From left: Sara Singer Schiff, show guest Laurie Cousins, Morgan Simpson and Melissa Brohner-Schneider. Photo courtesy of The Other F Word Podcast.

If at first you don’t succeed, do a podcast about it


In the spring of 2016, Sara Singer Schiff and Bipasha Shom applied to a program sponsored by National Public Radio that offered to teach participants how to produce a podcast. The two looked forward to visiting NPR headquarters in Washington, D.C., and learning from the best.

They never made it. NPR turned them down.

Looking back on it, that rejection may have been the perfect preparation for the podcast they went ahead and made anyway: “The Other F Word: Conversations About Failure.”

The hosts of the podcast, which debuted in October, are Schiff, 45, a full-time mom with a background in television distribution; Melissa Brohner-Schneider, 48, a marriage and family therapist; and Morgan Simpson, 42, a filmmaker and actor. Shom, 48, a film editor, produces the show.

Why did they think they could have success with failure?

“Failure right now is kind of trendy,” Shom said. “It’s in the zeitgeist. And there are so many angles to it. Talking about failure can really make people feel uncomfortable. But unless we all share our stories, we’re under the misguided impression that we’re suffering alone. Ultimately, we’d like people to know that failure is something that’s not just a part of life but in many ways essential to growing and learning as a human being.”

Schiff was responsible for bringing everyone together. She knew Shom and Simpson through schools their kids attended, and she met Brohner-Schneider when their kids were on the same soccer team. 

“It was like a blind date,” said Brohner-Schneider, whose family worships at Nachshon Minyan in Encino. But they “immediately jelled,” said Schiff, who calls her family “Reform cultural Jews.” Simpson is Episcopalian and Shom is not religious.

Because the foursome knew they would be asking others to open up about their personal failures, they figured they should start by sharing their own struggles. So, for the debut episode — recorded in the kitchen of Schiff’s Studio City home, like most episodes — they took turns talking about their own failures.

Simpson discussed the film he poured so much time and energy into, only to have it fizzle, with one “scathing” review seemingly overpowering several good ones.

Brohner-Schneider recalled attending seven colleges and universities before earning her undergraduate degree.

Schiff revealed the shame she felt in getting diverted from her professional goals and the fear she now has pursuing her dream career of journalism in her mid-40s.

And Shom, who prefers her usual role behind the scenes, shared her story of starting a children’s clothing line that struggled with sales and then collapsed when a bogus sales rep she hired stole her products and disappeared.

Listening to the podcast is like hanging with a group of friends who tell their stories with honesty and humor. This same openness is what the four hosts look for when booking guests.

“We want guests who have self-awareness, insight and are comfortable … showing vulnerability,” Brohner-Schneider said.

Some guests are regular folks talking about their struggles, like couple Jenn and Eddie Gonzalez, who discussed infertility and their eventual decision to adopt.

Other guests are experts in their fields, such as Nina Savelle-Rocklin, author of “Food for Thought: Perspectives on Eating Disorders,” who spoke about the inevitability of diets failing and making peace with food.

And because this is Los Angeles and “The Other F Word” crew has entertainment industry connections, quite a few guests have come from that world, including actors Jon Cryer, Greg Grunberg, Tony Hale and Sharon Stone. Television writer Elizabeth Craft talked about her fear of being fired and how she overcame it. Tom Kenny, the voice of cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants, recalled coming close to a job on “Saturday Night Live” many years back and how, in retrospect, it might have been for the best that he didn’t land it.

For now, the podcast is a labor of love, albeit one that has grown a nice little audience. The 5-month-old show is getting around 20,000 downloads a month and has reached a popularity ranking as high as No. 4 in the self-help category on iTunes.

“I feel like people, probably because of the work I do, are busting at the seams — not only to talk about [failure] but to hear other people talk about it,” Brohner-Schneider said.

Still, after some awkward exchanges early on, she and her colleagues quickly learned to be strategic in how they approach potential guests.

“I’ve learned to reframe it,” Brohner-Schneider said. “Like, ‘Because you’re so successful, along the way we figured you’ve encountered some failure. And maybe you can talk about it to inspire others.’”

Bernie Sanders: Being Jewish taught me ‘what politics is about’


A day after a radio host falsely said that Sen. Bernie Sanders has Israeli citizenship, the candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination spoke publicly about how his Jewish identity has influenced him.

[READ: DID NPR HOST ACCUSE BERNIE SANDERS OF DUAL CITIZENSHIP?]

In an interview with the Christian Science Monitor Thursday, Sanders (I-Vt.) said that he was “not particularly religious” but that as a child being Jewish taught him “in a very deep way what politics is about.”

“A guy named Adolf Hitler won an election in 1932,” he told the Monitor. “He won an election, and 50 million people died as a result of that election in World War II, including 6 million Jews. So what I learned as a little kid is that politics is, in fact, very important.”

In an interview with Sanders on Wednesday, National Public Radio host Diane Rehm offended Sanders and many American Jews when she said, mistakenly, that the senator had dual U.S.-Israeli citizenship. The assertion rankled many because Jewish-Americans have historically faced accusations that they are disloyal to their countries of citizenship or care more about Israel than the country in which they live.

[READ: DIANE REHM APOLOGIZES TO SANDERS…ALMOST]

Rehm apologized later in the day, saying that she was “glad to play a role in putting this rumor to rest.”

Behind every great ‘Serial’ podcast host, a Jewish studies professor


No spoilers here about the “Serial” season finale, but I will say this much: The episode ends with … a special thanks to a certain Jewish studies professor.

That would be Benjamin Schreier, the interim director of the Jewish studies program at Penn State and the husband of “Serial” host Sarah Koenig.

With “Serial,” Koenig has achieved something akin to superstardom. Her “This American Life” spinoff, in which she reexamines a 15-year-old murder case, has topped iTunes charts — with a reported 31 million downloads as of earlier this week.

“Fame hasn’t changed her. She’s been too busy working on the story to pay attention” to all of the buzz surrounding the podcast sensation, said Schreier, an associate professor of English and Jewish studies at the State College, Pa., university.

For “Serial,” Koenig spent some 15 months trying to figure out whether or not Adnan Syed — a former honor student convicted in the 1999 murder of his ex-girlfriend, Hae Min Lee — is guilty of the crime for which he is serving a life sentence. In 12 weekly installments, the veteran radio producer chronicled her findings and her many ruminations along the way. The final episode of the first season (and we’re told there will be a second season, thanks to listener support, but on a different topic) was released on Thursday.

Testaments to the podcast’s cultural impact include the show’s own subreddit, a Slate podcast devoted to analyzing each installment, a feature in The New York Times Magazine, multiple parody podcasts and a spot-on Funny or Die sketch starring the actress Michaela Watkins.

But not much has changed in the Koenig-Schreier household, her husband said.

While Koenig was reporting “Serial,” Schreier stayed focused on his academic career. At Penn State, he teaches courses on topics such as post-Holocaust literature and Jewish American film. His second book on “the concept of identity in Jewish American literature” will be published next year, he said.

In recent months, Schreier has also spent a fair amount of time solo parenting the couple’s two children while Koenig was hard at work on the series. He noted that Koenig, in turn, has stepped up over the years when he’s had to travel for work. “We both support each other,” he said.

He called the finale “fantastic,” and noted that the fascination with “Serial” has even filtered into his professional life. He recalled how at a recent conference on Jewish literature, a graduate student “flipped out” when she heard he was married to Koenig.

Netanyahu would ‘consider’ taking call from Rouhani


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told U.S. media he would not initiate contact with the new Iranian president, but would not turn down an overture out of hand.

“Yeah, we’re not the first to call,” Netanyahu told Piers Morgan, a CNN host who asked him in an interview broadcast Thursday if he would take a call from Hassan Rouhani.

Separately, Netanyahu told NPR in an interview broadcast Thursday that he would consider an offer to engage directly with Rouhani, but also suggested such engagement was beside the point. More urgent was the need to get Iran to suspend its suspected nuclear weapons program, he said.

“If I’m offered, I’d consider it, but it’s not an issue,” he told NPR. “If I meet with these people I’d stick this question in their face: Are you prepared to dismantle your program completely? Because you can’t stay with the enrichment.”

Israel opposes any resolution to tensions with Iran that would allow it to continue enriching uranium at any level. The United States and other Western powers reportedly are ready to allow Iran to continue to enrich at levels well below those needed for weaponization.

Netanyahu this week took his concerns about engagement to the United Nations, President Obama and the U.S. Congress.

Rouhani, who insists Iran’s nuclear program is peaceful, spoke with President Obama by phone last week, the highest level engagement between the United States and Iran since the 1979 revolution.

Returning Friday to Israel, Netanyahu said he would continue to make an issue of Iran’s supposed nuclear weapons program.

“We are engaged in a comprehensive international struggle against the Iranian nuclear program,” he said.

“Next week I will meet with leaders of European countries and I will speak with other world leaders,” Netanyahu said. “I will emphasize the fact that the sanctions on Iran can achieve the desired result if they are continued. The world must not be tempted by the Iranian stratagem into easing sanctions as long as the Iranians do not dismantle their military nuclear program.”

Wendy Sherman, the third-ranking official at the State Department, told a Senate committee Thursday that the “fundamental large sanctions” that have crippled Iran’s economy would “not disappear any time soon,” even with the launch of formal negotiations.

She asked Congress, however, not to initiate any new sanctions before a meeting between Iran and world powers later this month.

NPR exec heard saying that Jews control print media [VIDEO]


A National Public Radio executive who was set to leave the station has apologized for videotaped comments that include saying that Jews control the print media.

Ron Schiller, president of the NPR Foundation and vice president for development, said his resignation scheduled for May 6 would take effect “immediately” after the video was disclosed Tuesday.

In a videotape made by a right-wing political activist in a sting operation, Schiller was heard making derogatory remarks about the Republican Party, Tea Party activists and the firing of NPR commentator Juan Williams after Williams said on Fox News that he would be concerned if he was on a plane with passengers in Muslim garb.

“I offer my sincere apology to those I offended,” Schiller said Tuesday night, adding that “In an effort to put this unfortunate matter behind us, NPR and I have agreed that my resignation is effective today.”

Story continues after the jump.

Video courtesy of TheProjectVeritas.com.

In the video’s wake, NPR President and Chief Executive Vivian Schiller (no relation to Ron Schiller) also resigned.

Slate reported Wednesday that the international nonprofit Aspen Institute, where Schiller was supposed to start next month as director of the Harman-Eisner Artist-in-Residence Program, released a statement saying that “Ron Schiller has informed us that, in light of the controversy surrounding his recent statements, he does not feel that it’s in the best interests of the Aspen Institute for him to come work here.”

In the video, Schiller was meeting with two men posing as wealthy would-be Muslim donors who said they wanted to make a $5 million, no-strings-attached contribution, according to reports. The Muslim donors were discussing Jewish control of the media; Schiller added his sentiments saying that “Zionist influence” doesn’t exist at NPR, but “it’s there in those who own newspapers obviously.”

Schiller also is heard laughing when one of the men jokes that NPR should be known as “National Palestinian Radio.”

The incident has come to light as Republicans in Congress, who have long complained about a liberal bias on public radio, are targeting public broadcasting as an area for budget cuts.

Fox News chief: NPR bosses are Nazis


Roger Ailes, the Fox News Channel chief, called National Public Radio executives “Nazis” and said “left-wing rabbis” make it difficult to use the term “Holocaust” on air.

Ailes made the comments in an interview with the Daily Beast’s Howard Kurtz, who was canvassing recent controversies about the right-leaning news channel. Ailes hired Juan Williams, a commentator, full time after NPR fired Williams for saying on a Fox News report that he feared seeing Muslims on airplanes.

Williams and NPR long had feuded over Williams’ work on Fox, where he worked as a commentator and tended to express opinions rather than the analytical voice NPR says it expects from its employees.

“They are, of course, Nazis,” Ailes said of NPR executives. “They have a kind of Nazi attitude. They are the left wing of Nazism. These guys don’t want any other point of view. They don’t even feel guilty using tax dollars to spout their propaganda.”

Ailes also commented on the recent controversy involving Fox News commentator Glenn Beck and liberal billionaire George Soros. Beck, citing Soros’ writings and interviews, said several days earlier that Soros as a teenager in Nazi-occupied Hungary had helped send Jews to death camps and had confiscated their properties.

A number of Jewish groups complained in Soros’ defense, saying that Beck was using a survivor’s experience of Nazi oppression to incriminate him in Nazi crimes. But Fox has stood by Beck.

In his writings, Soros has described living as a Christian in order to save his life. In one case, he accompanied his Christian protector to a Jewish-owned property to catalog goods; the owner already had fled. In another, he delivered summonses from the local Jewish council to local Jewish lawyers, but on his father’s advice warned the lawyers to flee as the summonses likely indicated deportation.

Ailes also complained to Kurtz that there are “left-wing rabbis who basically don’t think that anybody can ever use the word ‘Holocaust’ on the air.”

The CNN-NPR-NY Times Middle East Conspiracy


Have you noticed that when people complain about bias in the media, it’s always bias against their own point of view and never bias in favor of their side?

When press accounts confirm your interpretation of events, they’re fair, accurate and objective. When the upshot of a news story is that your team is the bad guys and the other team is the good guys, it’s obvious that the reporter or paper or network or corporation is in the tank for the other side. And when articles and broadcasts balance ammo for your side with ammo for the other side, they’re guilty of the fallacy of false equivalence, which turns righteous battles between right and wrong into vapid he-said/she-said standoffs.

Nowhere is this more true than in coverage of the Middle East.

Supporters of Israel are furious that when pictures of Palestinian casualties are shown, the causes and context of the war are left out—Hamas’ rocket attacks on southern Israel, which precipitated the attack on Gaza; its cynical use of civilians as human shields, which is a war crime; its intention to destroy Israel and Jewry, which amounts to genocide—all get scandalously short shrift from the press.

Supporters of Hamas are just as enraged about the inhumane living conditions in Gaza, which Israel has blockaded; the Israeli refusal to allow the international press into the battle zone; what they believe is the original sin of Zionism, the displacement of Arabs, and that when Israel is portrayed as a victim, the suffering of the Palestinian people is conveniently omitted.

And what if you’re not a partisan of either side, but think of yourself instead as an independent advocate for human rights and peace? Then not only will you bring down on yourself the opprobrium of both sides for failing to take a stand at a moment that demands a choice, you will also find in the prevailing media narrative no hook to hang your conciliatory analysis on, no peg for your empyrean perspective, no patience for your it’s-all-so-complicated heartsickness.

Any news story can be successfully picked apart from any vantage point. Why does the Los Angeles Times disparage the Israeli point of view as ““>anonymous mitigating hearsay about a Hamas sniper? Why aren’t the networks airing the “>Israeli scholar’s assertion that Palestinian casualties aren’t excessive because “so far well over three-quarters have been armed gunmen, and that is a percentage which is very rarely attained in urban warfare”?

In fact, two reasons make it really hard to conclude (but not to claim) that a mainstream media outlet is biased—on the Middle East or on anything else. And a third reason makes the whole enterprise of watchdogging the press somewhat quixotic.

One is the sheer quantity of content. The stories and pictures you saw may be plenty to convince you, say, that the Associated Press is unfair to Israel, but the plural of “anecdote” is not “data.” The only way to determine anything defensible about bias in reporting is to analyze a scientific sample—to examine a slice of stories that’s large enough to be representative of all stories and to choose that slice randomly, without knowing what’s going to be in it.

Some people may feel that they watch CNN so much or read The New York Times so regularly that they have plenty of data to base conclusions on. Not so. That’s why pollsters are paid big bucks: The methods they use to construct the universe of people they survey are even more important than the questions they ask them.

Second is the difficulty of coming up with an objective measure of bias. One person’s terrorist is another person’s freedom fighter. If you can show me a journalistic scoring system that Alan Dershowitz and Noam Chomsky can agree on, then I’d like to show you how to earn 12 percent a year in a very special investment fund.

But even if you had a scientific sample; even if you devised a neutral litmus test for bias, the strange truth is that media spin probably matters a lot less than we assume.

Yes, public opinion is an important element of public policy. Nations care what people think about them. But the audience for cable news is astonishingly small, maybe 2 million people on a good day; the daily readership of a prestige newspaper is hardly more than that, and the only way that public radio can claim north of 20 million listeners is to count all the people who listened to any of its programs during a week.

Sure, the Internet has surged as a source of news, but its audience is fragmented into niches. If you want to get really depressed, chew on this: For decades, Americans have said that their number one source for news is local television news. Not only is that audience scattered among a thousand stations in a couple of hundred media markets, the amount of attention those stations give to international news is a tiny fraction of the airtime they give to celebrities, freak accidents and crime.

There’s no question that some elite media set the agenda for much of the rest of the press. And some nonnews programming, like talk radio hotheads, get demonstrably big listenerships. But it’s next to impossible to prove a cause-and-effect relation between these bloviators and public opinion, and the same is true of the impact of the mainstream press on public attitudes and beliefs. In the end, why Americans think what they do about Israel and Hamas is as much a mystery as how they decide who to vote for or what toothpaste to buy.

I get just as steamed as anyone else when I see a Middle East news story that I think is wildly unfair. I’m just unwilling to ascribe it to a conspiracy or to think it matters as much as the frustration and fury I feel.

Marty Kaplan is the Norman Lear Professor of Entertainment, Media and Society at the USC Annenberg School. His column appears here weekly. He can be reached at martyk@jewishjournal.com.

The figurative father


Every year, as the third Sunday in June approaches, it happens: along with the ads for neckties and iPods come the endless conversations on single-mom blogsand parenting sites about what to do on Father’s Day with kids like mine who don’t have fathers. One mom wanted to honor her daughter’s anonymous sperm donor with a “family picnic” comprised of half-siblings also conceived from that donor — a sort of thanks for the DNA, if not the memories. Other suggestions ranged from volunteering at a soup kitchen (you don’t have a dad, but at least you have clam chowder) to going on a camping trip (you don’t have a dad, but at least your mom kills spiders).

This year, though, the whole discussion bores me. Because after raising a kid on my own for the past two and a half years, now I have a man in my life. And this has made handling Father’s Day without a father feel like small potatoes compared to handling the other 364 days of the year with one.

Don’t get me wrong — I’ve wanted, even craved, a male presence in our family. In fact, as soon as I found out I was having a boy, the first thing that occurred to me was, how could I teach him to be a man if I’m a woman? I know it sounds silly — as one friend pointed out, you don’t need to have cancer to be an oncologist. But an oncologist thoroughly understands carcinomas. I, on the other hand, never quite understood the male species. If I understood men better, I told my friend, I’d probably be living with one more than 20 inches tall.

Even worse, after Zachary was born, I noticed that I couldn’t fill in my knowledge gaps with Google. Sure, I could easily learn what an excavator truck looks like, but I did not find information on whether wielding a blow drier as a surrogate penis to help show a flummoxed toddler how to urinate while standing would result in his college fund being diverted into a therapy fund. Nor was Google helpful on the subject of what to do when your 1-year-old calls his female nanny “Daddy.”

Meanwhile, the fathers I knew seemed loving, involved and willing (if not proud) to carry a Diaper Dude bag — despite my married friends’ complaints about their husbands not helping with the kids enough, or doing things “wrong.” I don’t know all the details, because just like their husbands, I’d completely tune them out the second I’d hear a whiney tone of voice that began with, “Can you believe he…?”

I didn’t get it: What could possibly be so bad about a “he” who changed diapers and walked around wearing a Baby Bjorn?

I imagined it must be nothing short of fabulous.

Then, six months later, I found out. Or, rather, I got a boyfriend, and he and Zachary hit it off in a testosterone-fueled love-fest. Suddenly, there was a father figure around, and let me tell you, be careful what you wish for. Oh, sure, it was fabulous — at first. While I got an extra hour of sleep in the morning, my boyfriend would dunk Zachary in the hamper, “fly” him around the house and “read” the newspaper to him at breakfast. On weekends, he’d kick a soccer ball with him at the park or shoot baskets with him in the yard. Mostly, though, Zachary would chortle and yell, “Again!” while my boyfriend tossed him up and down, side to side, and in dizzying circles.

But the more involved in our lives my boyfriend became, the more I discovered definite downsides to having a dad-like presence around. To my surprise, unlike the mythical fathers I’d conjured in my mind, my boyfriend wasn’t, shall we say, on the same page with my parenting style. My boyfriend, who boxes at the gym and talked about teaching Zachary one day, didn’t understand why I felt boxing was too violent (Me: “How can you not understand the difference between boxing and karate?”) and he, in turn, didn’t understand why I’d exclaim, “Good job!” whenever Zachary made the slightest move (Boyfriend: “What does ‘good talking’ even mean? What’s ‘bad talking’ — silence?”).

When Zachary asked why he couldn’t stand in front of the microwave, I was taken aback when my boyfriend said matter-of-factly, “Because you’ll get cancer” — leaving me to explain what the heck cancer is — instead of just saying, “Because microwaves aren’t safe.” (Cancer, in case you’re wondering, is “a really bad cold.”) As I told my boyfriend later, not only did I think rampant cell division was beyond the typical toddler’s comprehension level, but I wondered why we couldn’t keep the world a safe place for his tender young soul.

“But if we’re not honest with him,” my boyfriend said, “how is he ever going to trust us?”

Us?

Wow. When I was single, there was no “us.” With just a “me,” I had the luxury of raising my child my way, without third-party interference. Now, everything had changed. Unlike bumbling sitcom dads, who are annoying but innocuous, my boyfriend wanted to be an equal, adult partner. Which sounded great in theory, but in practice, it meant that while he’d be acquiring some of my more unpleasant responsibilities (like running out to buy Pedialyte at midnight), he’d also be taking away some of my more pleasurable ones (like having final say in the gazillions of daily issues that arise).

Juice or water? TV or no TV? Time-outs or no time-outs? Private school or public school? Now, instead of dismissing my married friends’ gripes about their husbands, I totally sympathized.

“Can you believe he…” they’d say, and I’d answer with a raucous and supportive, “Ugh! How frustrating!”

But unlike them, I’m done complaining. I’ve wanted a guy around for a long time. It’s just that it’s been a little like trading in one set of problems for another.

Meanwhile, I still don’t know what we’re doing on Father’s Day. Maybe we’ll just go iPod shopping and call it a day. Or maybe I’ll let my boyfriend decide what to do.

Now that’s a gift he’ll appreciate.

Lori Gottlieb is a commentator for NPR’s “All Things Considered” and she is currently writing a book based on her recent Atlantic piece, “Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough.”

Hooker to the stars is a saucy satirist


Svetlana Maksimovsrskaya is a Russian prostitute whose high-profile clients include George Clooney, Rick Santorum and Al Gore.

Featured on KCRW-FM 89.9 every Monday at 4:44 p.m., she comments on whatever comes to mind — movies, politics, popular culture, her clients.

During the first segment, on June 18, she said, “Paper is killing tree, plastic does not decompose, using a Mexican boy is exploiting labor, I give up, hand me my produce and my Milano cookies and I will carry everything to my car in installments; I will make 14 trips back and forth, just so I don’t feel guilty. It’s Al’s fault for all this nonsense. I told him, Gorki — he likes it when I call him Gorki — what you lack in charisma you are making up with your slide shows and guilt trips.”

She recently recapped her ” target = “_blank”>”Social Studies” is also available online as a live stream, a podcast and a transcript.

CAMERA Is Out of Focus


The Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America’s (CAMERA) Andrea Levin wants to start a boycott. She has urged Jewish listeners to stop supporting National Public Radio (NPR). Levin said that NPR’s coverage of events in the Middle East amounts to biased reporting and a "defamation of Israel."

As the ombudsman at NPR, I have received much mail about NPR’s coverage of the Middle East. My role is to make sure that the listeners’ concerns are conveyed to management and to help NPR journalists understand how their reporting is perceived. Many of the criticisms have been very helpful. But some critics are not interested in bettering our coverage. The idea of a boycott falls into that latter category. Levin said it’s not really a boycott, but ending funding for NPR is precisely what she wants, and that sounds like a boycott to me.

As history has shown, boycotts have had a dangerous role in the life of the Jewish community — whether it is the Arab boycott of Israel or the calls today for universities to divest themselves of their Israeli investments.

I would like to speak against this dangerous proposal by CAMERA and why a boycott of NPR would work against the best traditions and best interests of the Jewish community:

NPR is one of the very few American news organizations to maintain a continuous presence in Jerusalem since 1982. In Israel, NPR has two permanent correspondents, Linda Gradstein and Peter Kenyon. A third correspondent will join them over the next few months. NPR reporting has been recognized as a leader in its international coverage from the Middle East and around the world. Other news organizations have reduced their presence overseas. Many news bureaus have been closed as money-saving measures. NPR now operates 12 foreign bureaus. CBS, once the gold standard for foreign broadcast journalism, now has only six.

That does not mean that NPR gets it right every time. Like every other news organization, it makes mistakes. But NPR does try to report this story with all its complexity and in context. NPR also reports on an hourly basis, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Like CBS and CNN and the Los Angeles Times, it makes mistakes. When they happen, NPR corrects them quickly — both on the air and on the NPR Web site.

CAMERA, along with other media watchdogs, tells NPR when it has made an error. NPR acknowledges those mistakes and learns to be a better news organization as a result. One important result of the criticisms was to place all reports in written form on the NPR Web site (www.npr.org). Listeners can now go back and read the reports to decide for themselves.

Another result was to create a nimble corrections policy so that errors are caught and acknowledged in a much more timely fashion.

NPR has reinforced its own policies on attribution of sources, the use of interviews and the use of natural sound from the scene. It remains NPR policy that all reporting must be fact based and fair.

But for some critics, those improvements are too little and too cosmetic. Many listeners still feel that NPR’s reporting on the Middle East remains subtly — or not so subtly — biased.

Some of that is because this story is enormously painful and deeply disturbing to many listeners — both pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian. We hear from people in both communities how the coverage seems tilted away from their concerns. The intensity of this feeling from the Jewish community has been powerful.

In July 2002, NPR’s President Kevin Klose, along with News Vice President Bruce Drake and I went to Israel to see for ourselves. The goal was to talk to our correspondents, to meet with Israeli politicians, academics, pollsters and journalists and to meet their Palestinian counterparts. We came back with a renewed commitment to this story and a deeper understanding of the need to broaden our perspectives beyond the violence. While the terror attacks and the military pressure can’t and mustn’t be ignored, there are other stories as well. We resolve to tell those stories about the anguish along with the hopes of individuals and communities.

We also need to continue to report on the political and military events in the region and the effects they might have back here in the United States. As the United States continues to press the war against terrorism in Afghanistan and against Iraq, the situation in the Middle East becomes increasingly critical and dangerous. This is not a time to reduce our reporting, or to confine it to one side or the other. CAMERA would like NPR to do precisely that. When it comes to NPR, CAMERA sees only the faults and presumes only a malign intent.

We will continue to listen to the critics, and provide our stations with the most reliable information possible. The listeners deserve no less. But the most serious consequence of CAMERA’s disingenuous appeal lies in what might happen to the entire public radio system if a boycott should succeed.

Most of NPR’s funding comes from its more than 600 member stations. NPR collects dues for the programs it produces, and the stations subscribe to the service. So a boycott of NPR is really a boycott of the local public radio stations — not just NPR. In Los Angeles, that includes several public radio stations such as KPCC, KUSC and KCRW.

Public radio has an increasingly important role for communities around the country. Not only do the stations provide quality information, the stations also nourish their communities by playing a critical cultural role. Many also have their own local news programs. There are more than 1,000 public radio stations throughout the United States. They represent a reflection of their communities by providing local information, music, drama and discussion of significant local issues. More than 30 million listeners a week now listen to public radio in order to find a serious source of news and culture that is, frankly, better than anything else that can be found on the radio. Public radio stations play that role brilliantly. More and more community groups around the United States are asking NPR how they can set up public radio stations in their towns.

NPR can always do better reporting. And it must. Public radio will continue to serve the cultural and information needs of all its listeners. But NPR also needs the support of all its listeners at this critical time in our history.

Public radio has always found some of its deepest support inside the Jewish community. It is because public radio’s commitment to quality information and humanist culture finds a kindred spirit among many in the Jewish community. Rather than exacerbating community anxieties and tensions, a more useful role for CAMERA would be to redefine its role to that of media critic and gadfly. Every news organization — NPR included — can benefit from that kind of constructive criticism.

CAMERA needs to find a way to engage in effective feedback, something it has failed to do as it attempts to demonize the media. Should it do so, it might be surprised at the response from news organizations that now view CAMERA as shrill and unrepresentative of the community it purports to serve.

NPR and public radio are much more than just the Middle East coverage. In these times, never has public radio been more needed and more valued. Never has a call for a boycott seemed more shortsighted.

Jeffrey Dvorkin, NPR’s ombudsman, writes a regular column on media criticism at www.npr.org/yourturn/ombudsman/ and can be reached by e-mail at ombudsman@npr.org.

NPR Reaching Out to Jews, Arabs


National Public Radio (NPR) has mounted a public relations campaign among Jews and Arabs in an effort to avoid being known as National Protest Radio.

At the same moment that the president of NPR was addressing Jewish newspaper editors in Chicago about coverage of the Middle East, the ombudsman for NPR was talking about the very same thing to an Arab group in Washington.

The speeches on June 7 were part of an outreach effort by the nonprofit radio organization to convince its listeners that its reporting of the Israeli-Palestinian crisis is both fair and unbiased.

NPR, along with other major media outlets, has been accused by both Jewish and Arab audiences of unfair coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The outreach comes after Jews boycotted some major newspapers, such as The New York Times and The Washington Post because of a perceived anti-Israel bias. Arabs have complained bitterly as well, citing what they see as a pro-Israel slant to many stories in the Times and Post, among other media.

Kevin Klose, president and CEO of NPR, acknowledged the complaints against his organization.

“We’re not immune to that,” he said in a telephone interview. “We pay a great deal of attention to criticism.”

Klose, a former reporter and editor at The Washington Post, is looking for more dialogue with both communities, and he believes NPR is trying to be as careful as possible about its reportage.

“But we’re not indifferent to errors,” he said. “We change; we correct the record.”

NPR has hired a public relations firm, DCS Group, that does work for Arab and Jewish groups, including Birthright Israel, to help with its outreach to both communities.

NPR serves an audience of more than 19 million Americans each week via 680 public radio stations and the Internet and in Europe, Asia, Australia and Africa through NPR Worldwide.

Jeffrey Dvorkin, the NPR ombudsman, says the outreach effort is to help the organization understand the communities better and to encourage people to help NPR do its job better.

“If there’s a boycott, then it’s too late,” he said.

NPR’s outreach to the Jewish community includes visiting various communities around the country and speaking to the national convention of Hadassah this summer.

Last month, the NPR Web site started posting full transcripts of its reports from the Middle East so people could see the full text, officials said.

While most of the critics respond with letters, e-mail and voice mail complaints, there have been some financial repercussions as well.

Some major donors to a public radio station in the Boston area stopped their funding because of what they saw as an anti-Israel bias in NPR.

At least six underwriters have withdrawn their support to WBUR, according to Mary Stohn, spokeswoman for the local station, adding that other smaller donors had also not renewed their support and the station anticipated further action on the part of both smaller and larger donors.

She said WBUR has already lost at least $1 million in funding because of protests about NPR’s coverage of Israel.

NPR officials said they were not aware of any other stations that have lost funding as a result of their Middle East coverage. And Klose said that in general, financial support for public radio is up.

For their part, some Arab Americans also take issue with NPR’s coverage of the conflict.

Hussein Ibish, communications director for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, said NPR does not have an anti-Arab bias, but its reporting can be problematic and there is a “radical imbalance” in its commentary.

He said his group makes practical suggestions to NPR and encourages it to do better.

Michael Kotzin, the executive vice president of the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, called for a constructive dialogue between the Jewish community and the media.

Speaking alongside Klose at the American Jewish Press Association meeting last week, Kotzin said the media needed to take a serious look at how they are treating the Middle East conflict.

He also said he was concerned that the media are increasingly dismissive of their critics as “emotional advocates for one side.”

At the same time, he said he believes the Jewish community “needs to demonstrate the same kind of fairness and understanding about the media that we are demanding of them.”

Your Letters


Jews and the Times

At the end of the panel discussion that took place at Temple Beth Am on Sunday, April 28, Los Angeles Times senior editor David Lauter said that the way to reach (and possibly affect) the Times with one’s concerns would be to call the special office that has been set up for such concerns (Jamie Gold), or to write brief notes telling the staff what they might have missed in their reporting.

He criticized standwithus.com for putting together a lengthy report that would undoubtedly go on a shelf. He must not have realized that many of the standwithus.com board members and general members have spent collective hours on the phone with Gold expressing our concerns. Standwithus.com has received copies of hundreds, if not thousands of unhappy letters pleading with the Los Angeles Times to watch their adjectives, to consider their misleading headlines, and to offer fuller stories that would show both sides of a tricky situation. We tried all those "ways" to reach the Times to no avail. In addition, we are also aware that multiple meetings have already taken place with the Los Angeles Times and concerned leaders within the Jewish community. Also, to no avail.

It was for these reasons that the standwithus.com board of directors made it a priority to designate a media committee to do an extensive study of the publication. We feel we were completely justified in doing the study, based upon having tried all other possible ways with which to communicate to Los Angeles Times staff.

We stand by our study, and feel we have represented the thinking of thousands of Jews and Christians who have been too often offended by the reporting of the L.A. Times since the beginning of this intifada.

Roz Rothstein, Los Angeles

It was heartening to see The Jewish Journal play a leadership role in publicizing the concerns of the Jewish community with the bias of the Los Angeles Times in covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict ("Why Some Jews Hate the L.A. Times," May 3). National Public Radio (NPR) is an even more egregious example of media bias. NPR bans the use of the word "terrorist" to describe suicide bombers and gunmen who intentionally murder Israeli children. I hope The Jewish Journal will ask NPR to explain its positions as you have so effectively done in the case of the Times.

Sheldon Friedlander, Los Angeles

Covers

I don’t know what’s sadder about The Jewish Journal’s cover story on Debra Messing (May 3). On the one hand, there’s a gushing tribute to her screen persona, Grace Adler, described as "hip" and "strong," when week in and week out she portrays a confused, insecure young woman in various states of comic despair who hasn’t made an intelligent choice about her own life since the pilot episode. Then there’s the real life Messing.

Messing is a beautiful and talented actor. More than anything though, the article ironically points out that in an industry dominated by Jews, in which many hip and strong Jewish women work, there just aren’t any such characters to talk about, much less, any portrayed by women whose charitable priorities might include a Jewish institution.

Mitch Paradise, Los Angeles

To the readers who compared the caricature of Yasser Arafat (April 19) to the anti-Semitic caricaturing of a whole religion or race of innocent people as the Nazis did: Did you also write letters to the Los Angeles Times when Sharon was caricatured in its pages? Do you get upset when Bush is caricatured?

The caricatures of the Nazis demonized all Jews. The caricature on the cover of The Journal depicted the ugliness of a particular individual. It did not demonize Palestinians or Arabs or Muslims, only Arafat.

Mal Cohen, Woodland Hills

Correction

The April 26 article, "Sunday in the Park," stated that "Hana Zafrani did brisk business selling hand-crafted jewelry and sculptures by Israeli artists." However, Zafrani, as well as, Rachel Gorodenzik design and make the jewelry.

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