I’ve been following the CPB scandal involving Ken Tomlinson for the past eight months or so. It’s developed quite nicely and fits in comfortably with all the other Republican scandals involving Jack Abramoff, Tom Delay, Scooter Libby, et al. But my interest really piqued when I read that Cheryl Halpern, CPB’s board chair and Congressmember Brad Sherman, took special offense at NPR’s Mideast coverage deeming it “anti-Israel.” I wrote about that story in May, 2005. I linked to a New York Times story which featured this passage:
Mr. Tomlinson contacted S. Robert Lichter, president of the Center for Media and Public Affairs, a research group, about conducting a study on whether NPR’s Middle East coverage was more favorable to Arabs than to Israelis, Mr. Lichter said.
Mr. Tomlinson had heard complaints about the coverage from a board member, Cheryl Halpern, a former chairwoman of the Republican Jewish Coalition and leading party fund-raiser whose family has business interests in Israel. The corporation has also heard complaints from Representative Sherman, Democrat of California.
Current.org was the first source to document Halpern’s comments on this subject at her 2003 Senate confirmation hearing:
Halpern told the committee she has fielded complaints from her Jewish friends as well, who complain of pro-Palestinian bias on NPR…”There’s so very little that CPB can effectively do to correct the situation,” she said.
It also documented Sherman’s complaints leveled at a 2004 CPB public forum:
Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) gave support to NPR for the general quality of its journalism but criticized its Israel-Palestine coverage, calling for an outside study of its fairness. Sherman is a member of the House Committee on International Relations.
While Sherman found the network’s Mideast coverage was improving, he said, “it’s clear NPR cannot be left to evaluate itself.” He said an independent consultant should assess how many minutes of coverage per month are given to each side of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Tomlinson called Sherman’s presentation “extraordinary” and told him that CPB would make his trip to the forum “worth your while.”
Have you ever heard of anything so ludicrous? Can you imagine that consultant holding up a stop watch to time each interviewee in an NPR story? Not to mention the nightmare he’d have in determining which “side” speakers were on. For example, does an Israeli supporting a Palestinian state count on the Israeli side or the Palestinian? You get my drift. Sherman’s “extraordinary” idea may’ve resulted in Ken Tomlinson hiring the infamous Fred Mann. That’s the idiot whom Ken payed $15,000 to sit at home and note the political orientations of Bill Moyer’s guests, which included his description of Sen. Chuck Hagel (R, Neb.) as “liberal.”
I’ve been an NPR listener since 1978 and I’ve never found its news division to be anything less than stellar in terms of its Mideast reportage. Admittedly, I’m a liberal Democrat and no fan of the hard right Israel views of Jewish leaders like Halpern, but if there were ideological bias I would detect it. For example, I do find such a slant in Democracy Now‘s Mideast coverage, which is why I no longer listen to it as much as I did when I was in college and graduate school.
So what specifically did Halpern and Sherman object to in NPR’s coverage? I don’t have transcripts of either Halpern’s Senate testimony or Sherman’s comments during the public forum, but I’m trying to find them (any leads would be most welcome). In a way, it doesn’t matter what they specifically criticize. We’ve heard it all before and know what this objection sounds like. Basically, whenever NPR allows a Palestinian voice to speak–and especially if that voice criticizes Israel–this constitutes bias. In this view, the best NPR coverage would be reading out press releases from the Israeli Foreign Ministry. Imagine how scintillating that would sound on air!
In response to the criticism of Sherman and other pro-Israel witnesses at the forum, the NPR representatives had this to say:
NPR ombudsman Jeffrey Dvorkin told Current past coverage “may have been less sensitive” than it should be but contends that NPR consistently does a fair job with an emotionally charged issue.
NPR news v.p. Bruce Drake says persistent criticism of Israel-Palestine coverage comes from the fact “there is not simply one version of reality being presented around each event or incident, but normally at least two totally differing interpretations.”
I’d be curious to know what Dvorkin was referring to in acknowledging coverage had been “less than sensitive.” Sounds like a cop out to the CPB hounds on NPR’s trail.
Cheryl Halpern, after these stories, became a more central player than she’d been. So I started doing some online research on her. I used Goggle News searches to find stories about her and used Goggle web searches to find sites which mentioned her. I was especially interested in sites which provided information about her personal, political, and especially Jewish communal background.
CPB’s biography of Halpern notes:
Mrs. Halpern’s civic involvement includes participation on the boards of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, the Foundation for the Defense of Democracy [RS, CPB, you’ve got a typo–it’s ‘Democracies’]…
Though the Washington Institute for Near East Policy no longer lists her on its board, it’s instructive to review the group and its goals. Its Board of Advisors page features this encomium by no less stellar a light than Jeanne Fitzpatrick:
“I congratulate The Washington Institute for the quality of its work, which I admire.”
And it continues by ballyhooing the board’s “bipartisan” nature:
The Washington Institute’s Board of Advisors includes luminaries from the diplomatic and policymaking arena, the business world, and the media. This bipartisan group of statement provides ongoing advice and counsel both collectively and individually to our staff and leadership.
Some of these ‘bipartisans’ have last names like Kirkpatrick, Haig, Eagleburger, (Edward) Luttwack, Kampelman, Woolsey, Perle, Schultz, McFarlane, Wolfowitz, (Mort) Zuckerman.
The only non-Republicans I could find were Sam Lewis and Warren Christopher. Two out of sixteen–that’s bi-partisan to me! Oh and before I forget, Dennis Ross is listed as “Counsel and Distinguished Fellow.” Wonder how he got mixed up with this crowd? Actually, the board list reads like a who’s who of the Reagan era foreign policy establishment.
This passage from the site’s Our History section would indicate that it is merely an intellectual cheerleader for the neocon Mideast strategy of the Bush Administration:
In the post–September 11 era, the Institute’s research agenda is…driven by the emergence of the Middle East as the central U.S. foreign policy concern, as well as by the daunting multiplicity of regional issues that today affect America’s most profound security interests…The Institute is dedicating new resources to assist the U.S. government in understanding and countering the destructive elixir of Islamist extremism, terrorism, and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction—particularly nuclear weapons. Each one of these ingredients is dangerous; two combined are menacing; all three working in concert are potentially cataclysmic. [RS–apparently no one’s told this group’s webmaster that the Iraq-WMD-Al Qaeda connection was a sham]
Our hope is to see the emergence of a more peaceful, secure, and prosperous Middle East. American leadership—animated by the power of ideas and the talents of those dedicated individuals who can transform them into sound, workable policies—will bring us closer to that reality.
The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs has a terrific historical critique of the Washington Institute. While written in 1991, it still has relevance to the nature of the group today. The article notes that at least nine of the Institute’s then board members were national leaders of AIPAC (hence Halpern’s connection).
The other organization Halpern lists in her bio is Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. Looking at its board too is quite instructive. It includes Jeanne Kirkpatrick (she gets around doesn’t she?), Jack Kemp, Steve Forbes, Louis Freeh, Newt Gingrich, Zell Miller, James Woolsey (gets around too), Bill Kristol, Charles Jacobs (organizer of protests against Columbia University’s supposedly anti-Zionist faculty). Well, you get the picture. Frank Lautenberg and Chuck Schumer lend the group a veneer of bipartisanship.
This was the outfit that first broke the oil for food story and attempted to use it to destroy the career of Kofi Annan (though I make no claim that this was Annan’s shining moment either). They also “took on” Hezbollah’s television outlet Al Manar through their Coalition Against Terrorist Media and attempted to shut down its access to the airwaves.
They also claim to promote the voices of Arab democracy advocates and reformers:
FDD promotes the voices of Muslim and Arab reformers and pro-democracy activists in the Middle East, the United States, and Europe.
Though given the propagandistic nature of their other work one wonders how credible such “Arab reformers” might be to their own nations especially after receiving funding and support from such a group as FDD.
The group also brags about sponsoring campus “anti-terrorism advocates,” whatever the hell that means. Perhaps nerdy guys snooping through the wastebaskets of the Muslim student organization looking for proof of an Al Qaeda connection?
Regarding Israel, the FDD site says this:
Defending Israel’s Right to Defend Itself
FDD fights for the right of…Israel…to defend [its] citizens. When the United Nations challenged the legality of Israel’s security barrier, FDD responded by filing a legal brief on Israel’s behalf and creating a public relations campaign…These materials were sent to members of Congress, ambassadors of 40 countries, and key members of the Bush administration. FDD also traveled to The Hague, where FDD’s legal counsel led an alternative trial featuring victims of terrorism testifying before European parliamentarians.
A lot of good it did as the Hague Court ruled against Israel and the Wall.
The Forward also places some of Halpern’s Jewish communal work in an ideological context:
From 1998 to 2002, Halpern headed the United Nations Advisory Council of B’nai Brith International, which frequently has accused the U.N. of bias against Israel. In 2001, she personally funded a review of antisemitic material in Syrian schoolbooks. Two years later, as an American delegate to a conference on antisemitism organized by the Organization for Security Cooperation in Europe, she spoke about children’s programming and textbook development.
The U.N. has been a frequent whipping boy both of Israel and her hard-right Jewish supporters like AIPAC and individuals like Halpern. FDD’s work on the Oil for Food scandal certainly fits right in with this theme.
As for the Syrian textbook review, do you think way back in 2001 she was gunnin’ for Bush to make Syria his first target in the war on terror and hoped to give him some propaganda to back up anti-Syria saber-rattling? But seriously, it makes you wonder whether some people have entirely too much time on their hands. The woman wants to think up Really Important projects to make the world a better place and chooses this? Apparently, Halpern thinks that telling the world that Syria isn’t a place that likes Jews or Israel much will open our eyes to Syrian perfidy.
Another easy target for raising the hackles of American Jews is assiduous efforts by the likes of ADL and AIPAC (and Halpern) to find anti-Semitism in Arab textbooks (certainly not hard to find unfortunately). The next jump from such a finding is to insinuate that such hatred means Arabs can never be trusted as negotiating partners with Israel because their societies are so deeply riddled with Jew-hatred. From there, it is but a small leap to the notion that no Palestinian state could ever be trusted to live in peace with Israel. Apparently, Halpern would like NPR to become part of that little propaganda apparatus.
SourceWatch has a dossier on her which, though out of date, states interestingly:
Nearly all of Mrs. Halpern’s $319,250 [Mother Jones raises that figure to $500,000] in political contributions have been to Republicans, according to Washington-based PoliticalMoneyLine.com, which tracks donations,” the Washington Times reports. “Recipients have included President Bush’s presidential campaigns in 2000 and 2004, and Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi and Sen. Conrad Burns of Montana, both Republicans. Mr. Lott and Mr. Burns sit on the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, which approves all CPB nominations. Mrs. Halpern, who lives in Livingston, N.J., has described herself in campaign filings as an investor, private investigator, a homemaker and as self-employed.”
A Beliefnet story on Jewish Republicans reveals the illuminating tidbit that Halpern is “a former Democrat.” Jews often joke that converts often turn into the most strictly observant of Jews in their zeal to prove themselves. Might that be true of Cheryl?
I think I may’ve inadvertently uncovered a potential Brownie connection:
An expert horsewoman, Halpern was reserve world champion in the Ladies Hunters Under Sidesaddle in 1990 and 1991, and has ridden as a member of the New York City Mounted Auxiliary Police.
Wonder if she rides Arabians (Brownies breed)?
When Halpern was chair of Bnai Brith International’s U.N. committee (!), she wrote a rather odd (especially in light of recent charges that Azerbijan rigged its most recent elections) column in the Forward, Encouraging Moslem Moderation, calling on the U.S. government to recognize the nation’s vital strategic importance to the U.S. war on terrorism by eliminating sanctions imposed during its war against Armenia. While Halpern admits that Baku doesn’t have a sterling reputation for democracy that doesn’t seem to matter much compared to its strategic importance:
Admittedly, none of these [central Asian] nascent republics qualify today as Jeffersonian democracies [RS, perhaps a slight understatement?], but they need American assistance. Not only are these countries situated between Russia, Iran and Afghanistan, but the vast quantities of petroleum and natural gas in the Caspian Sea region render them vulnerable to the push and pull of petro-politics in the region. Meanwhile, the United States will be in position to lessen its dependence on Persian Gulf oil when the first pipeline — originating in the Azerbaijani capital of Baku and terminating in the Turkish Mediterranean port of Ceyhan — commences operations in 2005.
In recent years, Azerbaijani officials have confiscated contraband, including nuclear technology and ballistic-missile parts, en route to Iran. According to Eurasia Insight, “Azerbaijan is aiding the U.S. anti-terrorism campaign by permitting American jets to utilize Azerbaijani airspace and ground facilities as they transport military equipment and humanitarian aid to Central Asia.”
Makes you wonder whether U.S. interests behind the oil pipeline might have enlisted Halpern to advance their cause within Republican circles, hence this article. Wonder if there was any corporate funding for her Bnai Brith work? And in light of recent electoral shenanigans which caused international monitors to label the elections fraudulent, it makes Halpern’s article seem laughably transparent and off-base.
Cheryl Halpern’s leadership roles in the Jewish community and in Republican circles qualifies her as a hard-right pro-Israel ideologue. She has no qualifications academic, journalistic or otherwise which would render her a credible critic of NPR’s Mideast coverage nor of public broadcasting in general. In short, we’ve got to get the hacks out of CPB before they wreck it all to hell. Ken Tomlinson is gone thanks to the CPB inspector general’s report. Now it’s time to turn up the heat on Cheryl. Send her back to ladies bare back riding (or whatever the hell it is that she specializes in) in New Jersey horse country. At least that’s something she really knows something about.