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Nina Totenberg on Justice Antonin Scalia


National Palestinian Radio reports from Gaza

News shows

New Even-handedness in Middle East Reporting?

Date: 5/30/02
Show: Morning Edition (NPR)

Stung by calls from Jewish organizations to withdraw support for public radio stations, NPR pledged to improve coverage of the Middle East conflict. One welcome change is the creation of a web page that puts all audio files, transcripts, and photos dealing with the conflict in one place.

In the past, watch dog groups such as CAMERA complained that NPR gives more airtime to Arab and Palestinian voices than to the Israeli side. On the face of it, today's reports about two victim families, one Israeli and one Palestinian, reveals a new even-handedness: titles and lengths of the two segments are nearly the same, and both deal with similar victims — an Israeli baby and her grandmother killed by a Palestinian suicide bomber, a Palestinian teenager and her aunt killed by a missile fired from an Israeli army tank.

Peter Kenyon   ©NPR: Peter Kenyon

But this is were all similarities end. Baby and grandmother were killed by an act of terrorism in which scores of other victims were injured and maimed. The suicide bomber would have killed dozens more had he not aroused the suspicion of a security guard who stopped him before he could enter a crowded shopping mall. A second suicide bomber was scheduled to blow herself up after rescue teams had arrived at the scene, but she had a change of heart and stayed home.

In contrast, teenager and aunt were killed in a tragic accident. Running towards a border fence in a military area that was off-limits to civilians, the crew of an IDF tank mistook them for terrorists trying to breach the fence. Once the Israeli defense forces realized that they had made a terrible mistake, they issued an apology and started an investigation. In contrast, the Al-Aqsa "martyrs brigade" who claimed responsibility for the terrorist bombing promised to dispatch more martyrs.

The thin varnish of even-handedness quickly dissolves when you listen to the reports. Linda Gradstein does a fairly decent job in conveying the devastation, sadness, and frustration of the surviving Israeli family members. Peter Kenyon, on the other hand, uses his interview with Alian Saed, father of the Palestinian teenager, to conjure up new charges against the IDF:

KENYON:
Alian [Saed] says he was too far away to see exactly what happened, so he was shocked at what the Palestinian ambulance found when it finally reached the scene, two hours later.
SAED:
And the tank was going over them, because we see them in pieces, actually. They were a rubble of meat and bones, the bodies burned.

To make the second-hand account of Israeli atrocities more believable (after all, the father of the murdered child might be exaggerating), Kenyon provides additional, independent evidence:

The only other people to have seen the bodies were the doctors at the nearby Al-Aqsa hospital. Dr. Ibrahim Almusada shows a reporter a piece of charred leg bone and reads from the hospital report from Saturday night.
ALMUSADA:
The upper part of the body is completely destroyed, no skin, no chest; below is completely bare and amputated below the knee and the bone is completely destroyed like charcoal.

Of course, bones turned into charcoal are exactly what is left of a person hit by a missile. Moreover, the good doctor on Palestinian TV was not the only other person to have seen the remains of the two victims. If Kenyon's hearsay witnesses are right, then the tank crew must have seen the charred remains of the victims too. Are they not people? Why didn't Kenyon ask them?


An update

According to the Associated Press, the persons killed by Israeli fire were Kamela Abu Said and her 13 year-old daughter Amna. The Palestinian news agency WAFA also speaks of a mother and her child; however, the name of the teenager is given as Nowaa. Neither AP nor WAFA mention anything about IDF tanks going over the remains of the victims.

Tila Hatuel   Tali Hatuel, terrorist victim [©State ofIsrael]

It's now a little less than 2 years ago that I wrote these lines and the new even-handedness at NPR certainly has arrived — the execution style murder of a pregnant mother and her 4 little girls by two Palestinian terrorists is described in the same non-judgemental language as the killing of same terrorists in a gunfight with Israeli security forces: it's just another bloodshed.

Palestinian terrorism has almost completely been edited out of reports from the Middle East. For NPR, terrorists have morphed into gunmen and militants. Even literal quotes are fair game for the politically correct censors. In a recent NPR newscast a spokesman for the IDF was quoted as saying that they had arrested 12 "wanted militants." The actual words he used was "wanted terrorists."

 

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National Palestinian Radio reports from Gaza

Grande Valse Brillante

Date: 6/24/02
Show: Morning Edition (NPR)

WOW, what a sweet week for abolitionists!

First, the Supreme Court proclaimed that the death penalty for dumb people amounts to "cruel and unusual punishment" and, thus, is unconstitutional. Presently, the IQ that confers protection is 70 or less, but do not despair, progressive judges will soon push the number up to a value that may protect you too. If not, remember that you can always fake a low IQ, but not a high one.

Second, the Supreme Court decided that the "right of a jury trial" not only implies that a jury of your peers has to find you guilty, but also that the jury must agree on the appropriate punishment, at least as far as death penalty cases are concerned. Bit by bit, the high court is raising the hurdle that the People have to overcome to send a murderer to the gas chamber, or whichever execution method is still acceptable to the court.

Justice Scalia   Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia

In a week like this it was only fitting that NPR's legal affairs correspondent, Nina Totenberg, would chime in with a critique of a speech that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia gave earlier this year at the Chicago's Divinity School where he challenged judges opposed to capital punishment to resign:

I pause at this point to call attention to the fact that, in my view, the choice for the judge who believes the death penalty to be immoral is resignation rather than simply ignoring duly enacted constitutional laws and sabotaging the death penalty. He has, after all, taken an oath to apply those laws, and has been given no power to supplant them with rules of his own.
Scalia contends that the Supreme Court is part of a "machinery of death," after all, often it is the last chance for the condemned to escape execution. A judge should not partake in the process if he believes what is being done is immoral. Unlike Justice Blackmun who stayed on the court and voted to overturn all death sentences after coming to the conclusion that the death penalty is immoral, Scalia simply would step down.

After carefully reviewing the teaching of the catholic church, Scalia (a devout catholic) concludes that the sword in the hand of the ruler is not immoral because the ruler derives its authority from god. He goes on:

That is not to say that I favor the death penalty. I am judicially and judiciously neutral on that point. It is only to say that I do not find the death penalty immoral. I am happy to have reached that conclusion because I like my job and would rather not resign. [laughter]
Totenberg scolds Scalia for his extreme views, in particular his opinion that the constitution is an "enduring" document, rather than a "living" one that can be interpreted in every which way the evolving standards of a maturing society may see fit. Although her segment is labeled as a report, it sure sounds more like an editorial: not a single voice she presents agrees with Scalia — everyone agrees with her.

Nevertheless, Scalia's voice comes through — clear and convincing. Brilliant too, as the title of the piece of music following her report seems to suggest. Is it possible that the Justice has a secret admirer at NPR?

  • audio fileNina Totenberg on Justice Antonin Scalia [Morning Edition, 6/24/02]
  • A Call for Reckoning
    Transcript of session 3, Religion, Politics, and the Death Penalty, with contributions from Justice Antonin Scalia, Paul Simon, and Beth Wilkinson (E.J. Dionne, moderator)
  • NPR Bios: Nina Totenberg, Legal Affairs Correspondent

 

Postscript

Nina's Wish

Nina Totenberg's generally mild manners can quickly turn ugly when dealing with conservatives. On Inside Washington (WUSA) she reacted to the news that Senator Jesse Helms advocated a reduction of the money that the NIH spends on AIDS research:

TOTENBERG:
I think he ought to be worried about what's going on in the Good Lord's mind, because if there is retributive justice, he'll get AIDS from a transfusion, or one of his grandchildren will get it.

The senator did not ask for the elimination of research spending for AIDS — just a cutback to bring AIDS funding more in line with other diseases. While the NIH allocated $43,206 in 1996 for each AIDS related death, about one tenth of that amount ($4,723) was spent per cancer death, and even less ($1,160) for each death from cardiovascular disease. In fact, spending for prostate cancer, the cancer that Senator Helms is most likely to get at his advanced age, is just 20 cents for each dollar spent on breast cancer. Isn't that punishment enough, Nina?

Totenberg is not the only media person who wished AIDS on another human being. When conservative radio talk-show host Michael Savage told a heckling caller "you should only get AIDS and die, you pig," MSNBC fired him almost instantaneously. Of course, Totenberg wasn't let go by NPR and — as far as I can tell — the network didn't even reprimand her. This only goes to show that liberals in the media can say things that conservatives won't be able to get away with.

 

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Another cycle of violence

National Palestinian Radio Reports from Gaza

Date: 7/1/02
Show: Morning Edition (NPR)

Oh, what an idiot!

I can clearly see him now: a microphone clutched in his hands, protected from IDF sniper bullets by a bullet-proof vest, NPR's Peter Kenyon reporting about the repair of a damaged sewer line in the Rafah refugee camp — surrounded by European peace activist who, each time they hear the muffled sound of a high power rifle, pull out their passports and wiggle them up in the air: we do that, they tell him, to prevent the IDF from killing Palestinian workers.

KENYON:
Khalil Shaheen, with the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, says this human chain allowed 80 percent of the repair work to be finished the day before.
SHAHEEN:
And we hope that we will succeed to continue today, but yesterday the harassment of the Israeli tanks continued. They shoot [sic] against the mission members and against the workers five times.
KENYON:
On this day, at least two shots are heard; each time the Europeans, none of whom is wearing a flak jacket, immediately pull out their passports and wave them in the air as [if] to ward off further gunfire.

Too bad that Kenyon wasn't there the day before: it must have been quite a blood bath when the IDF tanks and snipers from a nearby watchtower (supposedly, just a few hundred yards away) mowed down the peace activist and Palestinian workers! But wait, not a single news agency reported any such incident — no fatality, not one wounded! Are Israeli snipers such bad shots?

Peace activists

Peace activists ("Internationals") at the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem during operation Defensive Shield (unattributed)

Since the beginning of the intifada, no peace activist was ever killed or injured by IDF fire, not even a scratch. That's why those dimwits do not wear flak jackets, that's why they are not afraid of Israeli soldiers.

Of course, Kenyon's friends do not really love the peace: they long for the quiet that a defeat of Israel might bring about. You won't find them riding on buses — with or without wearing a flak jacket — to protect Israeli school children from being blown up by suicide bombers. You won't find them building human chains around the settlements to shield Jewish families from being killed by Palestinian terror commandos.

Just visit their web sites and see for yourself what they stand for: down with [American] capitalism, Zionism, global trade, and free markets. Naturally, they are against the death penalty and nuclear power plants; they do care about old growth forests, a cool environment, and the ethical treatment of animals.

The day that Kenyon's "postcard from Gaza" airs on Public Radio stations, news agencies report that the IDF blew up an underground tunnel extending from the Rafah refugee camp to the Egyptian side of the border fence. As the Israeli Defense Forces stated in a press briefing, Palestinians used it to smuggle bomb making materials and weapons into the Gaza Strip. Imagine, Kenyon may have been standing right on top of the tunnel without noticing it!

Why am I coming down so hard on Peter Kenyon? For one, this is the second time in barely a month that he relied solely on Palestinian sources for his reports. Yes, I know, he talked to European peace activists too. But this brings me to the second point: Kenyon doesn't know anything about the Middle East, its history, the place, and the participants of the conflict. His ignorance is equal only to that of the peace activists.

Since 1948, the surrounding Arab countries have kept the Palestinians displaced during the first war (the "Nakba") in refugee camps under often squalid conditions, preventing the residents from leaving the camps and integrating in their societies. Even after the camps in the West Bank and Gaza Strip came under Palestinian control, the Palestinian leadership did nothing to dismantle them, nothing to let their own people go. For Arafat and other Arab leaders, the residents of the camps are pawns in their struggle against Israel.

The simple reason why the IDF objects to any construction close to the border fence is that in the past these activities were used to disguise Palestinian efforts to build new tunnels.

  • audio fileGaza postcard from NPR's Peter Kenyon [Morning Edition, 7/1/02, transcript]
  • NPR Bios: Peter Kenyon, NPR Mideast Correspondent


Postscript

Just a few days later, an Israeli army soldier was killed by Palestinian sniper fire while searching for tunnels in the Rafah refugee camp. Sadly, Palestinian snipers do not miss their targets as easily as their Israeli counterparts do:

Israeli army Lt. Haggai Lev was hit by a sniper while he and other soldiers were looking for the underground passages in the southern Gaza Strip, the army said. In recent months, Israeli forces have found about a dozen tunnels used to smuggle arms and drugs. The tunnels begin on the Egyptian side and emerge inside Palestinian homes in the border town of Rafah.
The Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, affiliated with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement, claimed responsibility for the shooting in announcements at several mosques in Rafah.
The Israeli military said soldiers found and destroyed a weapons-smuggling tunnel Wednesday morning in the area where the officer was killed.
[from a news article by Greg Myre, AP, 7/10/02]
Kenyon's sewer story also caught the attention of CAMERA, a pro-Israeli media watchdog group. When CAMERA asked the IDF about the event, their spokesman categorically denied all the charges, adding that NPR never contacted them.

Under pressure, NPR posted a note on its web site expressing regrets for failing to include an Israeli voice. However, the statement was not broadcast on-air where a substantial number of listeners could hear it.
 

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