NPR apologizes for map that erased Israel

Representative calls illustration labeling Israel as ‘Palestine’ a ‘mistake,’ artist says map was made under time pressure

NPR's map replacing Israel for "Palestine," highlighted by (Courtesy)
NPR's map replacing Israel for "Palestine," highlighted by (Courtesy)

WASHINGTON — National Public Radio’s (NPR) ombudsman Elizabeth Jensen released an explanation and apology Monday for a map published on the news organization’s website that erased Israel from the Middle East.

On January 24, NPR’s blog Goats and Soda, which covers health and culture issues around the world, ran a piece titled, “What Are You Afraid Of In 2016? Globetrotters Share Their Fears.” The post focused on travelers’ anxieties for the coming year, and included an illustration of the Middle East and North Africa, the region of the world that travelers most perceive as being at risk.

“The map portion of the illustration had a number of mistakes,” Jensen wrote. “The most notable being that Israel was labeled as ‘Palestine.'”

The pro-Israel website was the first to recognize the blunder. Its managing editor, Simon Plosker, wrote on their website, “It is completely unacceptable for NPR to publish an image that erases Israel from the map. That nobody at NPR recognized just how problematic this image is on multiple levels speaks volumes about the deficiencies in the editorial process.”

Shortly after the HonestReporting piece ran, NPR began receiving critical emails about the map and removed it promptly, according to Jensen. By Sunday evening, the image was taken off the website. In it’s place now is an editor’s note that reads:

“The original version of this post contained a map illustration intended to represent the countries of the Middle East and North Africa, which poll respondents identified as the region presenting the greatest risk to travelers and expatriates in 2016. The map had a number of errors. The countries of Cyprus, Israel and Turkey were either not shown or not labeled; the label for ‘Palestine’ should have read ‘Palestinian territories’; and Afghanistan and Pakistan were mistakenly included. NPR apologizes for these errors.”

Following the controversy, Jensen sought an explanation from the Goats and Soda blog editor, Marc Silver, who said that the illustration was done by a freelance artist, Patric Sandri, and that his team “should have carefully reviewed each map label for inaccuracies and omissions and failed to do so.”

Sandri, a Swiss illustrator who has worked with NPR once before and has also contributed to the The Washington Post and Bloomberg Businessweek, returned Jensen’s request for comment Tuesday, which prompted an update to the original post.

“It was not my political intention to draw the map that way at all,” Sandri told Jensen. “I had a very short time for creating the illustration. If you work under time pressure, mistakes can happen.” He also added that the NPR staff did not notice any mistakes after he submitted his work.

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