Special report: NPR’s Linda Gradstein takes cash payments from pro-Israeli groups

18 February 2002

National Public Radio’s Israel correspondent Linda Gradstein has received cash honoraria from pro-Israeli organizations in what appears to be a clear violation of NPR policy, an Electronic Intifada investigation has revealed. Gradstein has not only accepted such honoraria in the past, but continues to do so in spite of being instructed not to by NPR management.

Indeed, this evening, February 19, Gradstein is scheduled to give a lecture hosted by several pro-Israel organizations at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis (pictured below) for which she is receiving yet another cash honorarium.

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Gradstein has long been criticized for her consistent injection of pro-Israeli bias into NPR’s reporting of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (see electronicIntifada.net and abunimah.org and search “gradstein” for numerous examples).

Following the revelation that some journalists had received payments in the form of “speakers fees” from bankrupt energy giant Enron, NPR correspondent Juan Williams informed listeners of the network’s Morning Edition program on February 8, that

“At NPR, reporters are not allowed to give speeches to groups they report on to avoid any appearance of conflict of interest.”

Yet Gradstein has long been a favorite on the pro-Israeli lecture circuit, especially with Hillel, a nationwide organization which in close cooperation with AIPAC (the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee) and the Israeli government, works to promote a strongly pro-Israeli agenda on college campuses. In fact, at least in one case, Hillel openly acknowledges that it sees Linda Gradstein as a propagandist for Israel. A page at the Hillel website [link | archived PDF], providing a summary and evaluation of an April 2001 lecture Gradstein gave at George Washington University, states that inviting her to the campus was specifically for the purpose of “educating a broad cross-section of the campus about Israel from a Jewish perspective” and that this would be “a strong tool in the fight against the Palestinian propaganda” on the campus.

Gradstein was paid $2,500 for this appearance, according to the Hillel evaluation, $2,000 of which was raised from Hamagshimim, a group that describes itself (below) as “a dynamic pro-Israel/Zionist movement for young adults.”


Our investigations also revealed that Gradstein received a $1,000 honorarium from the Amy Adina Schulman Fund, a foundation whose stated funding criteria include promoting “Zionist youth movement” activities, for a lecture she gave in Princeton in April 2001. These are only two examples of the dozens of appearances Gradstein has made since 1993 for many of which she has received cash honoraria and in-kind benefits from pro-Israeli lobby groups.

On February 8, The Electronic Intifada’s Ali Abunimah sent an email to NPR Vice President for News and Information, Bruce Drake and NPR Ombudsman, Jeffrey Dvorkin asking whether these past instances and the lecture Gradstein is scheduled to give tonight, February 19, at the University of Minnesota, sponsored by Hillel and Friends of Israel, constitute violations of NPR’s conflict of interest policy.

Drake replied in a February 12 email that

“I have advised Ms. Gradstein of the policy stated on our air the other day, and going forward, told her that I expected her to honor it.”

We interpreted this statement as not only an acknowledgment that Gradstein had been violating NPR’s policy, but an assurance that she would no longer be permitted to do so.

In an attempt to clarify matters further, Abunimah wrote to Drake again on February 14 to ask specifically whether Gradstein’s appearance at the University of Minnesota would violate the policy, given that the event was scheduled to occur after NPR’s on-air restatement of its general policy, and Drake’s specific assurance that Gradstein would stop accepting money from pro-Israeli groups.

On February 18, Drake replied:

“Ms. Gradstein has been told clearly what NPR’s policies are on this matter and that, in the future, she is to adhere strictly to it.”

Yet, investigations by The Electronic Intifada determined that Gradstein plans to go ahead with tonight’s lecture and that the University of Minnesota Hillel chapter will pay Gradstein a cash honorarium and cover part of her travel expenses. We also learned that Gradstein is currently on a multi-city tour of the Midwestern United States in which she is scheduled to speak to other pro-Israeli lobby groups from which she will also receive payments.

The startling picture that emerges is that Gradstein has been violating NPR’s conflict of interest policy for years, and continues to do so even after she has been advised in clear terms not to, and we have been assured that she would not.

We affirm that Gradstein has a First Amendment right to speak to any groups she chooses. But for a reporter who is assigned to cover the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to accept thousands of dollars in cash and expenses from groups whose primary or sole objective is to promote a pro-Israeli political agenda is a gross violation of basic journalistic ethics as well as NPR’s own policy.

We can conclude that for some reason or other, Gradstein is effectively exempt from NPR’s own regulations. These revelations only broaden existing concerns about the integrity of NPR’s Middle East reporting and the honesty of Linda Gradstein.

NPR needs to understand that Gradstein’s flouting of its policy, combined with her usually biased, misleading reporting, seriously and consistently undermine NPR’s credibility. There are minimal standards for competent reporting and journalistic ethics, but the sad truth is that Linda Gradstein rarely meets either standard.

Solution:

Anyone who wishes to contact NPR and express their views on this matter should immediately write to Jeffrey Dvorkin, National Public Radio Ombudsman via ombudsman@npr.org.

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).

You said…

Dear NPR,

I am a long time listener to NPR, both in the morning and evening. No doubt you are aware of your responsibility in informing the public through honest and unbiased reporting. Ms. Gradstein’s actions have stripped her of any shroud of credibility. Since 9-11, we have learned that the news media has been a major culprit in protraying an inaccurate picture of the world. If you want to retain my funding and audience, and that of countless others like me, your actions must reflect your words.

— from a correspondent in Knocksville, TN

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Dear NPR,

Gradstein reports selectively on events occurring in the Occupied Territories from her office in Israel, rarely if ever visiting any of the actual West Bank and Gaza locations where these events occur. Gradstein experiences life in this part of the world, and interprets its events, from a wholly Israeli viewpoint; this may in part explain her lack of objectivity. But I am truly appalled to learn of Gradstein’s close relationships with a network of pro-Israel groups, including her acceptance of cash payments for speaking engagements at a variety of pro-Israel functions and college campus events.

— from a correspondent in Madison, WI

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Dear NPR,

I have long noted the consistent bias in NPR news and in Gradsteins reports in favor of Israel. The fact that she’s receiving funds from those organizations at least partially explain this undesirable bias.

— from a correspondent in Silver Spring, MD

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Dear NPR,

I’m sure NPR wishes to be seen as a news organization that is fair and unbiased. Therefore, the recent revelation that NPR’s Israel correspondent, Linda Gradstein, has taken cash payments from pro-Israeli groups should be a matter of great concern for you, for NPR, and for NPR’s listeners. I hope that you will take steps to ensure that NPR’s reputation as a quality source of news (free of bias) remains untarnished.

— from a correspondent in San Diego, CA

…………

Dear NPR,

Sadly, the news of Gradstein’s grift is merely one part of a larger problem I see with NPR’s coverage of Israel/Palestine… As an American, I find it puzzling that my local station would cover events in the Middle East from an angle that so closely reflects the most conservative positions of the current Israeli government. Such an editorial position reflects neither mainstream US opinion, nor that of most Jewish Americans, nor even that of a increasing number of Israelis. As such, your coverage is irresponsible and disheartening. I would like to contribute to my local NPR station, but until NPR’s coverage begins to change, my principles dictate that I will have to remain a unsubscribing and disappointed listener.

— from a correspondent at Brown University, RI

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Dear NPR,

I am, frankly, appalled at what clearly is a conflict of interest on Gradstein’s part and the apparent unwillingness of NPR to take any action beyond lip service, not only to curtail her speaking before pro-Israel organizations, but to reassign her to an area where her bias on such a crucial subject as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will not color her reporting.

— from a correspondent in Mendocino, CA

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Dear NPR,

We are shocked and demoralized by the evidence… concerning Linda Gradstein’s failure to comply with NPR policy. We have long sensed her bias in reporting. Occasionally NPR redresses the imbalance with reports on the plight of the Palestinians, but Ms. Gradstein’s is “your voice” from the region.

— from a correspondent in Scarborough, ME

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Dear NPR,

For many years, it has been clear to me that NPR’s coverage of Israel and the Palestinians has been grossly biased in favor of Israel. Learning that NPR’s primary correspondent has been receiving cash payments from partisans of one party in the conflict is hardly surprising — but at least it provides definitive proof of NPR’s lack of integrity when it comes to the Middle East.

— from a correspondent at Stanford University in CA

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Dear NPR,

As one who often relies on NPR for its news broadcasting I was horrified to learn that at least one of your reporters, Linda Gradstein, has been the recipient of honoraria from organizations supporting Israel, the country from which she reports. I am certain that if Ms. Gradstein was doing her job as an unbiased reporter she would not be asked to speak before Zionist groups. I will certainly listen in the future with a more jaundiced ear to NPR reporting. If Ms. Gradstein is to continue taking these honoraria I think that it is only fair to your listeners to warn them that they are listening to a biased reporter. As a Jew with relatives in Israel, I have more than a passing interest in news from the Middle East and it is sad to say that I get far more balanced news about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict from the Israeli and British press than I get from the American press or from NPR.

— from a correspondent in Mill Valley, CA

Related links: EI’s Linda Gradstein cash payments exposé

  • Follow up: NPR replies to concerns about cash payments to reporter, conflict of interest (20 February 2002)
  • Follow up: Will NPR come clean about Gradstein’s unethical cash payments? (25 February 2002)
  • Follow up: Gradstein’s unethical payments make public broadcasting headlines — NPR’s Drake avoids making Gradstein accountable (14 March 2002)

    This special report/action item (#22, 19 FEBRUARY 2002) was prepared by Ali Abunimah and Nigel Parry.