Lech Lecha: Will the True Agitator Rise?


Can We Trust the Media?

I am not the type that gets quickly (or even slowly) agitated. But an article in today’s New York Times agitated me to no end.

The article was about a victim of an assassination attempt, whom the editors coined, well, an… agitator.

Here is the opening lead of the article: “An Israeli-American agitator who has pushed for more Jewish access and rights at a hotly contested religious site in Jerusalem was shot and seriously wounded Wednesday night by an unidentified assailant in an apparent assassination attempt.”

What knee-jerk reaction did you have when reading this? As soon as you label someone with a loaded and inciting name like “agitator” — especially at the outset of an article — you have already declared him guilty in some way, and in effect prejudiced the reader.

Here you have a glaring example of slanting a story with one provocative term. By using the word “agitator” as the lead line, essentially, a reputable newspaper — no less one on the caliber of the venerated NY Times — is explaining, if not justifying, the attack After all, doesn’t an agitator deserve to be attacked? Didn’t he bring it on to himself?

By allowing its own biased perspective influence this article the great NY Times has become an agitator in its own right — imposing its position on its readers.

Would the Times dare describe a gay or civil rights activist (under attack) with the name “agitator”?!

Objective reporting would seem to dictate that you first report the facts (one man attempted to assassinate another) before commenting on the personality and character of the intended victim.

Would the Times ever dare open an article with stating that “a promiscuous woman was sexually attacked by a man,” suggesting somehow that the victim was at fault?! Never. It’s simply a form of yellow journalism to present a loaded case without allowing the reader to decide based on the facts.

Regardless whether you agree or disagree with Yehuda Glick’s positions, civil people can all agree that assassins, actual or potential, are the true agitators. As such an appropriate lead to the article should have read: Alleged terrorist or Muslim aggressor wounds Israeli activist.

Deja Vu

This episode brought back memories from another “biased” NY Times story, which I personally witnessed. During the Crown Heights riots in the summer of 1991, when blacks were wantonly attacking Jews and vandalizing their stores and homes, culminating in the cold blooded murder of Yankel Rosenbaum, the Times covered the events in its own inimitable style. In the name of so-called fair and balanced reporting the Times wrote that first a car in a Jewish motorcade hit and killed a young black child, Gavin Cato. Then a group of blacks killed Mr. Rosenbaum– as if the two were identical events. In fact, they were as different as can be: The first tragic death was by all accounts an accident; the latter — a deliberate and per-mediatated murder.

In an attempt to set the record straight, I submitted at the time an op-ed article laying out the events of that evening as I personally witnessed them. Needless to say, the Times did not accept my submission.

It seems that my grandfather was right after all. Years ago, when I was a a teenager, he told me that everything written in the newspaper is a lie, even the date on the masthead, because the paper was printed last night…

At the time I argued with my grandfather, presenting my “progressive” perspective that he mistrusted all news outlets since he was coming from the primitive Soviet Union, where propaganda ruled the media, and a newspaper can call itself “truth” (Pravda in Russian means truth; the Communist Yiddish paper was called “emes” — truth in Yiddish, never mind that it was spelled ayin, mem, ayin, samech) — imagine a newspaper in the USA being called “The Truth.” But today, in the modern and evolved free world, where freedom of press is a divine right, we can trust the media. “Zeide,” I said, “we live in a new world. Today the media can be trusted.”

Never mind that his son-in-law, my father, was a journalist. On second thought, this may have been part of the reason why my grandfather was jabbing the media.

But today, as I have grown into a grandfather myself, I have come to think that my zeide may have had a point.

Lest you think that I have become a suspicious grouch or a conspiracy theorist, distrusting every story I read, let me assure that this is not the case. Much can be said for our open society and the free flow of information and news. But people are still people, and so are editors and writers, with all their prejudices and opinions. We must therefore underscore that we should take everything we read — even from established and respectable sources — with a grain of salt.

Part of our open media is that we can keep each other honest and accountable.

Let us all remember, and the media above all (due to the responsibility that they carry in delivering the news to the public): We are all biased and subjective, carrying within prejudices and per-conceived notions. The honest person, the man or woman of integrity, is not the one that is objective, but the humble one — the one that acknowledges his or her subjectivity, and feels accountable for presenting a skewed (even slightly) story, due to a personal or self-interest-based viewpoint. (Another example of this are those journalists and pundits that felt proud of their involvement in the Oslo talks, hoping to achieve glory, and when those talks failed, their injured pride caused them to dig in and maintain obstinate and untenable positions about Israel and the two-state solution).

And recognize that sometimes the ones accusing others of being media agitators may be the greatest agitators of them all.


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9 years ago

Many years ago I edited a newsletter for children of Holocaust survivors. I realized then that even where I put a contributors article, on the first or on the second page, was a bias already. It is impossible NOT to show bias when writing journalism.

Zmira Cohen
9 years ago

The critique you offer reaches a limited number of readers.
I wish you could counter all the smear reporting by a daily page in the NY Times! There are 2 questions that plague me: Firstly, how did this pernicious perception of Jewish/Israeli culpability, after the Holocaust, take root again, in academia of all places, where ability to discern reasonable truth from absolute subjectivity, is basic to the critical method of absorbing knowledge?
Secondly, how is it, that so many Jews should jump on to this bandwagon with such facility?
Is it a deep fear of not being accepted by the majority? Or is it the naive attitude that, if we agree with our detractors ,they (the detractors) will change their minds about the Jews in general, or us as individuals, in particular? Is this a variation of the Copenhagen syndrome? Or is it merely total unfamiliarity with Jewish history and the values our culture embodies?Somehow, it seems to me that too many Jews have been unable to project themselves into the reality of the Middle East and are unable to observe, that the rules of the game are not the rules by which the civilizations of the Western world function? And most of all, that the best in Western civilization comes from the Judaic heritage? Why have we been unable to reach the Jewish population more effectively by better and affordable educational services?

Diane Clarke
9 years ago

Thank you for your insight. It is crystal clear and absolutely accurate. I pray others see as clearly as God has helped you to see.

9 years ago

He is risen….

Marisa Naude
9 years ago

Hi Rabbi

What bothers me (not knowing the details of the NYT story) is that your suggested appropriate headline is as biased as the one you disapprove of. Who says the assasin/ shooter was a Muslim terrorist? Maybe he was a neo nazi or someone that hated this man for another reason. Is an enemy of a Jewish individual always an anti semite or a Muslim terrorist?

Louis Kraus
9 years ago

RABBI YISROEL MEIR KAGAN, the Chofetz Chaim, wrote extensively about how we should talk to each other. The goal of Better Outcomes is to take these rules make them usable for everyone. If we can get the media to pay attention, maybe we can solve this problem

Dorit Guttman
9 years ago

You made the mistake of labeling just like the author of the article. The NY times is not and has not been for quite some time, a reputable new paper.
Its very slanted all the time against Israel There are so many examples it would make your head spin. So sad 🙁

Sue Zimmerman
9 years ago

I believe visiting the Temple Mount at the moment is dangerous and should be discouraged. Energies would be better spent continuing the inspiring work of creating artifacts for the temple and planning next years Shabbat project to include two Shabbats in a row. We are well on the way to bringing Moshiach and once Moshiach comes the Temple Mount will be ours to share with the world for evermore. We should put all our energies into bringing Moshiach now, into projects that bring goodness and peace into the world.

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