National Public Radio advises Israel that it has "no choice" but to retaliate

10 August 2001

SOURCES

The Mission of National Public Radio

  1. NPR is committed to the presentation of fair, accurate and comprehensive information and selected cultural expressions for the benefit of, and at the service of our democracy. NPR is pledged to abide scrupulously by the highest artistic, editorial, and journalistic standards and practices of broadcast programming.
  2. NPR is committed to providing diverse and balanced viewpoints through the entirety of its programming. NPR recognizes that its credibility in the minds of the general population is its most precious asset and must be protected.
  3. Even a rigorously managed programming organization may inadvertently depart from its own standards and practices, and abuse its freedom and power to inform and entertain. NPR is dedicated to identifying such transgressions if they occur, correcting them, and acting to prevent repetition.

    Source: http://www.npr.org/yourturn/ombudsman/mission.html


The report

The following exchange occurred between host Renee Montagne and NPR reporter Linda Gradstein on Morning Edition yesterday at 11:00 am while discussing yesterday’s lethal and horrifying bomb attack in Jerusalem.

HOST: Is Israel likely to retaliate?

GRADSTEIN: I think Israel has to retaliate. Israel has been saying from now on it will retaliate for every attack. This is the second largest attack in the last ten months of violence—18 dead including six children. I think Israel has no choice but to respond.[ends]

PROBLEMS

1. LINDA GRADSTEIN INCITES ISRAEL TO VIOLENCE - It is absolutely shocking that Gradstein and National Public Radio have now taken it upon themselves not only to define Israel’s options but to advise and incite Israel to attack the Palestinians.

Needless to say, Gradstein has never declared that Palestinians have “no choice” but to respond to Israel’s attacks on them and to resist Israeli occupation.

Nor has Gradstein ever emphatically advised Palestinians to retaliate for the string of Israeli attacks and extrajudicial executions in the last few weeks which have killed and maimed many Palestinians, including children.

Nor has Gradstein ever said that Palestinians have “no choice” but to respond to Israel’s mass demolitions of their homes and continued seizure of their land.

Nor, in fact has Gradstein advised, for example, that Israel should end its occupation.

With Gradstein’s undeniably consistent history of pro-Israeli bias, it would be unthinkable to even imagine her getting into line with international law and United Nations resolutions and concluding that Israel has no choice but to end its illegal occupation and respect Palestinian rights.

But neither is this Gradstein’s role as a journalist.

Gradstein’s statement amounts to incitement for Israel to take reprisals against the Palestinian population for this bomb attack.

SOLUTIONS

This action item is now concluded. See the follow up below for more information.

Write to Bruce Drake, NPR’s Vice President of News, NPR’s Morning Edition programme Editors and NPR’s Ombudsman via bdrake@npr.org, morning@npr.org, and ombudsman@npr.org:

  1. Citing Linda Gradstein’s incitement on Morning Edition, of 9 August 2001 and the relevant parts of NPR’s mission statement.

  2. Asking NPR to ensure that its correspondents’ personal views are not presented as reportage and that its news programmes are not used as platforms for incitement.

  3. Please write an original letter and do not simply copy & paste the information above. As always, be BRIEF, POLITE, quote accurately, and include your name, address, and telephone number (which most publications require to ensure publication). BCC or send copies of any responses or printing of your letter (including the original, if it was edited) to info@electronicIntifada.net. Please forward a copy of any letter you send to info@electronicIntifada.net


This action item (#18, 10 August 2001) was prepared by Ali Abunimah and Nigel Parry.

Follow up: NPR’s reaction to complaint about Linda Gradstein’s incitement.

21 August 2001 — It appears that the volume of mail received by NPR gave its ombudsman Jeffrey Dvorkin “no choice but to respond” to the content of Action Item #18, “National Public Radio advises Israel that it has ‘no choice’ but to retaliate”.

In a section titled “Going ‘Live’ to the Middle East” (later renamed to “Is it Live or Memorex? The Anxious Appeal of ‘Live’ Radio”) in his regular column on NPR’s website, found at http://www.npr.org/yourturn/ombudsman/, Dvorkin variously presented Gradstein’s “Israel has to retaliate” incitement as a byproduct of “less polished” live radio and quoted NPR’s Vice President of News, Bruce Drake, as saying that Gradstein was “not expressing a personal opinion”.

The column continued on, further letting Gradstein off the hook by saying that she was reporting “under trying circumstances” and NPR itself stepped into the breach to accept some editorial responsibility for the highly problematic report.

Had this been any other reporter, I might have tended to agree with NPR’s analysis of the report. The words of Gradstein, as read on the page divorced from the nuances of spoken communication, can indeed be interpreted as verbal shorthand intended to communicate the likelihood of Israeli ‘retaliation’.

NPR’s Bruce Drake argued this very point, writing, “What Gradstein was trying to convey was that Israel would almost inevitably feel the need to retaliate because of the public stand it had taken.”

We should pause at this point to note that false accusations of bias indeed exist, as evidenced by today’s special report from Ali Abunimah, looking at the latest lunacy from Israel’s faithful friend, the myopic media ‘watchdog’ CAMERA, found at http://electronicIntifada.net/v2/article924.shtml

Here at The Electronic Intifada on the other hand, we have no interest in nit-picking at isolated instances of language without any real grounds for wider concern, we do not push a “Palestinian Authority right or wrong” line, and we do not wish to direct any protest at media organisations for mere ambiguity resulting from careless reporting.

Careless reporting is par for the course in conflict situations. It is also usually recognisable as such.

However, it is hard to accept Drake and Dvorkin’s argument in this particular case when we consider that Linda Gradstein has a well-documented history of double standards when reporting on Israeli and Palestinian tragedies and far too regularly falls off the Israeli side of the balance band waggon. See http://electronicIntifada.net/actionitems/20010604.html for various examples.

Anyone who heard the verbal emphasis in Gradstein’s original report — as opposed to reading the text-only transcript — would find it hard to explain away the clear feeling that Gradstein herself wanted Israel to ‘retaliate’ from the way she expressed the sentences.

“In any event,” concludes NPR ombudsman Jeffrey Dvorkin, “the story moved so quickly that the mistake was soon replaced with a fresher and more accurate version.”

If only this were true. The full transcript of the only other Gradstein report from the same day follows this brief commentary. In it, we are treated to in-depth humanising detail about the bombing victims (fair enough) and in-depth sickening detail about the gory aftermath (also fair enough).

Yet Gradstein does not offer comparable attention to detail in cases where the victims are Palestinian (not fair enough) and her now standard ‘retaliation’ spin continues unabated.

NPR needs to answer the hard question: How can Israel’s rocketing of Palestinian Authority police stations following a Hamas or Islamic Jihad attack be somehow passed off as “retaliation”?

For this truly to be ‘retaliation’ according to any commonly-understood dictionary definition of the word, one must accept the standard Israeli propaganda that the nationalist Palestinian Authority is directing, sending out, and presumably arming Islamic militants to attack Israeli targets, rather than Islamic groups perhaps being responsible for the carnage themselves.

Unless NPR has any hard evidence on this matter, which even the US-sponsored Mitchell Report itself dismissed, it should find another way of expressing or qualifying this concept. See the “Palestinians ‘attack’, Israel ‘retaliates’ ” coverage trend at http://electronicIntifada.net/coveragetrends/retaliation.html for more information.

And if Gradstein’s residential proximity to central West Jerusalem is what results in this incredibly detailed coverage of Israeli tragedy, it’s time that this network commissioned a reporter from the other side of the tracks.

The idea of indirect Palestinian Authority responsibility for the bombing — ie. via some policing negligence — as introduced through the various accusations by Israeli leaders in this report, is also never questioned.

Although Gradstein clearly has plenty editorial liberty to pontificate about how “the pressure is growing on Sharon to hit back hard at the Palestinian Authority” [emphasis added], she never once notes that Israel itself could not stop similar attacks when it had full control of the same areas of the West Bank and Gaza in the two-and-a-half years between the first suicide bombing and the hand-over of territory to Palestinian Authority control.

To conclude, often what is not said is where the real story lies and what is said between the lines is what works to colour our perceptions of the rest.

It appears that Gradstein is committed to making a career out of both and, as long as she does, it is public radio which continues to pay for it.

Nigel Parry
21 August 2001