Former foreign editor John Felton conducts quarterly, independent, reviews of NPR's Israeli-Palestinian coverage. His 2012 fourth quarter report is now available online.
Felton reviewed the 104 radio stories, interviews and other reports that aired on NPR's daily radio shows from October through December, as well as 61 blogs, news stories and other reports carried exclusively on NPR's website.
Roughly one-half of the radio and online stories reported on the conflict in mid-November between Israel and the various Palestinian factions in the Gaza strip. This conflict resulted in the deaths of some 160 Palestinians and 6 Israelis.
In his assessment, Felton found that NPR gave its listeners and readers generally accurate, fair and balanced coverage of most of the daily events in the Gaza conflict. NPR reporters provided compelling coverage of the impact of the fighting on civilians on both sides.
However, much of NPR's coverage failed to provide the context listeners and readers needed for a complete understanding of the fighting, Felton found. Such questions as, "Why is this happening now?" and "What does this mean for the future of the Middle East?" should have been asked more frequently — even if satisfactory answers were not always available. The website did provide several background pieces. It was a shame that they did not reach the radio audience, too.
Felton also found that NPR was commendably cautious in reporting the key facts about the Gaza conflict, including casualties, but the caution sometimes went to extremes. In too many cases, NPR's reporting simply skirted the topic of casualties altogether. In other cases, NPR gave rough totals of how many people were killed but did not attempt to distinguish between combatant and civilian deaths — admittedly a difficult thing to do when both sides used casualty figures for propaganda purposes. NPR was reasonably consistent and accurate in reporting the number of rockets fired from Gaza into Israel. However, NPR gave virtually no information about how many bombs and missiles Israel fired into Gaza, or how much physical damage those airstrikes caused.
The fourth quarter report also summarized some key trends of NPR's coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict over the 10-year period of 2003 through 2012. The summary showed a relative balance, over time, in NPR's coverage of the two sides. Listeners heard somewhat more often from Arabs than Israelis during the decade. Even so, they heard much more often from the Israeli prime minister and other top Israeli government figures than from officials and spokesmen on the Palestinian side.
John Felton prepares the quarterly evaluations. He has covered international affairs and U.S. foreign policy for more than 30 years. His book, The Contemporary Middle East: A Documentary History, was published by CQ Press in 2007. A former foreign affairs reporter for Congressional Quarterly and foreign editor at NPR, he has been a freelance writer and editor since 1995.