As New York's WNYC begins its fall fund-raising campaign (like many other public radio stations, nationally) listeners might consider what they're being asked to support.
Like nearly 700 stations nationwide, WNYC fills much of its airtime with National Public Radio programs such as "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered," with considerable coverage of the Middle East - coverage that is far from balanced or objective.
Repeated in-depth studies of NPR underscore the pervasiveness of the distortion: NPR's day-to-day reporting amplifies Arab perspectives and those of fringe Israelis critical of the Israeli government, while slighting mainstream Israeli or pro-Israeli voices. The net effect is to promote the views of Israel's detractors.
A sample of recent reporting is indicative.
* On Sept. 26, the eve of the Jewish New Year, one in a "series of commentaries on the Middle East" consisted of one Israeli's lament that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon lacked the "vision" of Shimon Peres.
Sharon, of course, has twice been elected by large margins and has pursued policies reflecting the concerns of the majority of the Israeli public - primarily suppressing the terrorist war against the Jewish state. Peres, an originator of the failed Oslo accords who has lost four national elections, represents a minority. Yet it is his adherents who enjoy NPR's microphone.
* Another "commentary" (Sept. 29) was by an NPR regular, Fawaz Gerges, who assailed Israel for its decision to remove Arafat. Gerges mocked the widespread criticism of Arafat, saying he'd only "flirted with limited violence." In fact, Arafat is the father of modern-day terrorism and himself a killer.
* Gerges' views no doubt dovetail nicely with those of NPR's Foreign Editor Loren Jenkins on the Arab-Israeli conflict as well as America's war on terrorism. Jenkins has called Israel a "colonizer" in Jerusalem and has linked it to the Nazis in his writing.
(This bias extends far past Israel: Before 9/11, Gerges claimed Osama bin Laden was "preoccupied mainly with survival, not attacking American targets." When then-President Bill Clinton launched missile strikes against al-Qaeda camps in Afghanistan after the 1998 terrorist bombing of two U.S. embassies in Africa, Jenkins wrote that Clinton was making bin Laden a "fall guy.")
* Recently, NPR has run no fewer than six stories on anti-Israel polemicist Edward Said, whose death occasioned only laudatory remembrances on the network.
NPR's anti-Israel bias is beyond caricature. Even stories only tangentially concerned with Israel can veer into outlandish assertions and distortion. Take one July 2002 segment on the value of show trials: The program's NPR host lamented Israel's trial of Adolf Eichmann, the Nazi architect of the Holocaust, declaring that there was a "danger . . . that injustice could be done to [Eichmann] because the accusations against him get blown out of proportion . . ."
The startled guest expert responded that, in fact, Eichmann "played an extremely responsible role" in the "destruction of European Jewry."
The NPR interviewer persisted on Eichmann's behalf, arguing, "There is a possibility that playing out his drama in a court, that his own rights can become abridged."
NPR's bias must trouble all those concerned about fair treatment of Israel in the media. Why give another dime to an institution that seriously misrepresents the Arab-Israeli conflict?
In response to public criticism, NPR has hired a PR firm to spin its case. New York's Dan Klores Communications, specialists - appropriately enough - in "crisis management," recently replaced last year's hired firm, DCS.
The real fix for the network's troubles is obvious: serious self-examination of its coverage of the Arab-Israeli conflict, staff housecleaning of those patently unable to report objectively and, most important of all, rigorous adherence to the journalistic norms of accuracy, balance and accountability for error. This is what listeners of NPR and WNYC must demand.