in its unilateralist cojones.
posted by kliuless at 2:37 PM on October 24, 2001

There is much that can be said about Israel that should be said. On the other hand, when their govt can tell uncle Sam that we are not stopping till we get the terrorists that assassinated a political figure in our country then there is something nice about the scene.
The Americangovt,like an umpire or better Roman ruler, tells nations what to do and not do. They hold the stick of money aid and military aid. and they almost always get their way.
Israel now claims to have caught 2 of 4 assassins. Would America quit going after Bin Laden because other countries said they should?
posted by Postroad at 2:48 PM on October 24, 2001

Is it so wrong that Israel should have one steadfast friend?

I, for one, am not interested in being "friends" with any nation; only with the principles of justice and fairness. In politics, as in personal relations, those who violate these principles lose the right to be deemed "friends" and treated as such.
posted by rushmc at 2:55 PM on October 24, 2001

before the talks fell apart because Arafat took a walk.
Postroad - please, this has been refuted now in several places. The blame was not all Arafat's, but equally divisible between him, Barak and Clinton.

we are not stopping till we get the terrorists that assassinated a political figure in our country
Postroad - and what about the assassinations that Israel has carried out, numbering some 60 in the past year, and which have resulted in several innocent deaths? Israel can assassinate but Palestinians cannot? If Israel is serious about peace, it will stop this kind of brutality.
posted by mapalm at 3:10 PM on October 24, 2001

Any argument that American media is anti-Israel is simply a non-starter; Israel itself has a more objective media regarding these issues than does the U.S.

The history of the creation of Israel shows that terrorism works. Stern Gang, anyone?

Violence against the innocent is horrible no matter who commits it, but it will continue until the Palestinians receive some measure of justice, which will probbaly not happen until Arafat is off the scene. The fact is the ability to end the violence has and continues to be within Israel's power.
posted by Ty Webb at 3:13 PM on October 24, 2001

mapalm, you wrote: "While some radical, fanatic Israelis do indeed move to the Occupied Territories as a political or religious statement, many more are given incentives to do so by the government."

The Israeli government is financially underwriting the new buildings being built in occupied territory? Low-interest loans, tax breaks, or something like that? How do the new occupants get legal title to land their government is only "occupying" (a term that would seem to imply temporary control)?

(This is not a snide remark af any kind. It is a serious question from a person trying to get educated on this. If you have a link I could refer to, all the better. Thank you.)
posted by sacre_bleu at 3:55 PM on October 24, 2001

Postroad said, I gave up listening to "public" radio when it became clear it was a captive of the MONEY guys who fund it

The sadly unvarying statistic of public radio fundraisers and development directors is this -- only one in ten listeners to a public radio station actually gives money to that station and becomes a subscriber.

Public radio would be far less dependent on corporate underwriting (and in fact might not be dependent on it at all) if that statistic were raised to only two in ten.

Next time your local public or community radio station has a pledge drive, call them up and become a member.
posted by chuq at 4:07 PM on October 24, 2001

sacre_bleu - the housing areas in the occupied territories often are subsidised by the Israeli government with tax breaks in addition to the subsidised building - you tend to get more moderate Jews who wish for a home in 'Israel' moving there as a result. The land is internationally recognised as occupied territory, and the continued occupation of it is in contradiction to international law, and UN statements (argh, can't remember the word for an official statement by the UN) - thats why its temporary in the eyes of the international community who were and are being consistently ignored by Israel, mainly thanks to the US's help in the past.

I don't actually think they are given title deeds to the land, as this would be a complete defiance of international opinion instead of plain ignoring (theres a difference there). I'll check it.
posted by Mossy at 4:30 PM on October 24, 2001

In this particular article, there really isn't any formulation of an argument that NPR is pro-Palestinian or pro-Israeli, it focuses on the private funding of the stations and if that sways the content. This is something that has been bothering me for a while, listening to KCRW and hearing more and more obtrusive commercials for the "supporters" of public broadcasting. I'm waiting for the traditional media companies to start calling their advertisers "supporters" as well.

I support public radio (with donations) to hear great, eclectic music and hear interesting interviews on Fresh Air and To the Point, but news from any source should always be taken with a bit of skepticism and a search for the other side of the story if you are going to form your beliefs or social agenda based on it. It does get under my skin when someone takes the high road by quoting NPR as a way to discount CNN.
posted by jonah at 4:32 PM on October 24, 2001

mossy: “resolution”?

Daniel Schorr’s little letter actually has a point. You argue someone consistently misrepresents or doesn’t report certain facts, then you argue they’re biased. Not vice versa.

I have serious problems with people calling media outlets on anti-Israel bias mostly after reading a transcript of an Israeli media official saying “we are putting real pressure on the heads of CNN to have [two Palestinian reporters] replaced with more objective, pro-Israeli reporters.”

His understanding of “objective” means “pro-Israel.”

The fact is, journalists are trained to be supportive of the established institutions. Journalists are trained to seek out experts and officials for their opinions. When the Christian right says their beliefs are marginalized in mass media, they’re correct. Modern culture and institutions don’t give much authority to the Bible. God is not in power and He can’t be interviewed. When fair traders say their views are distorted or marginalized, they’re also right. The structure of most organizations involved in protest are non-heirarchical—there are no leaders to defer to for quotable arguments. That leaves the reporter to make assumptions.

Modern mass media reporting is inherently pro-status quo, a reflection of the person writing it, and the organization publishing it. That doesn’t neccessarily mean the facts presented aren’t accurate, just that they’re written in a way that sides with established power structures. Arguments otherwise tend to be facile or delve into irrelevant harangue.

Next time your local public or community radio station has a pledge drive, call them up and become a member.

After donating to NPR, get ready for the junk mail deluge. Sad but true.
posted by raaka at 4:37 PM on October 24, 2001

oh, this appeared in todays Guardian:

Say it loud: no more support until Israel agrees to pull out.

Bit off the topic, but there are some interesting points about Western, and indeed media, coverage of both the Jews and the Palestinians, especially from the middle down - emotions come into this so any media outlet can be percieved as going either way unless rampantly pro-Israeli or pro-Palestinian.
posted by Mossy at 4:38 PM on October 24, 2001

Mossy, et al.
Regarding 'titles' to the land in the occupied territories, I don't believe they give titles to land to anybody in Israel. 93 percent of land in Israel is owned by the Israeli government, the Jewish National Fund, or the World Zionist Organization which have charters that state that "land in Israel cannot be owned by anyone, because it belongs to God, but that it can be leased for periods of 49 years, then renewed successively...but only to Jews". (see washington report on middle east affairs, july/aug 99 page 14)
posted by jnthnjng at 4:56 PM on October 24, 2001

Hmm, how would you pay the money for the lease to God? Hmm.. I wonder what 'Israel' as a plot of land actually is? Probably a million and one views on that too - why can't there be any clearly defined absolute truth in this world? ::muses::
posted by Mossy at 5:05 PM on October 24, 2001

Disclaimer: I'm a Jew by conversion and more than a little biased against the Palestinians. I does bother me greatly that the Palestinians utterly deny the historical relationship between Jews and Jerusalem, especially the temple mount.

On the topic at hand, though, I feel that there is a certain anti-Israel bias in the American media. One thing that seems to go completely unreported is that there is a tremendous amount of incitement to violence in the Palestinian media. Another disturbing trend is that it is regularly unreported that Arafat continues to say in Arabic the opposite of what he says in English. The Palestianian intefada is portrayed as a grassroots, popular uprising rather than a (for the most part) carefully orchestrated and heavily incited movement toward war.

The bias in the American media is much less than that of the French, however. I'm lucky enough to be fluent in French, and let me say that some of the things I've read in Le Monde were truly shocking. From today's headlines, for instance, compare "Israeli Incursion Targets West Bank Town" ( and "In West Bank and Israel, Another Day of Violence" ( with "Journée sanglante en Palestine" ("Bloody Day in Palestine", They just phrase things in a totally different way, which of course affects perceptions.

For what it's worth, I read the NY Times, Le Monde and Ha'aretz every day, and from the three sources try to synthesize a balanced view of what is really happening in Israel.

Finally, I found this article to be pretty informative about the breakdown of the most recent serious nogotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
posted by CalvinTheBold at 5:08 PM on October 24, 2001

Public radio should just take advertising and be done with the pledge drives and the pretense, period. I recently did an interview with a station that had a "sponsor" message: a Scottish distillery. Somehow the ban against advertising hard liquor that applies to every other station didn't apply to them.

With a demographic as sweet as theirs, they could easily make enough money with a few top-and-bottom-of-the-hour spots, and if they had some sort of standard for ads they could possibly get the most interesting, clever ads on the radio.

I do know that the stations where I live (MPR) have an for-profit catalog wing run by Target - it makes tons of money. Tons. (There's a good living to be made selling Keilllor monologues.) They also have the nicest, most technologically sophisticated studios of any radio station in this market. Whenever I hear them plead poverty on a pledge drive, I think of those studios and smile.

They're trying to buy radio stations in Southern California, too, and I'm not certain why I should be expected to subsidize that, either. It seems to be a business model built on guilt.
posted by lileks at 5:19 PM on October 24, 2001

Nice link, Mossy.
posted by rushmc at 5:57 PM on October 24, 2001

Next time your local public or community radio station has a pledge drive, call them up and become a member.
I listen to public radio every day, and will never give them a penny. I think they do good and interesting things but these steal my tax dollars, so I am already funding them. If it were not for the parasite thing I would gladly pay a great deal more than they already take from me.

Israel is getting way too much of my money too, lazy country.
posted by thirteen at 6:40 PM on October 24, 2001


but they steal my tax dollars
posted by thirteen at 6:43 PM on October 24, 2001

After donating to NPR, get ready for the junk mail deluge. Sad but true.

Contributing to ANY organization, from Greenpeace to the NRA, can result in a full mailbox. I don't think you can single out NPR as being any worse. In fact, it's probably less obtrusive than most.

they steal my tax dollars

You may want to check out NPR's financials. Only 2 percent of their annual revenues come from the government. That's about 3 million shared by all taxpayers, pretty damn cheap if you ask me.
posted by groundhog at 8:09 PM on October 24, 2001

It seems to me, that the mechanical insistence on giving equal weight and time to radically opposing views and actions can create biased reporting by the suggestion that both subjective perspectives are of equal value. For instance, giving equal time to a victim and to her rapist's view would imply no qualitative difference between them.
I find the psychological reality really depressing how victims usually end up being blamed and doubly victimized by Public Opinion, that seems almost always to be in some form of "Stockholm Syndrome".
posted by semmi at 8:25 PM on October 24, 2001

His understanding of “objective” means “pro-Israel.”

When reporting on this conflict fails to recognize that Israel is up against and surrounded by corrupt, undemocratic and untrustworhy neighbors, including the PA, fair reporting is not taking place.

As for the settlements, some, perhaps most will have to go in a future settlement agreement. But that's putting the cart before the horse. Until there is a PA which shows some serious good faith, there will be no new state or peace.

Remember: Gaza was part of Egypt; the West Bank, part of Jordan. Theses two countries, in effect, "dumped" these lands because they were a royal pain in the ass. Israel took over these lands to defend itself. The media's biggest bias is being too surfacial in its coverage to provide this context.
posted by ParisParamus at 8:44 PM on October 24, 2001


Does that mean you refuse to buy any food or products made by Archer Daniels Midland or scores of other large corporations? They're stealing your tax money too.
posted by ArkIlloid at 9:06 PM on October 24, 2001

I confess to having never considered whether NPR was pro/anti-Israel or neutral, but I have long noticed, and been a bit exasperated by, the amount of reporting on Israel. It's has sometimes seemed to me like NPR is unaware of anyplace outside U.S. borders except Israel/Palestine. Okay, arguably much more goes on there than in Japan, or Thailand, or Ecuador. But it has made me wonder about who really "owns" public radio, so to speak.
posted by Bixby23 at 9:23 PM on October 24, 2001

Only 2 percent of their annual revenues come from the government. That's about 3 million shared by all taxpayers, pretty damn cheap if you ask me.
That being the case, it should not be too hard for them to give that money up. Considering they are taking that money from millions of people who never even flip past their stations on the dial, I don't feel all that bad about not chiping in. I especially love the pledge drives, it cracks me up to hear them beg. I would pay a very fair share on a voluntary basis, but they can choke on the 6¢ they take instead.

Archer Daniels Midland or scores of other large corporations? They're stealing your tax money too. Yes they are stealing my tax money, and I am equally pissed about corporate welfare. I suppose I do buy some of their products, as I am not sure of all what they make, but I am also sure it is not very much. Other than pointing out that NPR is just as corrupt as ADM. I am not sure what the point is.
posted by thirteen at 9:54 PM on October 24, 2001

bixby23: You're right! It's actually amazing how everything that goes on in South America. other parts of the Middle East, and other places on the earth, involving institutionalized torture, death, massacres of all sorts in hundreds if not thousands at single times, and yet every day, every Palestinian nosebleed is counted ad nauseum by our media.
posted by semmi at 10:26 PM on October 24, 2001

Interesting fact: While 1 in 10 NPR listeners donate to support their local NPR affiliate, 90% of NPR funding is from its listeners. The only government funding is from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and that is miniscule. That's why it's called PUBLIC radio and not GOVERNMENT radio. For that, listen to Voice of America.

As for the anti-Israeli bias, I could be mistaken, but as an avid listener, it appears that significantly more than half of the staff's/host's names are Jewish. If anything, I would say that the rest of the mainstream media is decidedly pro-Israeli biased.
posted by skechada at 6:11 AM on October 25, 2001

every Palestinian nosebleed is counted ad nauseum by our media

These attitudes (when the deaths of children and other civilians on a daily basis are considered 'nosebleeds') are why I'm glad it is in the news so much. People deserve to know about all the unjust situations in the world, and coverage of one will eventually lead to coverage of others.
posted by cell divide at 9:36 AM on October 25, 2001

cell divide, that`s not the point that semmi is trying to make. I think an appropriate restatement of it might be "Why do we get full reports on 2 Palestinian deaths when we get no information on 50 Nigerians killed the same day."

As it happens, I think I have a reason. Israel and the PA have lots of supporters and others who feel a strong connection to related issues living outside their borders. Whatever the reason for those connections, they are not generally as common for people living outside the borders of other countries. The upshot is "We care more about Israel and the PA than we do about most other places."

This is just a theory.
posted by chiheisen at 7:10 PM on October 25, 2001

Good idea, chiheisen. I think that's right on the mark and makes all kinds of sense. It is probably precisely because I feel no special attachment to what goes on there that I am tired of constantly hearing about the place. On the other hand, I also have no real attachment to Nigeria or Chad, but would like to know more about what's going on there. There are only so many broadcast hours in a day, I understand, but I think a better balance could be reached.
posted by Bixby23 at 10:53 PM on October 28, 2001

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