The Role of the Press

  • 0

newspaper_pressNow that the Weberman trial is behind us we can reflect on the reactions from within and outside the community. Specifically we need to to analyze the role of the media, secular and religious.

The New York media reported the Weberman case. I found their reporting to be pretty fair. They did not prejudge, they did not take sides, and they mostly followed typical conventions for cases like this one. CNN (national media) also reported on the guilty verdict. They went a bit more big picture including a Deborah Feldman sound bite about the Va’ad Hatznius. It was a very fair and informative segment.

The Jews News sites (YWN / VIN / Matzav) are an interesting case study too. As far as Matzav and YWN are concerned there was no Weberman trial. The man doesn’t exist. The victim doesn’t exist. It’s literally like an ostrich digging its head into the sand.

VIN reported extensively on the trial. The comments are predictably erratic. But the site did a good job keeping their readers informed.

I find it disgraceful that two of the three largest Jews News site ignored the trial for reasons that will become apparent shortly.

The bloggers all talked about the trial. A few defended Weberman, most did not.

There are some people who take issue with the way the media handled this case and the way Satmar was covered. On Zev Brenner’s Talkline, Yossi Gestetner was on the line for about an hour complaining about the media coverage. Others on Twitter and Facebook have attacked Oren Yaniv of the Daily News and Rabbi Horowitz for not balancing their talk about Satmar’s role in this crime with effusive praise for the chessed in Satmar.

Rabbi Horowitz responded on Twitter with some very important points which I think must be shared.

  • He compares this complaint to A-Rod complaining that when the media talks about his poor post-season effort this year they neglect to mention his charity work.

This is an apt comparison. The news is not about judgment or portraying a group or individual. It is about the news. And the news is that A-Rod stunk in the playoffs. The news is not that he has a charity. Nor does his charity work mitigate his failure to perform under pressure. It’s not only completely irrelevant, it detracts from the real story.

  • The press has an important role in keeping society in check. This is why freedom of the press is vital in any free and just society.

The news outlets must be able to report on abuses of power and miscarriages of justice. They serve as a deterrent and more importantly, they empower the public to withstand tyranny. If the message is completely controlled by the powerful entities in any society there is no chance for freedom. The press have the right and ability to keep the public informed and tell leadership that the public does not approve of bad behavior.

A good society needs a good press to report on the injustices and pain within their society. It cannot be treason to say something negative about one’s society. It is the only way to effect change.

Ignoring “bad news” in the frum media is a complicit form of tyranny. It tells leaders that we don’t care about corruption or destructive behavior. This enables them to continue their reign of terror on the public.

  • The next point is that there is a strong level of violence or threat of violence to those reporters and to Rabbi Horowitz.

This is the ultimate indicator of a rotten core. Shooting the messenger or even just ignoring the messenger is a terrible tactic for fixing real problems. The chessed of Satmar is irrelevant to keeping our children safe. It is irrelevant to the news. But threats of violence and actual violence toward those trying to change things is part of the story. It tells the world that we care more about our reputation than our children. Rabbi Horowitz has had to protect his Twitter account and make it private (you can request to follow him, but otherwise he is hidden) because of all the attacks.

  • Finally, the lack of change in the community is inexcusable.

Why are they not clamoring for education on sex abuse? Why are they not desperate to protect their children? And why is the leadership not giving them this education? What purpose can it serve to keep their community ignorant of the signs of abuse and the horrors of its effects? Why has there never been a “Children’s Safety” event in Satmar? At the very least, why are they not giving their community the tools to be honest with their children about this case?

To that end, Rabbi Horowitz is hosting a teleconference this evening. Click here: Project YES Teleconference. Get the word out and get on the phone. Anyone who wants to listen in can call in. Mother, fathers, teachers, rebbeim, moros, whomever. Just call in. Get educated. Spread the message. We will not tolerate this violence in our communities. We all play a role. Rabbis, activists, parents, the press, and everyone else. Demand that the frum press cover these stories and when the secular media reports on our flaws let’s fix them, not wonder why they are not reporting on chessed. When we clean our house it will sparkle and the shine of our chessed and kindness will be obvious to everyone.

Follow Rabbi Horowitz on Twitter: @yakovhorowitz

  • VIN is a flagrant violator of Loshon Hora… on a constant basis. Without a doubt, it qualifies as Choti U’machti Es Harabim. It should be shut down and its sponsors should be boycotted. YWN and Matzav are a lot more discriminating about what they publish. Whether or not this case is sufficient to warrant a Heter such as Apay Tlusa and/or preventing Hezek is one for a qualified Posek.

    • aw

      YWN does a good job pretending to be holier than thou. If they were so holy they wouldn’t exist (what’s their heter after the asifa) and they definitely wouldnt have their coffee room. They pick and choose who they bash or protect.

  • Speaking as someone who has never owned a media entity, this is the way I see the challenge.

    In a sense, deciding what is relevant and irrelevant to a story takes a certain bias. We tend to equate fact with truth, but looking at facts is a very superficial truth which can sometimes be worse than a lie.

    Look at the issue of Lashon Hara – said to be worse than Motzi Shem Ra. Why should this be? When I talk about someone and point out a negative in the process, what happens is that the person (or community) is being defined to the audience based on the negative. At that moment, my listener is making a judgment based on my sizing up the situation. In effect, I am using a manipulated truth to create a lie. Whether I am doing this spitefully or innocently is irrelevant.

    This is the challenge of the news. The report may be focused on the specifics, but how will reading it not paint how we view the community as a whole? And if our view is now colored mostly by this case and not taking everything into consideration, then perhaps a falsehood is being communicated.

    I am not suggesting that therefore there is no room for it. I am just putting forth why I think that right and wrong in the arena of journalism is not as clear as we think we see it. Where to draw the fine line is a responsible decision that has to be made by someone with far greater vision and judgment than I have.

  • kweansmom

    “VIN reported extensively on the trial. The comments are predictably erratic. But the site did a good job keeping their readers informed.”

    Not exactly. They had four articles on the trial, two of them about the picture takers and one about the Satmar Rebbe. Maybe 5-6 paragraphs about the testimony, total. Nobody following the trial counted on them for their coverage. Do you have access to some secret VIN content that the rest of us don’t?

    Contrast this with the New York Daily News, who hands down had the best coverage of the trial. They had a thorough summary at the end of each day’s testimony, and a reporter (Oren Yaniv) in the courtroom live-tweeting every new development as it happened. Some days there were two articles about the trial, by different reporters.

    • The issue is not the testimony of the trial. The issue is reporting on the existence of the trial and the circumstances surrounding the trial. Yes the NYDN was more extensive, but the NYT was not. VIN did a fine job here.

      • kweansmom

        Yeah, I guess they did start reporting on the trial by Day 4 so if that’s what you mean by keeping their readers informed, you’re right that they didn’t ignore its existence entirely.

        I don’t think they did a fine job. I think they did the minimum job they needed to do but tried to leave out most of the details so that they wouldn’t alienate their charedi readership.

  • Nothing to argue about on this post 🙂

    One of the most important issues facing us here, and R Horowitz is a great leader.

  • hmaryles

    Great post! …wish I had written it. 🙂