Category Archives: NPR

NPR knows something about going where “news organizations prefer not to go.”

Part 1

National Public Radio’s On The Media linked to Muzzlewatch as part of their conversation with Forward editor JJ Goldberg on the question, “How free are Americans to publicly criticize Israel?”

After the refreshingly candid Goldberg recognized that there is a great deal of fear to speak openly, he concluded that the amount of complaint we hear about the squelching is proof that there isn’t squelching. Huh?

It’s true that the pages of newspapers here and across the Atlantic seem to be filled with discussion about the issue these days. But it’s really only been the past few months. What we’ve really seen is an unprecedented unleashing of years of pent up frustration and anger over the depth and breadth of muzzling.

One of the things that just amazed me when I started working with Jewish Voice for Peace was the number of off-the-record conversations we’d have with rabbis, Jewish professionals, educators, politicians, synagogue leadership, you name it. Off the record, it seemed, everyone was on our side. But everyone was terrified to speak out loud their abhorrence of what Israel has done to the Palestinians. Many who had spoekn in some small way ended up feeling like featured players in the whack-the-ferret game we all played as children. They had learned their lesson. It was and is a terrible indictment of a real sickness in our community.

One of the most revealing moments in the On the Media NPR segment was the announcer’s introductory statement that “We’re about to go where many American news organizations prefer not to go.” NPR should know. They have long been public enemy number one of the almost comically hawkish media watchdog group CAMERA, which once called for congressional investigation of the respected news outlet for their “anti-Israel bias”. People I know in public radio say that over the years it’s been a huge issue of concern at NPR, and at one time, the issue.

A few years ago, the station manager of an NPR affiliate admitted in a room full of people that she simply didn’t want to touch the Israel-Palestine conflict and risk losing one penny. (The infamous case of Boston affiliate WBUR losing 1 to 2 million dollars as part of an organized campaign to protest their “anti-Israel” coverage still looms large in the minds of financially strapped station managers.) It was a stunning admission.

Depending on what market we’re in, we’re just as likely to hear the complaint that many reporters don’t want to cover the issue because they know they’re going to get it with both barrels from both sides of the issue. The hassle factor is just too high.
But in the game of media advocacy, there’s simply no comparison between the number and size of the many right wing Israeli media watchdog groups like CAMERA and Honest Reporting, and the handful of much smaller operations that document how the media is biased against Palestinians, like Palestine Media Watch and If Americans Knew.

These issues go much deeper than we can discuss here, but only journalists and editors can cop to the amount of self-censorship that goes on in newsrooms.

More later in Part 2 about the impact of threatened boycotts against major US newspapers, and how one major paper simply killed a story about anti-occupation Jews right before it was to go to print.

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