Friday, March 23, 2007

When NPR Disappoints

My friend C and I have come to the frightening conclusion that we fit very well into the liberal mold and mindset except in the one area that each of us feels most knowledgeable about (for her - GMO crops, for me - Israel). This is frightening because we harbor the fear that the more we learn about everything else, the more conservative we'll become. It's not all that likely to happen when it comes to issues like the environment, social services, education, etc, but it's still a scary prospect. :-)

That said, normally NPR, which leans slightly to the left, is a great source of news and information. However, when they cover issues relating to Israel they tend to fall in line with the bizarre liberal idea that Israel, and the 7 million or so Israelis who live there, are the big bullies in the neighborhood and the 200 plus million Arabs who surround it, many of whose governments (not the majority of the individuals, I think, but their political and religious leaders) want to wipe Israel off the face of the planet, are the bullied who need to resort to suicide bombings to have any chance of making their voices heard. I can't begin to express the frustration I feel about this bias, and the fact that it so often goes hand in hand with views that I agree with ("support mom and pop businesses!" "reduce tax loopholes for the wealthy!"). I believe very deeply that

  1. there have been mistakes made on all sides
  2. the vast majority of people on both sides of the conflict want to just live their lives in peace and see their children grow up to be educated and prosperous,
  3. the small minority of people in power in both the Palestinian government and the other countries in the middle east want to keep their citizens from noticing that they're not able or willing to help build roads and schools and improve the economy so they play "Wizard of Oz" and exhort their people not to look at the man behind the curtain, but instead focus on the evil country of Jews as the root of all problems.
  4. ultimately, the government of Israel wants peace and is doing everything it can to maintain security in the most humane way possible while working towards a goal of living side by side with its neighbors in harmony.

However, for some reason I just can't understand, there is an ingrained assumption in much of the media and with most liberals that Israel has some deep-seated need to conquer that motivates its actions, rather than just the basic desire for peace and safety. I don't know what causes this, or what causes most Western European countries to say that Israel is the country that's the biggest danger to the world - above North Korea! - or any of the myriad other examples, and most of all I don't know how I, or anyone, can change it. But, that's not what this post was supposed to be about, exactly...Instead, I wanted to comment on an example of this bias that makes me question the truthfulness and accuracy of all other stories I hear - especially the ones that are about topics I'm not so familiar with.

On Monday I was listening to the local news on NPR and they did a review of a play currently showing at the Seattle Rep - My Name Is Rachel Corrie. For those who haven't heard of her, Rachel Corrie was a young woman who grew up in Olympia and was recruited by the International Solidarity Movement (a Pro-Palestinian group that is supportive of terrorist organizations like Hamas). She went to Gaza to be a "human shield" for Palestinians whose homes were being torn down or bombed by Israeli soldiers who were trying to stop the rockets and suicide bombers coming into Israel from Gaza. While there, Rachel was accidentally killed by a bulldozer in what several independent investigations have confirmed was an accident and tragedy. Unfortunately, many people, including Yasser Arafat, have hailed her as a martyr to the cause and used her death as a tool to "prove" the supposed cruelty of the Israeli military. The media, rather than seeing it for the obvious manipulation and horror that it was at the time(from what I can tell, she was sent to Gaza, as were the other "human shields", with the intent that they would be hurt or killed and make put the Israeli army into the spotlight in a negative way) went with the idea that she was a martyr as well, and her diary and life story have been made into a play. This play gives an extremely biased and simplistic view of the conflict, and due to the emotional nature of it, goes beyond being a piece of art that gets people thinking to instead be something that can profoundly move people to the same position that Rachel had - that the Palestinians in Gaza were exhibiting Gandhi-like resistance tactics that were being met with overwhelming and unnecessary force from the big, bad, Israelis.

Given such a complex and politically charged play, you'd imagine that during the review on NPR the reporter would mention some of the concerns and try to get some diverse perspectives on the play. Instead, the reporter interviewed four people - Rachel Corrie's mother, father, the play's artistic director, and the actress playing Rachel - all of whom share Rachel's limited understanding of the conflict. They also share the opinion that some large Jewish consipracy is trying to prevent this play from being shown, and they made that clear in their interviews. In addition, the reporter referred to Rachel multiple times as having been run over and killed by a bulldozer while never mentioning that it was an accident. If I didn't know the history I would have assumed that it was intentional from the language used. These might not seem like big deals - only interviewing people with one perspective of a story, and using accurate but not complete language that could be misleading. But when stories about Israel and Israelis are consistently told this way, it leads to more assumptions and misleading stories, which can eventually lead to ill-conceived public policy and dangerous levels of anti-Semitism. I'm so disappointed that I can't trust my public radio station to be fair and accurate about this topic that's so close to my heart.

Some resources for more information (if you're not bored with reading my rant already):

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