Dear NPR News,
NPR’s reporting on the Palestinian attack in Hebron has been the most unprofessional and inaccurate I have come across. As late as Sunday morning, NPR was still reporting as fact utterly false Israeli government claims of an ambush and massacre of “Jewish worshippers” in the occupied West Bank city of Hebron.
In fact, what occurred on Friday was a carefully planned ambush against Israeli occupation forces, after all the settlers had returned safely to the colony of Kiryat Arba. All reports now indicate that the twelve Israelis killed and all fourteen injured were armed combatants. All the killings and injuries occurred in armed combat.
Even after this became clear, NPR continues to report false information and has failed to correct its earlier mistakes.
On Saturday evening’s Weekend All Things Considered (16 November), host Joe Palca interviewed NPR reporter Jackie Northam in Hebron. Neither in the introduction, nor in their chat did either Palca or Northam point out what had by then been known since early morning — that all twelve of those killed in the attack were armed occupation troops or armed, combatant settlers. Palca repeated the false charge that “Palestinian gunmen” had opened fire on “Jewish worshippers walking home from religious services,” and Northam, who was in Hebron did not challenge it.
Northam, in her comments from Hebron spoke of the “outrage” the settlers feel, and the understanding Israelis have for the harsh measures taken in the occupied territories by the Israeli government.
Linda Gradstein’s report on Weekend Edition Sunday (17 November) repeated the completely debunked claims. Gradstein claimed that “Friday’s attack has chilled the Israeli public,” and her report featured Israeli journalist David Horowitz, claiming, again utterly falsely, that those who were attacked were “people coming back from prayers” and that they were “attacked as they were walking to their homes.”
All the evidence indicates that this is a complete lie, manufactured by the Israeli foreign ministry for the consumption of a complacent and unprofessional media. NPR has swallowed whole.
On November 16, The Electronic Intifada published an expose of Israel’s false claims of a massacre. (“Israelis falsely claim “massacre” of “worshippers” in Hebron,” The Electronic Intifada, 16 November 2002).
On November 17, Israel’s Ha’aretz newspaper reported:
“The attack actually began several minutes after all of the worshippers had already returned safely to Kiryat Arba. The twelve Israeli casualties in Hebron were not murdered in the same fashion that residents of Kibbutz Metzer were, nor did they die in the same manner in which young settlers were murdered in Hermesh. Those killed Friday were killed in combat. All of the victims were armed fighters, who were more or less trained. They fell victim to a well-planned ambush that included both machine-gun fire and grenades, which trapped them in a compromising situation they found hard to overcome. There is a vast difference between what happened on Friday night and the horrific massacres carried out by Palestinian terrorists in civilian settlements.” (“The attack in Hebron was not a ‘massacre’,” Ha’aretz, 17 November 2002)
There is simply no possible excuse for NPR, which unlike so many other news organizations actually sent a reporter to Hebron, to be duped by the official Israeli spin for so long. If your reporters are just going to read out Israeli government press releases, that can be done much more cheaply from a studio in Washington.
NPR must prominently correct the record, and apologize to its listeners. Nothing else can make up for this seriously unprofessional reporting, which continues to make a mockery of your stated goals and to do violence to the truth.
Follow-up: NPR responds
In a reply to my letter of earlier today, National Public Radio’s Vice President for News, Bruce Drake, pointed out that in a segment on Saturday morning’s Weekend Edition for November 16, reporter Jackie Northam did explain that those killed in the Hebron battle were soldiers, and settlers assisting them. However, even this segment emphasized that the Palestinian attack had been directed at worshippers.
Drake’s reply also drew attention to two news spots from NPR’s hourly broadcasts in which Linda Gradstein described the events in Hebron as a “Palestinian attack” which “killed 12 Israelis, most of them soldiers,” and as a “Palestinian ambush that killed 12 Israeli soldiers and guards in the West Bank town of Hebron.”
Into Sunday, however, as my letter stated, NPR reports continued to incorrectly claim that the Friday attack had been directed at “worshippers” and at the same time to fail to remind listeners that, contrary to numerous early reports and Israeli claims, all those who died were armed combatants. Drake offered no explanation for this.
Transcripts of NPR’s reports from the Middle East can be found at www.npr.org