Weeks ago our organization tried to place an ad with NPR's affiliate in Ann Arbor, Michigan Radio, about my speaking tour in Michigan. (They officially call this a "sponsorship" -- for $1,000 you receive about 10 announcements.)
Michigan Radio is a service of Michigan Public Media, the public broadcasting company at the University of Michigan, and consists of the following stations, licensed to the Regents of the University of Michigan:
- WUOM 91.7 Ann Arbor/Detroit
- WVGR 104.1 Grand Rapids
- WFUM-FM 91.1 Flint
Michigan Radio refused our ad, saying that our organization was "political," even though:
- We are a 501c3 educational organization -- our website provides facts on Israel-Palestine and does not advocate for or against any particular parties, candidates, or bills before Congress;
- It had run ads from the Jewish Federation of Detroit, which states on its website that it advocates for Israel;
- I am told that it has run ads from the Ann Arbor chapter of Hadassah, the Women's Zionist Organization of America, which lobbies for Israel and other issues. (Since Michigan Radio management has not returned my phone calls I have been unable to confirm this with them).
The company did eventually run an ad announcing my talks, but only when it was placed by another organization and as long as it did not give the name or website of our organization.
When I arrived in Michigan last Tuesday I phoned the station to try to clear this matter up, but received no return call to discuss this.
Later in the week I phoned again, but was unable to reach anyone beyond the receptionist. I left voicemails with a variety of individuals in the business department asking them to call me back about this matter.
When no one did, I finally sent out a press release and announcements about what I consider censorship of our organization. The station began to receive a growing number of phone calls and emails complaining about their censorship -- including calls to its pledge line by individuals saying they were NOT donating because of this situation.
Michigan Radio's Director of Development Larry Jonas replied to emails (but did not contact us) with a message claiming that the problem had basically been that the station was uncertain that the local chapter of If Americans Knew was indeed a local chapter of If Americans Knew (it was and is). He did mention something about "other reasons" but did not say what these were.
The fact is, however, that his purported explanation was very different from the one that had been given to our chapter on October 1st by their underwriting representative, and on October 16th by an individual at the station -- that management's refusal to run our ad was based on their determination that our organization was "political."
I then phoned and emailed Mr. Jonas (see below) to clarify this matter. Since Mr. Jonas implied in his public message that the major problem was simply that they needed confirmation of the local chapter's affiliation with us (something they had never requested), we can easily supply this. I wrote that we would like to place a new announcement.
It is now over 27 hours since I emailed Mr. Jonas, several days after I left voicemails with a number of people at Michigan Radio, and almost three hours since I left phone messages at Michigan Radio for Mr. Jonas and others asking for a response. I am still waiting.
Press releases with additional details can be seen at
Below is the email that I sent yesterday morning to Michigan Radio:
Dear Mr. Jonas,
Regarding your email (pasted below) about why Michigan Radio refused to run our announcement:
1. The individual who contacted Michigan Radio did indeed represent the Flint, Michigan chapter of If Americans Knew and possesses a letter stating that fact.
2. Your explanation is contradicted by the explanation Michigan Radio gave to our chapter at the time. It is also contracted by an explanation given to If Americans Knew since.
Below is the email correspondence on this matter:
From the If Americans Knew chapter, Thursday, October 01, 2009 5:17 PM:
Thank you for the call earlier today. I communicated the Michigan Radio decision back to our group. We are disappointed that the station declined to approve our announcement.
In order to be completely clear, please send me an e-mail stating the specific reason or reasons for the non-approval of the underwriting. As you stated, if our request did not meet an FCC guideline or rule, or the station rules or policy, please indicate which specific guideline or policy we did not meet.
From the station's underwriting representative, Thursday, October 01, 2009 9:06 PM:
I’ll be glad to share with you what management discussed with me. In the underwriting packet (the first email attachment that I sent to you), on the page titled “MAKING YOUR CREDIT WORK FOR YOU MICHIGAN RADIO UNDERWRITING COPY GUIDELINES” (bottom paragraph):
“Michigan Radio reserves the right to refuse any request for underwriting that would violate an FCC rule or policy, violate station policies or adversely affect the reputation or financial condition of the station. No announcements will be aired on behalf of political organizations, political candidates or their committees, or that express a view on issues of public importance or interest or religious belief. No more than one (1) event may be listed in any underwriting announcement. No more than 6 underwriting announcements may air in one day (and may be less depending on inventory).”
In other words, the alleged problem was with our organization itself.
This explanation was also given to me directly on October 16th, when a person at Michigan Radio told me that the reason given by station management for refusing to run our announcement was their determination that If Americans Knew was “political.”
It is unfortunate that you did not send your email to us as well as to the public, so that we might have corrected these errors. In fact, if Michigan Radio had contacted us directly, as we had requested in numerous voicemails, we could have cleared up your confusion on this matter quite easily and spared your organization the embarrassment of sending out inaccurate information.
Regarding Michigan Radio's decision not to air an announcement by our organization:
I find it inconsistent and unethical for Michigan Radio to refuse to run an announcement by our organization when it appears that you have run announcements by pro-Israel organizations that are political and that even publicly lobby for specific legislation. I find such a double standard unconscionable.
I am told that Michigan Radio has aired announcements by the Ann Arbor chapter of Hadassah, the Women's Zionist Organization of American, an organization that advocates publicly and actively on legislation, and by the Jewish Federation of Detroit, whose website says that it "advocates for Israel." Yet you refused an announcement by If Americans Knew, even though we are not a lobbying organization and our website's mission is to provide facts to the American public. I find such logic perplexing.
However, if Michigan Radio's current position is that the only problem is uncertainty over the local group's affiliation with If Americans Knew, as your email suggests, this obstacle, I assume, has now been cleared up.
We would now like to place a new announcement with Michigan Radio.
Michigan radio's action on this matter has been particularly disturbing, given that a study of NPR by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) showed extremely Israeli-centric reporting by the network. For example, it found a pattern in which NPR reported on Israeli children’s deaths 89 percent of the time while reporting on Palestinian children’s deaths only 20 percent of the time.
The study also found that while NPR reported on the deaths of Israeli civilians in higher proportions than it reported on deaths of Israeli soldiers, the network did the opposite in its reporting on Palestinian deaths, reporting on the deaths of Palestinian combatants at greater rates than it reported on the deaths of Palestinian civilians, giving an extremely skewed view of the conflict.
Similarly, NPR claimed that Hamas had been the first to violate a 2009 ceasefire, despite the fact that it had actually been Israel that had first violated the ceasefire. Even when evidence was provided to NPR for this fact, and even though CNN eventually ran a report correcting its similar error on a 2008 ceasefire breach, NPR refused to run a correction, leaving its listeners significantly misinformed on the situation.
I look forward to working with you on our new announcement.
Below is the message Jonas had sent to the public (but not to us):
This issue has been miscast by Ms. Weir, when in fact the issue is about adherence to FCC underwriting regulations.
Michigan Radio was initially contacted by a gentleman in the Flint area who indicated that he was interested in establishing an underwriting schedule of announcements that would include information about Ms. Weir’s talk.
The gentleman initially asked that the sponsorship be attributed to an organization to which he appeared to have no apparent affiliation. Michigan Radio is required by FCC rules to identify the sponsoring entity in an underwriting announcement and not a third party.
For that and other reasons, we were concerned that accepting the sponsorship may put us afoul of FCC regulations.
He subsequently indicated that the Flint Islamic Center, the organization that would be hosting her talk, and of which he is a member, should be identified as the sponsoring organization. Those announcements identifying that organization and Ms. Weir’s talk have aired as ordered.
I'm still waiting for a response from Michigan Radio.
I notice that among its $5,000-level sponsors is the Michigan chapter of the Nature Conservancy, which does advocacy work.
To reiterate: we're not suggesting that Michigan Radio prohibit these groups from having ads; our point is that if some or all of these advocacy groups are allowed to be Michigan Radio sponsors, why is our organization -- which does not even do lobbying -- prohibited?
And now there is an additional, secondary point: Michigan Radio's bizarre failure to respond to my phone calls and emails. This conduct is arrogant, and -- particularly now that it is sending misleading emails about me to the public -- highly unethical.
Yesterday afternoon I sent the following letter to Michigan Radio's director, Stephen Schram:
Director of Broadcasting
Dear Mr. Schram,
I am forwarding a message (below) that I sent to your station yesterday morning.
In addition, I have phoned your station numerous times over the past week, as I expect you're aware. Yet, no one in your business department has returned my calls.
I find it bizarre -- and highly unethical -- for your station to send an email about me while refusing to communicate with me. Worse still, the email being sent to the public is highly misleading.
For the past week I have made continued efforts to obtain information and clarification from your company, to no avail.
In my email to Mr. Jonas I indicated that our organization is interested in becoming a sponsor. Yet, again, I have received no reply
I would expect more from a publicly funded institution.
I look forward to your response.
[Mon, Oct. 19, 2007, 9:57 AM Letter to Development Director Larry Jonas followed]