Terry Gross has no empathy for Palestinians

on 32 Comments

Tomorrow night, Terry Gross, the longtime host of Fresh Air on National Public Radio, will submit to questions in an event at Town Hall in New York, hosted by Brian Lehrer, a talk-show host at WNYC. Both radio personalities bend over backwards for Israel. Maybe someone will ask Gross to speak sincerely about her personal attachment to Israel–how many times have you been there? Do you have family there? Do you think it’s necessary because of antisemitism in the West? Meanwhile, Susie Kneedler goes back to the audiotape.

Terry Gross once ended an interview with Palestinian human rights lawyer Raja Shehadeh by asking whether he wanted to "mov[e] someplace else so that you wouldn’t be subjected to this… Israeli incursion."   Shehadeh retorted gently, "life…under Occupation" has "never been as difficult and as dangerous…and as frustrating as it is now.  But, no, I will not leave."  NPR transcript here.

Terry Gross boasts in her new ad that "often when I’m interviewing people on Fresh Air, they give me a different way of looking at the world," but her condescension to Shehadeh, a founder of Al-Haq (The Truth), shows how blind she is to Palestinian rights under International Law and how much she assumes Palestinians must make way for Israel’s expansion.

Gross has done no reports on the flotilla raid, and this just bears out her historical pattern. I’ve wondered for years about Gross’s cowardice in the face of Israeli injustice. She truly sides with the oppressors, imagining that they’re still victims. I listened to all three interviews that Gross had with Raja Shehadeh. And each time she administered an immediate antidote of airing an Israel booster, and not just any Israelis, but rightwingers: Yossi Klein Halevi, February 6, 2002; Michael Oren, June 11, 2002; and now Jerusalem Post editor David Horovitz,.October 28, 2003. 

In the prologue to her interviews with Shehadeh, Gross palms off Israeli propaganda as truth: "his town Ramallah was occupied by the Israeli army…This was part of a larger Israeli military operation to root out terrorists in response to suicide bombings" (Oct. 28, 2003). Gross omits the then-35-year Occupation, depicting Israeli aggression rather than Palestinian resistance as self-defense. No, only Ramallah was "Occupied."  Context is all, with news and with history. 

Having introduced Shehadeh by reciting Israel’s hype, Gross heralds David Horovitz by peddling Horovitz’s own claims as fact:: "He told me that in Israel fear of suicide bombers is profound and unrelenting."  Gross’s preconceptions bow to establishment stereotypes: Occupied Palestine is riddled with homocidal attackers; mighty Israel is besieged by terror. Gross poses different questions to her two guests, and gets similar replies about great threats.  But Gross responds unequally to the comparable answers–not least in neglecting to point out the false equivalency of their suffering. For Shehadeh is Occupied, whereas Horovitz speaks for Occupier.  Worse yet, Gross ignores Shehadeh’s plight, the devastating fear in every bit of life–and death–in living under Occupation.  Her only reaction is to change the subject.

By contrast, Gross chortles appreciatively when Horovitz chats about the ordeal of being searched at stores, despite being so blond–with a blond family–"we all look like recent arrivals from Sweden."  Terry Gross’s rare talent–one I used to love–is her engaging laugh. Gross’s mirth graces her interviews with ingenuous delight (especially compared to many witless hosts’ awkward guffaws).  She could just as easily find glimmers of fun in Shehadeh’s self-deprecating relief that, when the IDF invaded his house, at least his gate kept the soldiers from terrifyingly banging on his door. Or the IDF’s bewilderment about how unmenacing he was: "I’m not a big person and perhaps that disarmed them."  Gross cuts Shehadeh off from her sympathetic sense of the ludicrous.  She withholds empathy even when Shehadeh winningly confides his dread–"Would I break down?"– or describes his efforts to brave danger calmly, without belligerence.  

That’s the pattern: Terry Gross refuses to converse with Shehadeh, but, rather, issues a series of insulting non-sequiturs that allow for no actual interaction. When she switiches the topic to Israel’s "barrier fence," Shehadah corrects her by explaining why it is an "Apartheid Wall," stealing Palestinian land as it encircles their towns. But when Gross later asks Horovitz about the Wall, she reverts to "barrier," not deigning to press Horowitz on links between Israeli tyranny and South Africa’s Apartheid.

With Horovitz, rather than changing subjects, Gross follows up with concern: "Has [suicide bombing] affected your views of Palestinians?"  Horovitz generalizes: "Well, I can only relate to the Palestinian people by the opinion polls," which "troublingly," say that "most Palestinians say they support the bombers."   Horovitz  justifies Israel scuppering peace talks. 

Raja Shehadeh by contrast, speaks sadly of how extremists on both sides try to de-humanize the other. During the soldiers’ raid, " I found young people dressed in such gear that you could hardly see them." However, "I tried to make some human contact with them, but it was impossible….So I…felt some pity for them."  He could imagine how "they’d been told perhaps that every Palestinian hates them, and they live with this burden." What largeness of mind.

But Gross doesn’t  inquire whether IDF actions have embittered Shehadeh’s views of Israelis.  Instead, Gross prods him to deprecate the president of Malaysia’s "anti-Semitic" remark, which he emphatically does.

Gross examines Shehadeh on his opinion of current Israeli-Palestinian informal peace proposals, but she locks out Shehadeh’s point, that Palestinians would accept compensation in lieu of Actual Return to the land of their ancestors.  Gross hears intransigence rather than qualified enthusiasm: "Sounds as though you couldn’t really back this plan because it has no right of return." Gross’s deafness betrays her prejudice: she imputes to Shehadeh Israel’s obstinacy–and her own?

Gross hops on again, insinuating that Shehadeh might "know anybody who’s directly connected to" "suicide bombers."  No, of course not, but Raja Shehadeh opens his conscience to say that he wants never "to compete in the horror and the tragedy because both sides have suffered horror….But I know victims… Israelis and Palestinians."  Shehadeh "cannot understand why [bombers] are driven to this," but reminds us, "life in the Occupied Territories is to live in such despair." 

"The fact that Israel is killing babies and children does NOT justify such acts" he declares, explaining that there was "No possibility that anyone would do something like" blowing himself up before 1994, when [illegal] settlers killed worshippers. 

Raja Shehadeh offers a beautiful introspection: "What has happened to us?  We are at the edge." 

Gross leapfrogs; Shehadeh offers leaps of faith: "The beauty of Palestine historically has been a place of tolerance between the three religions…because Christians, Jews, and Muslims were living side by side….My struggle is for attaining freedom and…tolerance."

Gross jumps on, disdaining to invite Shehadeh’s exploration of how despair warps the tyrannized–a logical, though deplorable–concomitant of more deplorable Israeli aggression, or his vision of a harmonious future Palestine. She fixates instead on her abhorrence of the bombers: have you, she prods, "witnessed extremist groups manipulating the despair, to try to create the environment where people are willing to blow themselves up?" Terry Gross misses his point: Israel created the environment of despair.  Shehadeh though gives Gross the benefit of the doubt, describing how extremists on both sides take advantage of their people’s suffering.  Gross might condole with him for all his endearing admissions, but she moves on.  Nothing to see here, folks.

David Horovitz extends no such self-examination; he simply blames others, demanding that Palestinians: "stop the bombers," "because then we can settle down to peace talks."  Horovitz even promises that the Israeli leadership then "would be rushing back to the peace talks." 

Of course, Palestinians have now stopped such bombings. Has Horovitz urged Netanyahu to "rush back to the peace talks"?  No.  Horovitz now proves his bad faith.  He demands new concessions from Palestinians:

"Let Abbas speak in Arabic, to his own people – with his leadership colleagues on hand to publicly support and applaud him – and let him tell them that the Jews, too, have historic rights to Palestine."  

We need to study what Israel’s incessant moving of the proverbial goalposts does to the people of Palestine.  Humans perceive such trickery with standards as taunting, and taunting–I know from being a child and now a parent–creates the greatest rage. 

Gross surmises that Shehadeh might want to solve his problems by just leaving his home and people seems almost exasperated.  She’s in a muddle: as if she wants to commiserate–except that she can’t–for that means acknowledging Israel’s crimes–so she niggles Shehadeh to abandon all that’s right–though what’s right is giving up whatever Israel covets.  Gross’s graceless query reminds me of the false concern and real prejudice of the father, Yaakov Levinson, in Heart of Jenin, to the Palestinian man, Ismail Khatib, who saved the life of Levinson’s tiny daughter.  Khatib hoped to create ties through his acts of mercy, but the best gratitude the illegal-colonist Levinson could muster was a patronizing rebuff, "Can’t he emigrate?….There’s nothing for him here." 

What would have been really new sights–and sounds–from the show that labels itself as offering fresh air, is Gross truly listening to those our culture demonizes as Other.  But Gross would have to care enough about the unexpectedness of the world–if not her job–to stretch beyond her preconceptions.  Emily Henochowicz gives us an exquisite image for such elasticity of vision in an entrancing work of art (below), "Me to then-Me."  Henochowicz depicts her 2010 canvas stretching out to pull her 2009 model forward to catch up with her always-growing self.  She posted it on the very eve of the protest where the IDF shot out her eye.  Not many of us can equal our Emily’s indomitable ardor–her glorious sense of motion, of play–, but we can try.  

Perhaps Terry Gross, the host who sells new ways of looking, can learn from Emily Henochowicz’s "Visual Adventure" to discern anew.  Yesterday, Gross’s show featured the one-year anniversary of Newsweek correspondent Maziar Bahari’s arrest by Iran, then John Powers’s review of Philip Kerr’s thriller about the Nazi era–topics that are both acceptable to the Israel lobby.  Why hasn’t Gross tackled recent Israeli attacks, asking Emily Henochowicz to describe her work defending the people of Palestine she has come to love?  So brilliant an artist and dedicated a peace-worker has much to teach.  When will Gross invite surviving activists from Free Gaza to speak?

Maybe Gross will then reminisce about Raja Shehadeh’s generosity of spirit, his long-suffering valor, to discover new perspectives on Palestine.  We all can exercise our spirits, extending ourselves to catch up with Shehadeh’s charity and mercy.  We’re lucky to have such reaching souls, among many in Palestine and around the world, to inspire. We, too, can imagine, and thus create, a future that sees the alien, that perceives beyond our expectations, and onward still. 

Me to then Me


32 Responses

  1. hayate
    June 16, 2010, 9:18 pm

    “Terry Gross has no empathy for Palestinians”

    Is that pronounced as in “eww, how gross”?* If so, she apparently has decided her goal in life is living down to her name.

    *I’ve never listened to her show.

    • Interested Bystander
      June 17, 2010, 4:18 pm

      We can all draw our own conclusions about Susi’s report. Reflect on it, do you believe your comment adds something? If not, it’s better to refrain.

      • hayate
        June 23, 2010, 10:37 pm

        Dry up, sayanim/hasbarat.

  2. annie
    June 16, 2010, 9:34 pm

    thanks susie (i mean it, really thorough report), i’ll have to listen to those interviews w/Shehadeh. other than what phil’s written about gross i’m unfamiliar w/her but not npr and it doesn’t surprise me, i don’t trust their news.

  3. silencenolonger
    June 16, 2010, 9:36 pm

    Maybe its time to address media apartheid, virtually all the editorial control of radio and tv media is run by Jews. They represent 2% of the population, but they are ubiqitous in media. And it has another effect, when experts are asked to speak on any matter, Jews are chosen if they are not the most qualified.
    It goes further down the line when they apply for grants inevitably the person doling out grants is Jewish. Don’t see NPR putting on Pat Buchanan
    who just happens to be very funny, worked for 2 administrations and run for President, is a best selling author and very well educated and a trained journalist…
    I never listen to mainstream media anymore

    • Interested Bystander
      June 17, 2010, 4:29 pm

      Are you saying that there is something wrong with Jews having a prominent role in media? Why, pray tell? There is a difference between pointing out that MSM has a pro-Israel bias, and one of the reasons may be that Jews are prominently represented in MSM, and suggesting Jews (or any other ethnic group?) should not be allowed to have prominent representation, or that there is some conspiracy to put forth “not the most qualified” because they are Jewish. You seem to be suggesting a pretty low-brow conspiracy theory targeted at an ethnic minority. You’re on the wrong site for that.

      • hayate
        June 23, 2010, 10:40 pm

        Interested Bystander June 17, 2010 at 4:29 pm

        Good sayanim/hasbarat spam there, though not particularly clever. Thanks for outing yourself.

  4. Oscar
    June 16, 2010, 9:42 pm

    Spectacular. Well done, Susie — a brilliant and thorough account of MSM bias masquerading as “fresh air” perspective. Fewer people are fooled by this hasbara, and a full breakdown of credibility in mass media is required to effect massive change in mainstream attitudes.

  5. Avi
    June 17, 2010, 12:03 am

    ‘Tis, alas, the poor prerogative of greatness, to be wretched and unpitied


  6. Avi
    June 17, 2010, 12:04 am

    Great article, Susie.

  7. joer
    June 17, 2010, 1:17 am

    This has got to be one of the most ridiculously unfair essays I have read in a while. Susie fumes because Terry chortles with Israelis and disdains Palestinians. Joe grouses that Susie must have a lot of time on her hands to fixate on Terry.
    And that silencenolonger guy left a brilliant comment. I just have to wonder why he’s reading this blog if he’s sick of reading content edited by….oh, never mind.

  8. Charltonr
    June 17, 2010, 2:11 am

    Terry’s blind spots and condescension are consistent with NPR’s positions on these matters. E.g. on the News Hour when there are experts only pro-Israel or safely non-committal persons are invited (e.g. Martin Indyk, Dennis Ross). One exception to this, Hisham Melem, is rarely invited any more. And no mention is ever made of US military aid ($3 billion a year or $7 million a day) to Israel in violation of US and international law,.

  9. Richard Witty
    June 17, 2010, 6:10 am

    There was a great deal of projection in your article.

  10. Richard Parker
    June 17, 2010, 6:24 am

    Who the f*** is Terri Gross? I assume NPR means “NPR, the public radio network renowned for journalistic excellence and standard-setting news, information, and cultural programming”.

    Why do you expect any balance at all in their broadcasts?

    Or do you somehow expect them to behave like the BBC, which has also careened down the road into non-objectivity.

  11. Les
    June 17, 2010, 7:43 am

    Just as the New York Times is the Israel Lobby’s most important print outlet in the US, NPR is the Lobby’s most important broadcast outlet. Now that Israel has done a 180 degree turn on its relations with Turkey, watch how both these propaganda outlets promote the idea that Turkey has become an enemy of the US. Our politicians work closely and in tandem with the Lobby.

    • Taxi
      June 17, 2010, 7:59 am

      It took only a handful of days for the zionists to demonstrate an outstanding depth of hate towards the Turks.

      Makes one think that much animus was a long time brewing under the surface.

      Makes one wonder: when will the zionists turn against us Americans? Overtly, I mean.

  12. Kathleen
    June 17, 2010, 7:53 am

    Not only has Terry Gross demonstrated her complete inability to feel any compassion for the Palestinians. She has demonstrated a complete inability to be fair, truthful and accurate about the Israeli Palestinian conflict.

    I have been pointing this out for quite some time. The last few years Terry has been so carrying water for the Israel Lobby that it has been disgusting beyond measure. Now we know that Terry generally does shows about music, arts etc. But when she does choose to cover any international politics it is generally showing the Israeli or the I lobbies view of the issue.

    She has been promoting anti Iranian government writers etc. She has allowed guest after guest to repeat inflammatory and unsubstantiated claims about Iran over and over again. One statement that she has allowed to be endlessly repeated on her program is “Iran wants to wipe Israel off the map” She not only allows this debunked statement to be repeated she has repeated that debunked statement herself over and over again. That lie out of her own mouth.

    Professor Juan Cole debunked that warmongering statement years ago.

    “The precise reason for Hitchens’ theft and publication of my private mail is that I object to the characterization of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as having “threatened to wipe Israel off the map.” I object to this translation of what he said on two grounds. First, it gives the impression that he wants to play Hitler to Israel’s Poland, mobilizing an armored corps to move in and kill people.

    But the actual quote, which comes from an old speech of Khomeini, does not imply military action, or killing anyone at all. The second reason is that it is just an inexact translation. The phrase is almost metaphysical. He quoted Khomeini that “the occupation regime over Jerusalem should vanish from the page of time.” It is in fact probably a reference to some phrase in a medieval Persian poem. It is not about tanks.”

    link to juancole.com


    Terry Gross is carrying water and abusing her power in a horrible way. Misusing and abusing her position as a radio host to spread complete lies and disinformation about Iran.

  13. Kathleen
    June 17, 2010, 8:33 am

    Terry Gross was completely silent on the Gaza Flotilla massacre. Silent

    I have been documenting over the last seven years how many times I have heard journalist/talking heads/MSM host allow the false and inflammatory “Iran wants to wipe Israel off the map” Also journalist who have allowed guest to repeat “Iran nuclear weapons program” instead of the “nuclear program” Have that notebook somewhere.

    Terry Gross and Neil Conan have been the worst. Diane Rehm has allowed these statements to be repeated relatively frequently. No challenges to these false statements.

    Chris Matthews, George Stephanapolous, David Gregory, Katie Couric, the list is long. Flynt Leverett actually challenged Charlie Rose when Rose repeated it during an interview with Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett.

    But by far Terry Gross and Neil Conan have been the repeat offenders who have let these false claims go by unchallenged. The other day Talk of the Nations host Neil Conan allowed

  14. Kathleen
    June 17, 2010, 8:39 am

    Last week the host of Talk of the Nation Neil Conan allowed American Enterprise Institute and Iraq and Iran war pusher Marianne Pletka to reapeat that Iran presently has a nuclear weapons program. Neil did not challenge this unsubstantiated claim. With a challenge for her choice of language which was totally inaccurate. This is not the first time I have heard Conan allow this false claim to be repeated on his program. During one program with John Bolton a few years back I heard Conan allow Bolton to repeat this unsubstantiated claim four times in one program.

    Here is Conan’s latest purposeful willingness to let false claims like this go by. Agenda?

    New Round Of Iran Sanctions Satisfy Few
    link to npr.org

    CONAN: And are you concerned that, on the one hand, the Russians do vote for this resolution, they voted no, it wouldn’t have gone through. They’re a permanent member. They have a veto in the Security Council. On the one hand, they do that. There was also a security meeting with Russia and Turkey and Iran last week and, as we mentioned, Foreign Minister Lavrov talking today about the new nuclear reactors.

    Ms. PLETKA: They’ve been talking for some time about intensive nuclear cooperation. They’ve been talking about, in fact, a new partnership, a nuclear partnership between Russia and Iran. And that goes to the Russians really trying to play both sides. And the problem with that is not that it gives a significant edge to the Iranians and their nuclear program. It certainly helps them, but it’s not decisive. The real problem is it sends a message about the decisiveness of the international community. We have a resolution that did not pass unanimously. The previous resolutions have, except for one abstention, passed unanimously. I think that it is reasonable for the Iranians to assume that they have broken the back of international consensus on hostility towards their nuclear weapons program.

    CONAN: Do you think, as The New York Times suggested today, that Brazil and Turkey got played by the Iranians? ”


  15. lareineblanche
    June 17, 2010, 8:46 am

    Great analysis, thank you. It clearly contrasts the humility, intelligence and understanding of Shehadeh with Gross’ obvious bias and lack of understanding of the issues. Maybe a better title would be “Stale Air”?

  16. Susie Kneedler
    June 17, 2010, 10:05 am

    Thanks for all the helpful comments, dear Friends.

    Can’t resist adding: How about “Stale Gas”?

    • Todd
      June 19, 2010, 3:46 am

      I’ve always called her show “Foul Air.” My favorite episode was an interview with Tom Hanks’ son, where Gross assumed that she was interviewing a fellow Jew who would participate in bashing Catholics with her. One of the few funny episodes, and it was inintentional.

  17. Interested Bystander
    June 17, 2010, 4:46 pm

    So let’s pretend for a minute that Terry Gross is not Jewish. Is it because she’s Jewish that you think she should do more to promote the Palestinian cause?

    NYT and NPR represent the established order. That’s their role, to be the reasonable voice of the establishment. That doesn’t make them bad. It does mean they are not revolutionary. If you are out to change the established order, which this site is about (right?), why would you think this change would come from the MSM? MSM is never going to be in the forefront of that change. Palestinians have bigger problems in this world than Terry Gross.

  18. Charltonr
    June 17, 2010, 8:28 pm

    She’s not a problem for Palestinians, she’s a problem for the US of A. Because she is feeding the conventional wrong-headed wisdom about the whole mess. Which one day is going to rabbit-punch us, when Israel turns on us because we stop doing its bidding.

  19. Charltonr
    June 17, 2010, 8:31 pm

    “Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored” –Aldous Huxley

    “”You have a right to your own opinion, but not to your own facts” –Sen. Pat Moynihan

  20. elisehendrick
    June 18, 2010, 6:49 pm

    One small correction. Al-Haq (الحاق) is not Arabic for “The Truth”. Haq means “Law” or “Right”.

  21. Taxi
    June 19, 2010, 2:30 am

    Haq = Law

    Haqiqa = Truth

    • thankgodimatheist
      June 19, 2010, 3:46 am

      The notions, “Law” and “Right” are both inferred in Al Haq and could alternatively mean either. But to be accurate, Law is specifically A’dl or “A’dalah” and also “Qanoon”..However “Hatha haquh”means “It’s his right”. In other instances, “Al haq aqool lakum” means ” I’m telling you the truth.
      It’s complicated.

      • thankgodimatheist
        June 19, 2010, 3:54 am

        حق Haq

        This word could mean: Truth, Truthfulness, Prerogative, Birthright, Correct, Right, etc.
        link to islamic-dictionary.com

        Haqq (حقّ) is the Arabic word for truth. In Islamic context, it is also interpreted as righteousness, right and (certain) reality. Al-Haqq, the truth, is one of 99 Names of God in the Qur’an. It is often used to refer to God as the quality of Ultimate Reality in Sufism.
        link to dictionary.babylon.com
        I told you it’s complicated!

  22. elisehendrick
    June 19, 2010, 3:56 am

    عدلة(Adalah) does not mean law. It means “justice”.

    • thankgodimatheist
      June 19, 2010, 5:03 am

      “(Adalah) does not mean law. It means “justice”.”

      The difficulty here is that we’re trying to find ONE English word to mean Haq when this word has more connotations than one English word can cover. Even in Arabic it’s often necessary to compliment it with another word, A’dl, for more accuracy (as الحق والعدل “Al Haq wal A’adl”,) one complimenting the other

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