NPR, media group clash over reporters alleged bias

WASHINGTON, D.C. — An American journalist who covers Israel for National Public Radio is at the center of a controversy over alleged bias.

The Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) claims that Maureen Meehan, an NPR reporter, is married to a Palestine Liberation Organization official. NPR denies the allegation.

Meehan, an NPR reporter for two years, was arrested Sept. 9 at a Palestinian protest outside Orient House, the Palestine Liberation Organization headquarters in East Jerusalem. In a news account of the arrest, Meehan was identified as the husband of Jiries Atrash.

Recognizing that there is a PLO official named Jiries Atrash, Andrea Levin, president of CAMERA, wrote the president of NPR, Delano Lewis, and complained: "If accounts of Meehan's connection with Jiries Atrash are, indeed, accurate, a clear-cut conflict of interest exists between the public's right to objective news about the Arab-Israeli conflict and Maureen Meehan's position as the wife of a PLO official."

CAMERA, which for several years has criticized NPR for allegedly slanted coverage against Israel, asked three questions in its letter to the public radio network:

"If Mr. Atrash is a PLO official as reported, was NPR aware of the fact?

"If NPR did not know, will it now examine Meehan's reporting and begin to rectify the glaring failure to report PLO intimidation and violence in the areas under its control?

"If NPR was aware of Meehan's affiliation, what is the journalistic rationale for engaging the services of a reporter closely tied to the PLO?"

According to a Reuters report, Meehan "had attacked an Israeli policeman breaking up a demonstration by dozens of Palestinians against right-wing Israelis camped at the site." The article quoted Meehan's husband, Jiries Atrash, as saying: "She was arrested by the Israeli police because they didn't want her to cover the beating (by a policeman) of an Arab demonstrator."

CAMERA recognized Atrash's affiliation from a July 3 Christian Science Monitor story and a March 25 Newsday story, both of which said he directs Yasser Arafat's Jericho office.

According to NPR Editorial Director John Dinges, NPR officials contacted Meehan following the arrest. They were told that Meehan's husband is not a PLO official.

"There are a number of people with that name," said Dinges. He claimed Meehan's husband is a Christian Palestinian and economist who works for a German firm in Israel.

"If a reporter was married to a high official in a country he or she is covering, that is something we would want to know about," Dinges said. "We try as much as possible not to delve into the private lives of our correspondents, except to establish that there is not a conflict of interest. There is none in this case."

Even after hearing NPR's denial, CAMERA still believes Meehan's husband is a PLO official. "Our information from Israeli sources confirms that the Jiries Atrash, whom she is married to, is a PLO official and that he has in the past acted in a diplomatic capacity for the PLO," said Alex Safian, research director of CAMERA.