NPR's "On The Media" More Outraged by the Pope Than Hamas

February 4th, 2006 9:24 AM

National Public Radio's show "On The Media" continues to amaze. Last weekend (and transcripts go up in mid-week), the hosts mustered more outrage against Pope Benedict XVI  and the Vatican charging copyright fees than they could against Hamas attempts to put a public-relations veneer over their terrorist war on Israel. You could see the difference in the segment titles. The Vatican segment was titled "Pricing the Word." Hamas drew a cheeky headline: "Extreme Makeover: Hamas Edition."

Co-host Garfield began the papal fuss: "[A]s of this week, if you'd like to use a portion of the encyclical or any other papal text in a book you're working on, get ready to pay up, because quoting the Pope just got pricey. The Vatican Publishing House will henceforth impose copyright fees." He interviewed Vatican reporter John Allen: "This one took me by surprise. Charging to reprint the Pope's words – where did that come from?" Allen explained this is not a big change, but Garfield persisted.

"And also, forgive me, but my understanding is that the Pope, according to Catholic orthodoxy, is essentially God's proxy on earth, in which case it sounds like God is charging royalties." Allen laughed. Garfield then asked, "Am I overstating that?" Allen said "Yeah." Garfield then insisted you don’t have to pay copyright fees to reproduce the State of the Union speech, so "Why do the Pope's words not belong to all of us, or in any event, all Catholics?"

But the other co-host, Brooke Gladstone, narrated a segment on Hamas that obviously had less outrage in it. Gladstone dispassionately reproduced the most bizarre comparisons of radical Muslims (we're the French resistance, and the Israelis are the Nazis) with just a hint of skepticism, and none of the shock Garfield was proclaiming, despite those extreme Hamas claims of Muslim property rights.

Gladstone explained Hamas plans a PR makeover, not a real change, just some cosmetics: "Now a potent political force in the region, Hamas seeks to burnish its image in the West. To that end, the Guardian newspaper reported this week Hamas has hired a media consultant named Nashat Aqtash to hone its message and, said the Guardian, offer helpful hints, such as ‘Don't talk about destroying Israel,’ and ‘Don't celebrate killing people.’" It continued in the same vein:

GLADSTONE: For Hamas, it's a public relations puzzle, figuring out how to hold onto the foreign money while holding to its founding mission, to fight for every inch of land it claims is illegally occupied by Israel. Marwan Abu Zalaf says it's the old struggle over definitions. Are they terrorists or freedom fighters?

MARWAN ABU ZALAF: Some people say what were the French doing in the Second World War against the German occupiers? The resistance.

GLADSTONE: Hamas media consultant Nashat Aqtash.

NASHAT AQTASH: I don't understand how come you accept that America itself and French people themselves removed the German occupation and now you don't understand the meaning of 60 years of Israeli occupation over Palestine. We are not killers because we love to kill. We are fighting an occupation. Maybe in doing this, some mistakes has been done.

NPR did air a soundbite of Bush, and some input from an Israeli journalist. But Gladstone never suggested any moral outrage at these terrorists – certainly not the way she did toward American journalism, as in’s story on John Murtha’s military record. She just suggested Hamas will have to add some moderation to the talking points: "No matter how it's packaged, there's little chance that the nations of the West will accept Hamas' claim to kinship with the French resistance. And now that it's the ruling party, officially responsible for the Palestinian people, Marwan Abu Zalaf says it makes no sense to cleave to a position that won't bring peace."

Gladstone implied that it's just about inevitable that Hamas will have to come to the negotiating table and moderate their views. With a perfect NPR ending, she concluded by politely nudging Hamas with a quote from socialist John Kenneth Galbraith:

Political leadership is not reducible to public relations or even principle. In the 19th century, Prussian statesman Otto von Bismarck said that "politics is the art of the possible." But when it comes to this conflict, perhaps a better dictum was issued in the last century by economist and diplomat John Kenneth Galbraith. He wrote, "Politics is not the art of the possible. It consists of choosing between the disastrous and the unpalatable." If Hamas wants to be a real political player, Nashat Aqtash may want to revise his talking points.