NPR ombud says Israel lobby was ‘successful’ in changing coverage

Last week on a local call-in show on WOSU, Ohio, NPR ombudsman Alicia Shepard virtually boasted about  NPR’s giving into “pro-Israeli” pressure: “NPR is not as much criticized for its Middle East coverage as it was back in 2002, which it was attacked quite strongly by a pro-Israeli group.  And that group was in many ways successful, and as a result NPR went back and re-evaluated the coverage and how things are handled and started doing things a little differently….” 

One collapse leads to another. I called in and thanked Shepard for her previous stance of asking that reporters describe Israeli colonies–built on stolen land–as violations of International Law, rather than use the Israeli term “disputed.”  I told her, though, that reporters continue to say “disputed.”  In a flip-flop, Shepard said, “The reason that it would be ‘disputed’ is that Israelis may feel that this is their land, and they got it fair and square during the war, and then the Palestinians would say, No, this land was stolen from them, –so in that sense, it’s ‘disputed’” (10:26).

The arbiter of ethical reporting violated fairness in her about-face: Donating all of Palestine to Israel—Greater Israel accomplished… .No country can legally win land “fair and square [through] war” ….“Disputed” isn’t a disinterested label, but the Israeli government’s…. Israel’s violation of International Law is crucial context listeners deserve. And Shepard herself had bragged about that “rich” “context” is “NPR’s signature” of “good journalism.” 

So Shepard reversed her answer to me from an April 1 call. At that time she said: “The story about Israel intending to build 1600 housing units in East Jerusalem is a big story.  Susie, I’ve brought that up about: ‘Let’s not use the term ‘disputed.’”

I wanted to probe Shepard’s turnabout last week, but WOSU host Ann Fisher again shielded the ombud by putting me on hold, and Shepard shifted from defense to offense: NPR’s job “isn’t to advocate.  Maybe you have more of a vested interest or a personal interest in the story,” she told me, “so you listen to it in a way where you’re picking up on a key word.”  Exactly.  NPR’s job isn’t to advocate Israel’s interest, which it does when it uses Israeli-government terms like “disputed.”

Shepard asserted that “An NPR story may be fair, but it is also in many ways neutral.”  Would NPR give equal time to segregationists applauding Bull Connor’s hoses and dogs?  Would NPR suppress news of Rev. Martin Luther King and the marches for Civil Rights?  Why not? Because to do so would deceive a 1960s audience about liberation from injustice. 

Both times I talked with Shepard, she referred to the evaluations made by hired assessor John Felton; but the problem with his reports is precisely that they merely count how many Israeli and Palestinian stories and spokespeople appear.  http://www.npr.org/news/specials/mideast/statements/Mideast_Q2_2010.pdf, http://www.npr.org/news/specials/mideast/statements/Mideast_Q4_2009.pdf

Such tallies are easy, and not journalism.  Felton neglects the hard work of comparing the assertions to reality: how much land Israelis steal, how many more people they kill and injure than casualties they suffer, how many children’s growth they stunt through malnourishment.  The coverage is reduced to the dreadful idea of “competing narratives,” with no referee. Shepard can only proclaim, “bias is in the eye of the beholder,” when NPR discards facts like International Law.

George Orwell warned that “Political language…is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”  http://orwell.ru/library/essays/politics/english/e_polit. Orwell’s “The Road to Wigan Pier,” say, doesn’t give equal time to the mine owners, but simply depicts miners’ terrible suffering. 

NPR functionaries like Alicia Shepard and Ann Fisher are gatekeepers at the U.S. checkpoints: keeping Americans in ignorance. 

Later Gabrielle, another caller to the Ann Fisher, showed how NPR responds to some progressive demands (26:10).  First, a compliment about what an admirable job Shepard is doing. Then, the suggestion of a “tiny… constructive criticism” that Fisher supports: removing sexist terms like ombudsman from NPR.  Hilariously, Shepard at first brushed off the request. The caller responded that language like “fireman” and “firefighter” limits children’s aspirations. Fisher chimed in. Gabrielle spoke of the subtlety of saying “one man’s x.” Shepard agreed it’s an important topic–”This is something that I do care very much about”–and the disparity of male and female voices is an issue she’s studied.

Then she summed up: “How will we ever move on, if we don’t address it?”  

How, indeed? 

About Susie Kneedler

Who reads and sometimes writes....
Posted in Beyondoweiss, Israel Lobby, Israel/Palestine | Tagged , , , ,

{ 48 comments... read them below or add one }

  1. Chaos4700 says:

    Hey, free speech costs money, and the free press exists to be bought and sold. Just ask the Supreme Court.

  2. I appreciate NPR’s professional integrity to not give in to polemic.

    “Disputed” is descriptive of the status of the land, sovereignty, all of the issues.

    • potsherd says:

      David Duke disputes the authenticity of the Holocaust, but somehow this isn’t how NPR describes it.

    • Donald says:

      “Polemic” is what Richard calls it when Israel is accused of wrongdoing. In his view, there should always be doubt cast on any particular claim of that sort.

    • kapok says:

      Witty keeps getting handed his hat
      but comes back
      as if nothing has happened.
      Why is that?

      • Sumud says:

        Why is that?

        Because he’s appointed himself blog sheriff, of someone else’s blog.

        Without his constant presence (occupation, you could say) the conversation would apparently go in places he doesn’t want it to go:

        link to mondoweiss.net

        You might call this an attack on Mondoweiss’ sovereignty. RW of course, disputes that…

      • potsherd says:

        I believe he has one of those neurological disorders like Asberger’s, that prevent him from catching social cues.

        • I’ve thrown my share and more of sharp elbows on this forum. Nevertheless, I respectfully ask that you refrain from making comparisons to physical or neurological disorders. Asberger’s is a difficult condition to live with; it should not be applied lightly. Similarly, many bloggers like to use Alzheimer’s, or schizophrenia, to characterize an adversary. Having watched my Mother struggle with Alzheimer’s, it’s very painful to hear the disease used flippantly.

    • Dan Crowther says:

      Man-o-Man, here comes Witty again with is pseudo-intellectual non-sense. Reading Richard’s posts makes me hope that someone is on their way to his house to toss him out, force him off the property and make sure that he can’t get back.

      The problem with the Witty’s of the world is that they wouldn’t survive in the world they advocate for. He thinks he likes the “dog eat dog” frame of mind, but is he really suited for the jungle? I seriously doubt it.

      Let someone take what is his’s and then have him talk in terms of “disputed.”

      • Read my actual comments Crowther.

        You don’t have a clue.

        “Dog eat dog”, you are in the ozone if you think that describes anything that I’ve advocated for.

        • Dan Crowther says:

          Richard,

          I have read your comments, many times over. As for you not advocating a “dog eat dog” mentality, as a supporter of the state of Israel, you are DEDICATED to that mentality. Don’t think for a minute because there was acceptance and recognition of Israel by other sovereigns that the creation of the state wasn’t an act of naked aggression following the “law of the jungle,” as it were. In fact, the support by other nations actually worsens your argument considerably, and lays bare the complete double standard people like you live by. Could the early zionists have thrown off the British “colonizers” themselves? Nope. Could they have taken control of the territory they now possess, run the Palestinians off their land and laid seige to the one’s the couldn’t if they didn’t have the tacit support of the U.S. and Britain? No way. The “law of the jungle” was not going to work for them. Others mean had to be used. Guilt.Political pressure. Money.Propaganda.
          So yes, Richard you are very much advocating a law of the jungle mentality. You just think that when the little guy hides behind the big guy, he isn’t actually the one in the “dispute” – but he is, he’s just the coward.

        • Are you looking for someone to blame, or are you proposing some specific change?

        • Shingo says:

          “You don’t have a clue.”

          We have countless clues Witty, in the form of your own comments to this log over the years. I hate to admit that we do read your comments, which is why Dan Crowther and the rest of us have you so well pegged.

        • Avi says:

          Read my actual comments Crowther.

          Dan, you have to read his comments, his actual comments. That’s the only way he can come out on top every time. You must read his comments separately. If you read them all together you might conclude that he’s a flip-flopping hypocrite. That’s why it’s important that you read the “actual” comments, each one separately. It’s not the totality of his comments that is important, it’s the actual comments.

        • Chaos4700 says:

          Are you looking for someone to blame, or are you proposing some specific change?

          I love it. Witty is like a textbook on sociopathy. Clearly, “justice” is perfectly useless because it gets in his way.

        • Sumud says:

          “Dog eat dog”, you are in the ozone if you think that describes anything that I’ve advocated for.

          In advocating for selective application of international law (when it benefits jews, eg. your position on right of return) that’s exactly what you’re doing.

    • Shingo says:

      ““Disputed” is descriptive of the status of the land, sovereignty, all of the issues.”

      Disputed is a dishonest and sleazy term used exclusively by Israel and it’s propagandists. No other country describes the occupied territories as disputed.

  3. occupyresist says:

    Well

    NPR decided that it had to hue the ‘neutral’ line, when will DemocracyNow be next?

    Hope that never happens…..wait a minute,….

    “FBI Raids Homes of Anti-War and Pro-Palestinian Activists in Chicago and Minneapolis”

    link to democracynow.org

    • C Span (esp. Washington Journal) has been cowed into submission.

      In 2005 C Span went toe-to-toe with Deborah Lipstadt. Lipstadt was to appear on C Span to discuss her book about the trial against David Irving; C Span invited Irving to appear on C Span as well. Lipstadt objected to C Span’s invitation to Irving, claiming “there is no such thing as balance’ when holocaust is concerned. When C Span refused to back down, Lipstadt rescinded her acceptance of the invitation to appear on C Span.

  4. Les says:

    NPR calls the wall a “security fence,” without noting that this “fence” is higher and sturdier than the Berlin Wall. NPR — the network for 1984!

  5. saritalr says:

    Is there any coordinated effort to communicate our dissatisfaction with NPR’s coverage? I participate in feedback surveys as often as possible – and always mention Scott Simon’s intolerable approach to “journalism” when it comes to Israel.

    But maybe there is a preexisting coordinated effort I’m missing?

    • Sumud says:

      But maybe there is a preexisting coordinated effort I’m missing?

      Not that I’m aware of. If you listen to the clip Susie links to (the first link in her piece, starting a bit after the ten minute mark), as the announcer is making excuses to about cutting Susie off the ombud gives out her email address for direct contact.

      Best to email her, I will be.

  6. Israel doesn’t ‘dispute’ these ‘territories’ – it just helps itself to whatever it wants there. The territories are de facto part of Israel – where is the border? Oh yes, the river Jordan. The only reason Israel wants the world to think they are ‘disputed’ is to avoid the reality that Palestinians are part of Israel, and therefore entitled to the same rights as Israelis – freedom and a right to vote, as well as equal access to the resources. Admitting this is part of Israel (otherwise where do the settlers live?) entails admitting that a full-blown apartheid system operates in the West Bank, and a lesser form of it in ‘old’ Israel. Time to call them out on it, instead of allowing them to create a fictional ‘disputed’ territory, as if they have no responsibility for the conditions which they keep the Palestinians in – one conveniently where, as stateless people, they have no human rights (which are guaranteed by the state).

  7. lyn117 says:

    “Both times I talked with Shepard, she referred to the evaluations made by hired assessor John Felton; but the problem with his reports is precisely that they merely count how many Israeli and Palestinian stories and spokespeople appear. ”

    And they don’t count pro-Israel lobby spokespeople appear either.

    From the 2010 John Felton report:
    “Other topics included the flap over journalist Helen Thomas’s anti-Jewish remarks, …”

    Since when were Helen Thomas’s remarks anti-Jewish? They were anti-Israel but anti-Jewish? There’s a lot more in John Felton’s reports that lead me to believe he’s not just fact and bias checking but also regurgitating a few standard Israeli propaganda points (like the wall was needed for “security”). He leaves out from his analysis the AP reports, which likewise often regurgitate standard Israeli propaganda to the point of being erroneous.

    • Exactly, lyn117. (And thanks to all for your helpful comments.)

      As often as not, Felton decides that NPR doesn’t defend Israel enough, as in this gem:

      “Some listeners might have heard the host intro as placing all the blame on Israel. The intro said the Obama administration had put a high priority on Middle East peace but had not been able to persuade Israel to stop building settlements on the West Bank, and, as a result, the Palestinians were not ready to talk. Kelemen’s piece itself presented a more balanced view. Issues as complex as the Middle East peace process are notoriously difficult to summarize adequately in three or four sentences; even so, the intro could have been worded in a more neutral fashion to emphasize that both the Israelis and Palestinians have taken actions that appear to thwart Obama’s hopes for the peace process.”

  8. Sumud says:

    I listened to the clip Susie, grrr!

    A few observations (and excuse me if some of this is redundant, you were cut off so we never got to hear your on-air response):
    • I don’t think you’ll get anywhere with the term ‘stolen’. It’s technically true, but you’re better off with ‘occupied’ – this is the status of Palestine (Occupied Palestinian Territories), including Gaza, according to the UN, the International Court of Justice, and all of the international community except Israel. Request they use the consensus and legally accurate description, not a term designed to confuse laypeople.
    • If you’re talking about East Jerusalem, you can mention that Israel annexed East Jerusalem in 1980, and no country EVER has recognised it, not even the United States – because the territory is occupied. Why use Israel’s description (disputed) when the United States has an opinion on the status of the territories (occupied) which aligns with the rest of the international community?
    • Plan to make your point without needing to be granted a right of reply.

    PS did u write an email to Shepard? I’d be interested to know her response.

    • Thanks, Sumud: Great advice on all. (And sorry for the late response: flight delay and power outage here.)

      You’re right about cramming points into one comment. Unfortunately, I only heard of Shepard’s appearance at the show’s start as I was dashing between duties, so I did botch it. (Our kids are still ribbing me about how feeble I sounded–with perfect mimicry.) I erred by protesting the “Hold” rather than Shepard’s stunning capitulation to the Israeli-government line. But I feared being unable to say it all fast enough. I’ll try to do better next time, though, now that I think back, Ann Fisher also pressed “Mute” the two other times I called. The first time she cut off my question (on NPR’s silence about the U.S. billions to Israel’s expansion; International Law; and the illegal siege of Gaza and terrible effects on the malnourished children, announcing “It gets to be a laundry list.” But then, when she opened the mike briefly, I was smarter, squeezing out the line about International Law. Even so, I felt terrible afterwards that I hadn’t crammed in a word about the kids of Gaza, as well as Henry Norr’s admirable research on NPR’s (lack of ) reporting.

      The next time, Ann Fisher refused to air my question at all. She kept me waiting half an hour to ask OSU president Gordon Gee about his tenure on the board of Massey Energy (from which he resigned only after pressure), while it dynamited irreplaceable Appalachian mountains, forests, and streams ; killed miners in unsafe, non-union mines; and even bought its own judge. The screener eventually told me that I should hang up because Fisher wouldn’t take the call.

      • Sumud says:

        …so I did botch it. (Our kids are still ribbing me about how feeble I sounded–with perfect mimicry.)

        No, you didn’t botch it! I *really* didn’t mean to give that impression, sorry. You did get your main point across about ‘disputed’ being a misrepresentation. The announcer sounded rude when she refused reply and said she was putting you on “hold” (it was obvious she planned to cut you off).

        A few months ago I was listening to a ziobot hasbara specialist on the local radio. She goes around giving classes to zionists so they can convince people that black is white and night is day. She had a pre-planned response for everything, and was rude, aggressive and rode roughshod over any caller who tried to give a more realistic picture of Israel and the cruelty of the occupation. She also had a radio compere totally sympathetic to her cause. In pure debating terms you could say she ‘won’, and it isn’t that hard to do when the caller isn’t permitted to reply. But as I said, her overall tone was extremely unpleasant. I don’t believe she won Israel any fans that day.

        So I mention this because your kids were ribbing you. I thought you sounded earnest – not feeble – and in radio that’s a good thing. Radio is tone.

        Now smack those naughty kids and send them to bed hungry!

        :-)

        • Thanks, Sumud: that’s very sweet and wise. We can’t win with one remark, but have to keep trying, though it’s with a little voice.

          (And the “kids,” well, 6 feet of cool who escaped our weirdness by parodying it instead. Keeps us properly humble, right?)

  9. Avi says:

    The question is simple, does NPR consider the international community and by extension the United Nations to be neutral bodies?

    If NPR doesn’t, then what does it consider to be a neutral arbiter?

    If it’s neutrality with which NPR is concerned, then why has it resorted to making up its own definition of the term “disputed”?

    Furthermore, if it’s accuracy with which NPR is concerned, then why has it taken it upon itself to redefine international law, instead of adopting terminology which has already been formulated by the Geneva Conventions?

    All in all, NPR’s explanations are bankrupt and the pathetic jokers who sit behind the microphone lecturing critics should know that their motives are transparently obvious.

    • James North says:

      Avi is right, as usual. (If I steal Richard Witty’s car, and he reports it to the police, will NPR describe the vehicle as “disputed?”)

      • Bumblebye says:

        No, but if Witty stole your car, he would claim ownership is disputed!

        • Chaos4700 says:

          How dare you, sir. Clearly, you are engaging in censorship and fascism by trying to assign blame. Are you interested in just assigning name, or are you interested in working toward a solution whereby Witty gets to assert his “Jewish self-determination” over the car. There is no right of return now that the car has passed on to a new generation.

        • Bumblebye says:

          Well, once he’s changed the oil, filled the tank, given it a respray, personalized the vehicle, etc, etc, who can say how it should be divided, when its now obviously not the same, it’s changed, and maybe he needs to take the grandkids to school, cos the family’s growing doncha know! We can’t punish him now he’s done all that work on it, can we??!!

          :-D

        • Bumblebye says:

          Should we just give James the hubcaps?

        • Actually, he made the car bloom.

        • Sumud says:

          Should we just give James the hubcaps?

          Come on now Bumblebye, stop being so maximalist!

          I believe the Security Council resolution said Richard had to return “hubcaps”, not “the hubcaps”. [We’ll ignore French text of the resolution which includes the definitive (les enjoliveurs), because… well, because we just will and the French are a bunch of pork-munching jew-haters anyway.

          James should be content with 2 hubcaps, which he may have to loan Richard on the weekends.

      • “Avi is right, as usual. (If I steal Richard Witty’s car, and he reports it to the police, will NPR describe the vehicle as “disputed?”)”

        If there are in fact counter-vailing legal claims, the word “disputed” is more accurate than stolen.

        The legal status of title is on a case by case basis. The preliminary judgment is a violation of international law, NOT an affirmation of it.

        You do believe in habeus corpus, and the right of parties to their day in court.

        It is currently denied most Palestinians. Proposing to deny to Israelis as well, or in a pendulum swing, is NOT progress.

        • Avi says:

          If there are in fact counter-vailing legal claims, the word “disputed” is more accurate than stolen.

          The legal status of title is on a case by case basis. The preliminary judgment is a violation of international law, NOT an affirmation of it.

          You do believe in habeus corpus, and the right of parties to their day in court.

          It is currently denied most Palestinians. Proposing to deny to Israelis as well, or in a pendulum swing, is NOT progress.

          I put the above through my RW to English translator and the computer flashed a blue screen and shut down. Now it won’t power up. Any idea what happened, folks?

        • Shingo says:

          “If there are in fact counter-vailing legal claims, the word “disputed” is more accurate than stolen.”

          Except that in the case of the occupied territories there are none.

          “The legal status of title is on a case by case basis.”

          And in every case, it was stolen.

          “The preliminary judgment is a violation of international law, NOT an affirmation of it.”

          The judgment was not preliminary but conclusive. Under the 4th Geneva Conventions, Israel is in violation of international law.

          “You do believe in habeus corpus, and the right of parties to their day in court.”

          Israel has had 43 years to present it’s case of legal claims and has failed to because it has no legal claims.

        • Shingo says:

          “Any idea what happened, folks?”

          Yes, we have a saying for that.

          Barbage in, garbage out.

        • Sumud says:

          If there are in fact counter-vailing legal claims, the word “disputed” is more accurate than stolen.

          Fabulous.

          In conflating an individual property title case with territorial sovereignty you’ve blazed new trails Richard.

          Bearing in mind the huge amount of titled property seized by Israel during and after Al Nakba, from this moment forward please refer to the zionist entity as “Disputed Israel”, not “Israel”.

        • occupyresist says:

          Your computer has been infected with the Hbara-worm. By attempting to translate RWs post, you’ve triggered Hbara….the computer’s became overloaded with repeated contradictory and vague statements, replicating on and on…to the point that it couldn’t take it anymore, hence the Blue Screen of Death.

          I suggest that you subject it to some serious anti-Hbara scanning/fixing, which is not 100% guaranteed, mind you. Hbara is stubborn and persistent, but who knows? It might recover…….eventually.

        • demize says:

          Witty is perfect for a show on NPR. The psuedo-liberal pedagogical high fallutiness, the obtuse self righteousness. Call it “Witty-Ville Wobegone”. You have a future in broacast gatekeeping sir.

  10. There is an excellent article by Diane Mason that picks apart the MSM’s “balanced” coverage of Israeli settlements (i.e. giving the criminals the chance to opine about the legality of their crimes). A must-read.

    • MHughes976 says:

      Very good stuff from Diane, though painful to those of us who pay a licence fee to keep the BBC in business.
      It’s deeply unhelpful to say in any context ‘there is a dispute’ with not the slightest hint of what the dispute amounts to. In this context, part of the truth is that Israel’s essential belief is in a biblical mandate which it is almost impossible to explain to people who do not think in those terms every day.
      Who sets a few puny words from recent times against the mighty wisdom of all the ages?