Israeli Parliament Schedules Unprecedented Early Elections

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament in Jerusalem.

Sebastian Scheiner/AP

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Sebastian Scheiner/AP

Voters in Israel will go the polls for the second time this year after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu missed a midnight deadline to form a coalition government.

The Israeli parliament, prompted by Netanyahu, has voted to hold new elections Sept. 17. The move comes after elections were just held in April and appeared to give Netanyahu a fourth consecutive term in office.

The Knesset voted 74-45, on a bill sponsored by Netanyahu’s Likud party, to dissolve itself and call for new elections.

Had Netanyahu not prompted the call for new elections, Israel’s ceremonial president could have chosen someone else to try to form a government.

The call for new elections is a surprising turn of events for Netanyahu who is widely considered Israel’s most powerful politician.

As NPR’s Daniel Estrin reported on All Things Considered, it is unprecedented to have new balloting scheduled just a month after the previous elections.

Estrin said there were two sticking points keeping Netanyahu from forming a majority government:

“The official reason given was that former Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman had very high conditions. He demanded a mandatory military draft for Orthodox Jews and ultra-orthodox parties refused that.

“But the bigger picture here is that Netanyahu is facing legal troubles. That is his chief concern. And by the end of this year he is going to be facing likely corruption charges. So he had been trying to build a coalition that would grant him immunity from prosecution while he’s in office. So things got complicated because he was trying to weave in his immunity into the deals he was trying to make with these parties.”

Estrin also reported that the new elections could delay the political components of a peace plan, such as borders and the issue of a Palestinian state, that is being fashioned in the White House by President Trump’s advisor and son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

Netanyahu is months away from being Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, having held the job for one term in the 1990s and for the last decade.

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Reviewing NPR’s Language For Covering Abortion

Protesters demonstrate in front of the US Supreme Court during the March For Life in Washington, DC, January 27, 2017.

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The debate over abortion rights is emotionally charged. The language NPR uses to discuss the issue should not add to the drama.

This principle applies, of course, to any number of topics in the news that NPR covers. But the legal battle over the right to an abortion is particularly fraught, and the language used to discuss it has become a key tactical weapon used by both sides as they seek to tap into those emotions.

For months we have heard concerns from NPR listeners and readers on both sides of the issue, and they continue to come in as the legislative and legal challenges to abortion are in the news. The complaints are flip sides of a coin. We get complaints that NPR is using the language of “the other side” (whatever the other side is, depending on the affiliation of the letter writer) and thus giving the other side an advantage. An example: a recent letter from a New Hampshire listener noted that NPR had referred to pregnant women as mothers. He called that “a politically loaded term, since a pregnant woman is not a mother until she gives birth.”

Conversely, we get complaints that NPR is not using the emotionally charged language that proponents of one side or the other prefer. The main example: We regularly hear from those who say they are “pro-life” and wonder why NPR won’t give them the respect of calling them by their preferred label (NPR’s policy is not to use “pro-life” or “pro-choice;” more on that below). Some on this side argue that it’s not just a matter of respect; that by taking the emotion out of the debate it’s also taking the side of those who favor legalized abortion.

What follows is an explanation of what NPR’s policy is and the thinking behind it, along with a few thoughts from listeners and readers on how they hear the language. (As a reminder, the Public Editor’s office serves as a liaison between listeners and readers and the newsroom. We don’t set NPR policy; that’s up to the newsroom, including standards and practices editor Mark Memmott.)

There are a number of principles that newsrooms, NPR’s included, consider when crafting guidelines for the language used to discuss issues.

One (and in my mind this is the most important) is to be factual, which means describing the situation as accurately as possible given the facts available at the time. Clarity is a related goal; among other things, this means not muddying the waters with vague language and euphemisms. There’s also a desire to avoid language that has been politicized, and a need to respect those whose views the newsroom is reporting.

And Memmott, in particular, emphasizes that the newsroom’s journalists should seek to avoid labeling people and instead use what he calls “action language” that describes them more fairly and accurately (so a person is “in the country illegally,” not an “illegal alien”). I’ve written before about these issues, including here and here.

Sometimes these goals end up being in conflict. Abortion is one case where it may not be possible to reconcile all of them to everyone’s satisfaction.

Let’s start with NPR’s policy, which, while regularly looked at, hasn’t changed since 2010, when NPR adopted new language (the same as used by the vast majority of other major news organizations).

The policy states:

On the air, we should use “abortion rights supporter(s)/advocate(s)” and “abortion rights opponent(s)” or derivations thereof (for example: “advocates of abortion rights”). It is acceptable to use the phrase “anti-abortion”, but do not use the term “pro-abortion rights”.

How do the principles apply here? For one, the vast majority of stories are about “abortion rights,” i.e., the right to choose an abortion (legalized, with some restrictions, in the 1973 Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade). One supports this right or one opposes it. That is both factual and clear, and emphasizes an action. The terms used by NPR are also largely apolitical, since neither side regularly uses those phrases, and thus NPR cannot be accused of adopting one side’s terminology over the other.

A second part of the policy states:

Do not use “pro-life” and “pro-choice” in copy except when used in the name of a group.

This applies, of course, only to NPR’s reporters and hosts who are covering the issue. When someone who is being interviewed uses one of those phrases, it is not cut out.

So to be clear, the phrases “pro-life” and “pro-choice” are heard abundantly on NPR.

Why are NPR journalists themselves told not to use them? In the case of “pro-choice,” the language is accurate. Those on that side want women to have the option to choose whether to have an abortion. People who oppose abortion rights don’t see it as a choice between two morally equivalent positions, but, opinions aside, that language does go back to the central focus of the legal and political controversy: it is a choice that the Supreme Court so far has ruled lies with the pregnant woman.

“Pro-life” is a bit murkier. The very strong implication is that those on the other side do not value life at all. Some people, of course, support the legal right to choose an abortion while at the same time would not choose that option for themselves, because they, too, value life. Others support abortion rights, but oppose the death penalty.

Memmott told me: “One of the issues with pro-choice versus pro-life has always been, if you use either, are you saying the others aren’t anti-those things? Couldn’t we instead use some action words to describe their positions? So ‘pro-abortion rights,’ ‘anti-abortion rights’ are slightly more action. They’re still labels, but they’re more of a sense of the action, the thinking, without necessarily saying one side is anti something.”

In addition, “pro-choice” and “pro-life” are the shorthand phrases adopted by each side, and thus they have become politicized language.

But what about the principle of respect, as many have argued to the Public Editor’s office?

One listener wrote that while NPR often tries to respect its subjects by using descriptions that they themselves use, “when a Pro-Life individual identifies herself as Pro-Life, NPR refuses to extend this courtesy and insists on calling her Anti-Abortion in a belittling and a derogatory way.”

I agree that respect is an important part of the deliberation. But NPR should respect the strong feelings of all concerned, and “pro-life,” for the reasons outlined, casts aspersions. Avoiding pro-life AND pro-choice is an attempt to make sure the debate remains civil. And once again, it should be noted, that guests on NPR’s air often have the occasion to explain their thoughts in their own words; NPR does not tell guests what language they can and cannot use in cases like this, nor should it.

Another listener wrote:

I am bothered by your choice of language because it seems to try to marginalize an opinion that NPR seems to oppose and it does so in a way that makes my views come across as being antagonistic toward women. I strongly believe that an unborn child is a person [whose] right to live is more important than a woman’s right to an abortion, but my opinion is not derived from an antagonism toward woman, but simply from a desire to protect a vulnerable human.

Along those same lines, we heard from one listener:

Your reporters describe the pro-life movement as “anti-abortion rights” activists, but they describe the pro-choice movement as such, or as being for abortion rights. So they describe one side in terms of what they are against, and the other side in terms of what they are for. This shows bias.

There’s a reason for this difference in the language (“for” v. “anti”): The debate is about taking away a right that is currently constitutionally protected. But these listeners make what seems to me as a reasonable point about the use of the word “anti.” What if they were described as “opposing” abortion rights? Or as wanting to change the right? Both are accurate and less charged than “anti.”

Memmott recently reissued NPR’s guidance on the topic and included another point dealing with current legislation. We’ve received strong criticism of it from those who are opposed to abortion rights (much of it generated by people who are reacting to numerous columns about the guidance that have been published on conservative web sites).

In particular, the guidelines say that:

Proponents refer to it as a “fetal heartbeat” law. That is their term. It needs to be attributed to them if used and put in quotation marks if printed. We should not simply say the laws are about when a “fetal heartbeat” is detected. As we’ve reported, heartbeat activity can be detected “about six weeks into a pregnancy.” That’s at least a few weeks before an embryo is a fetus.

Critics also objected to NPR’s longstanding guidance, dating from the presidency of George W. Bush, that:

The term “unborn” implies that there is a baby inside a pregnant woman, not a fetus. Babies are not babies until they are born. They’re fetuses.

This is essentially the same as the guidance offered by the AP Stylebook, whose combined entry for “embryo, fetus, unborn baby, unborn child” reads:

While the terms are essentially interchangeable in many common uses, each has become politicized by the abortion debate even in uses not involving abortion. Anti-abortion advocates say fetus devalues a human life; abortion-rights supporters argue unborn child or baby equate termination of a pregnancy with murder by emphasizing the fetus’s humanity.

Write clearly and sensitively, using any of the terms when appropriate:

Fetus, which refers to the stage in human development from the eighth week of pregnancy to birth, is preferred in many cases, including almost all scientific and medical uses: The virus can be disastrous to a fetus. The lawsuit alleges harm to a fetus that prosecutors claim was viable. The research was conducted on fetal tissue.

In scientific uses referring to the first seven weeks of human development after conception, use embryo.

The context or tone of a story can allow for unborn baby or child in cases where fetus could seem clinical or cold: Weiss said her love for her unborn baby was the strongest feeling she had ever felt. The expectant mother lost her baby in the seventh month of pregnancy.

Of course, as the many critics have pointed out, and AP acknowledges, the use of “fetus” is in direct contrast to the everyday language of society, where references to a “baby” abound, even at the earliest stages of a pregnancy.

Memmott told me: “We fully understand that someone who is pregnant is thinking of that as a baby. We’re not saying they aren’t.”

Is taking “baby” and “mother” and “life” out of the conversation profoundly biased in favor of those in favor of abortion rights? Science would say no. NPR has explored that, including in Tuesday’s interview on Here & Now where the guest’s conclusion was: Scientists have widely differing opinions on when life begins and often don’t wrestle with the issue at all.

Where does this leave us?

At an impasse, I’m afraid. Journalism standards and ethics, aside from prohibitions on, say, plagiarism, are not always clear-cut. They represent a best effort to put in place policies that attempt to produce fairness and accuracy. Allowing each side to choose the language it wants does not produce, much less guarantee, that goal.

Despite what some people on both sides of the abortion seem to believe, NPR’s intent is not to take a side in its language choices. (See Morning Edition‘s Steve Inskeep’s thoughts here.) And as Memmott told me, “We’re trying hard. And I know people disagree.” He added, “We’re trying hard not to adopt the language of any side.”

Until someone comes up with even more neutral language for this discussion (and many have tried) NPR should stick to its policy.

Editorial researcher Juliette Rocheleau and intern Liana Van Nostrand contributed to this report.

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Australian ‘Egg Boy’ Gives $69,000 To Families Of New Zealand Shooting Victims

Will Connolly, who became known as “Egg Boy,” is seen on May 18 at Labor Headquarters during Australia’s national general election. Connolly announced on Tuesday that he gave $69,000 to support those impacted by the Christchurch, New Zealand, mosque shootings.

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The Australian teenager who became known as Egg Boy after smashing an egg on the head of a right-wing politician has donated $69,000 U.S. to those affected by the mass shootings at the Christchurch, New Zealand, mosques in March.

Will Connolly announced on Instagram that the $99,922 Australian (about $69,000 U.S.) that supporters gave him through crowdfunding sites to cover legal fees and to “buy more eggs” has been directed to two organizations, Christchurch Foundation and Victims Support.

“I decided to donate all monies to help provide some relief to the victims of the massacre,” wrote Connolly, 17. “It wasn’t mine to keep.”

Connolly drew the global spotlight and became something of a cult hero for cracking an egg on the head of Australian Sen. Fraser Anning, who has since lost his seat in the country’s Parliament.

Just hours after the March mosque shootings, Anning said the “real cause” of attacks was New Zealand allowing Muslims to migrate to the country. Anning, 69, reacted to the egg being cracked on his head by spinning around and punched Connolly in the face twice. The teen was then tackled by Anning’s supporters.

Although Connolly has since apologized, he said shortly after the egg episode that Anning linking the mass shootings with Muslim migration left him “flat out disgusted.”

As authorities investigated the case, money came pouring in for Connolly’s expected legal fees. But a law firm agreed to handle his case for free, so he did not need to tap the donations.

“Finally!!! After a huge amount of red tape, $99,922.36 has today been transferred to the Christchurch Foundation and Victims Support,” Connolly posted on Tuesday, adding that he hopes the money can “bring some relief” to the families of the 51 people killed in the attack.

Police decided not to charge Connolly or Anning over the exchange. Connolly later said in an interview with an Australian television channel that “what I did was not the right thing to do,” before adding that: “However, this egg has united people.”

Anning, who was often condemned over his inflammatory comments about immigrants and his support of banning migration from Islamic countries, was voted out of Australia’s Senate during the May 18 general election.

The response to his public egging has been overwhelming, Connolly said in the TV appearance. He’s been offered a free vacation in Turkey, a lifetime of free beer in Canada and Wales. And he was honored with a mural in Melbourne.

“It’s blown up completely out of proportion to the point where it’s kind of embarrassing. Too much attention is actually brought away from the real victims’ suffering,” he said. “We should be focusing on them.”

A spokesperson for Victim Support, a New Zealand group coordinating donations for those impacted by the massacre, confirmed Connolly’s donation. The money will be evenly split between Victim Support and the Christchurch Foundation.

“Funds raised have been invaluable in helping those affected to rebuild their lives. The compassion and empathy shown by New Zealanders has been overwhelming,” said Victim Support’s Chief Executive Kevin Tso.

Since the March attack, more than $10 million New Zealand ($6.5 million U.S.) has been raised for those affected by the mosque attacks, according to Tso.

“Every cent pledged has and will continue to be distributed to the victims,” he said.

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$6.75 Million Settlement Paid To Family Of Milwaukee Inmate Who Died From Dehydration

The family of a man who died in a Milwaukee jail after the water in his cell was shut off for seven days has been paid a $6.75 million settlement, according to the family’s lawyers.

Terrill Thomas, 38, died of dehydration in Milwaukee County Jail in April 2016. The payment was made by Milwaukee County and Armor Correctional Health Services, a company that was contracted to provide medical care for inmates at the jail.

“We think that the amount of the settlement reflects the callous disregard for Terrill Thomas’ life and the magnitude of his pain and suffering,” Edwin Budge, a lawyer for Thomas’ family, told NPR. “Too many Americans die each year in our county jails because of abuse and neglect. … Hopefully this case serves as a wake-up call to government and corporate officials that operate our nation’s jails.”

The Thomas family’s lawyers said in a statement that it’s “believed to be the largest jail death settlement in Wisconsin history.”

Milwaukee County did not immediately respond to NPR’s request for comment about the settlement, and representatives of Armor Correctional Health Services said they were in the process of putting together a statement.

The settlement was concluded amid criminal legal action against the county and the company. As The Journal Sentinel has reported, “Three jail employees were convicted for their roles in Thomas’ death. Criminal charges are pending against Miami-based Armor, which no longer had the contract for health care at the jail.”

Thomas was arrested after firing a gun in Potawatomi casino, and his family has said that they believe he was having a psychotic episode. He is described in the lawsuit as suffering from bipolar disorder.

As NPR member station WUWM has reported, former Lt. Kashka Meadors testified about flooding in Thomas’ cell after he was taken into custody.

“He had part of the ripped mattress, and he was pushing that down in the toilet as well, flooding it, making the water come out into – out from under his cell into the dayroom area,” said Meadors, who has since been convicted for her role in his death after pleading no contest.

She said she ordered his cell’s water turned off until his behavior got better. According to the lawsuit, this was a common form of punishment at the jail. Ultimately, nobody turned it back on. During that time in solitary confinement, Thomas was fed “nutraloaf” – what the lawsuit describes as a “foul-tasting brick” so dry that dust from it set off his cell’s fire alarm.

“They forced him to spend the last week of his life locked in an isolation cell 24 hours a day, with no drinking water, no edible food, no working toilet, no mattress, no blanket, no shower access, no means of cleaning his cell, no ability to communicate with his family, no relief from constant lockdown, and no meaningful access to urgently needed medical or mental health care,” the complaint states.

Other inmates became aware of Thomas’ plight and tried to alert guards, the lawsuit says, to no avail. He was found dead in his cell a week later, after he lost 34 pounds during the eight days total in custody, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit says that Thomas was “subjected to a form of torture by being intentionally and/or recklessly denied hydration.”

Thomas’ family filed a federal prisoner civil rights lawsuit in 2017, which was dismissed earlier this month and resulted in this settlement.

The facility where Thomas died, lawyers say, has been suffering from staffing shortages for years.

It had been run by Sheriff David Clarke Jr., who has been a prominent ally of President Trump. Clarke denied wrongdoing in this case, as NPR has reported, and submitted his resignation in 2017.

Budge, the Thomas family lawyer, sees Clarke’s departure as a positive sign for the jail. “He set the tone for how it operated and the buck stops with him. … And hopefully the people of Milwaukee County can feel comforted by the fact that Sheriff Clarke’s reign in Milwaukee County is at an end.”

As The Associated Press reported, the settlement will be split among Thomas’ six children.

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Uber To Start Banning Passengers With Low Ratings

The Uber logo is displayed on a car in March. The company announced this week that it is changing policies and banning riders with low scores.

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Uber has unveiled a new policy that enables the company to kick riders with low ratings to the curb.

For years, Uber allowed passengers to rate drivers on a star system, ultimately allowing customers to influence whether drivers can stay behind the wheel. Internal charts from 2014 published by Business Insider showed that drivers with ratings of 4.6 or below were at risk for the boot.

Though drivers could rate passengers, there was no equivalency in consequences. But now Uber’s drivers will have a greater say about the behavior of passengers.

“Respect is a two-way street, and so is accountability,” Kate Parker, Uber’s head of Safety Brand and Initiatives, said in a statement released Tuesday. Parker added, “While we expect only a small number of riders to ultimately be impacted by ratings-based deactivations, it’s the right thing to do.”

The shift will begin in the United States and Canada, the company said.

Riders will start to see a screen on the app that summarizes community guidelines and then asks them to confirm their understanding of the new terms. They will receive tips on how to increase their scores — suggestions like being polite, taking their trash out of the vehicle and refraining from asking drivers to speed.

Before passengers are deactivated, they will have multiple chances to boost their scores.

Uber didn’t say what the thresholds will be for passengers to lose access to the ride-hailing service.

“Each city has its own minimum threshold which is directly related to the average rider rating in that city,” Uber spokesperson Grant Klinzman told NPR by email.

Anyone can check their rating on the Uber app by visiting the main menu and looking at the number under their username.

Riders will also lose access to Uber’s food delivery app and JUMP, which allows people to rent electric bikes and scooters, Klinzman added.

A spokesperson for the Independent Drivers Guild, which represents more than 65,000 app-based drivers in New York, praised Uber’s announcement as a way to protect drivers in addition to riders.

“While most riders are respectful, banning riders who threaten driver safety, spew racist rants, and disrespect or damage our vehicles is the right thing to do,” spokesperson Moira Muntz said in a statement. “For too long there has been one-sided accountability and this is a positive step toward correcting that.”

Video footage recently showed a Lyft driver being brutally beaten by a rider in Queens.

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