NBC Deceptively Edits Rabbi, Repeating Stereotypes, Rather Than Using Honest Quotes (VIDEO)

June 27, 2013 8:30 am 5 comments

Rabbi Avraham Berkowitz. Photo: Screenshot/NBC.

The narrative the prosecution in George Zimmerman’s trial may claim is that Zimmerman was motivated by racism. This narrative reached a pinnacle of acceptance last December, after NBC edited audio of George Zimmerman’s 911 call in a deceptive manner that made him appear racist.

The truth is Zimmerman only mentioned race after being asked by the dispatcher if Trayvon Martin was, “black, white or Hispanic,” but NBC’s edits left the impression that tZimmerman brought up Martin’s race unprompted.

In other stories, NBC falsely portrayed Texas Governor Rick Perry’s ‘Black Cloud’ metaphor during the 2012 Republican primary as a racist reference to President Obama, when he was actually referring to the national debt. NBC later admitted to selective editing.

From portraying warped views of politics and race, NBC’s malicious editing is now targeting religion.

This weekend, NBC Rock Center aired an interview with Avraham Berkowitz, a bearded, Orthodox rabbi,  whose comments defied their preconceived narrative about life in Hasidic communities.

Although the rabbi advocates reporting sexual abuse to the police, NBC’s selective editing left viewers with the opposite impression. Rather than modify their narrative, NBC edited the interview to use the rabbi’s words in a context that grossly distorted his views to the point of actually totally reversing what he said.

Berkowitz is a leader of Chabad-Lubavitch, a Hasidic group that encourages interacting with the broader society, does not generally believe in censorship, and advocates sexual abuse awareness, unlike the more insular Hasidic movements represented in the segment.

But NBC apparently did not care about accurately reporting distinctions between Hasidic groups, so amid the stories of several youth transcending restrictive upbringings, censorship of textbooks, and combating sexual abuse in the most insular Hasidic enclaves, was the grossly inaccurate portrayal of Berkowitz, an honest Chabad rabbi.

NBC edited Berkowitz’s interview for the segment, all to fit the false narrative that Berkowitz was advocating handling sexual abuse allegations internally. The only good thing about it was that the rabbi’s brother advised him to record the interview to keep NBC honest, and he did.

#

In the segment that aired on national television, NBC correspondent, Dr. Nancy Snyderman begins with a voice-over narration:

But last year, the Hasidic community could no longer deny its own problems, a young women came forward to tell police her rabbi, Nechamya Weberman, had sexually abused her for years. It was a rare instance of a Hasid going to outside authorities to report a crime.

The frame then cuts to Berkowitz saying:

The community leaders within are dealing with this.

Dr. Snyderman continues with her voice-over narration:

Avraham Berkowitz is a local rabbi in the community and he says people are now acknowledging that sexual abuse is happening and insists that they can handle the problem themselves.

The frame then cuts back to Berkowitz:

Whatever these types of crimes are, they have to be eradicated, and in order to eradicate them. We have to do it within the way the community knows how to solve its problems. Because sometimes when you come banging with drums from the outside, the community becomes more insular.

In the false narrated context NBC provides, the clear implication of the parsed quotes is that Berkowitz was advocating that victims report abuse “internally” to rabbis rather than law enforcement officials.

In the unedited full context, obtained from Berkowitz who recorded the full interview with NBC’s knowledge, Dr. Nancy Snyderman of NBC never even asks Berkowitz whether he thinks abuse should be reported directly to the police, yet they superimpose his unrelated quotes in a segment addressing the issue of reporting sexual abuse.

As the full interview demonstrates, Berkowitz was referring to educational initiatives on abuse prevention, not the reporting of sexual abuse, and makes clear that rabbis should work hand-in-hand with the authorities.

Here is the full transcript. The bold quotes are the ones NBC decided to use in the segment.

Snyderman: There are, there have been crimes and the Weberman case has shined a very unflattering light on the community.

Berkowitz
: So I spoke about violent, public violent crimes of murder and rape very low, very little. When you talk about sexual abuse of children it’s something that’s being exposed. It’s a silent crime and there are deviants in every society and it’s not just in our community but as you see in the Catholic Church ……

Snyderman: And are you able to look at your community with a critical eye and say, “This is not okay”?

Berkowitz: So, absolutely. First of all we absolutely have to look at it with a critical view, the question is what do we, do we have to have this conversation in public, how do we resolve, that’s a question within the Chasidic world, how do they grapple with these dark, dark problems and how do they solve it. So if it’s talking about pushing it under the rug, no way…

In our community, for example, when it comes it’s a much more open and public debate. We are one of the largest Chasidic communities in Brooklyn,

the Rabbis work together hand in hand with the authorities

and the children are now taught that if someone is doing something inappropriate to you, you have the ABC’s. And I was so pleased with my six year old daughter tells me, “Daddy, the ‘D’ of the ABC’s, do tell. Someone does something inappropriate I’m ganna tell.”

Snyderman
: We have images of a young girl who was molested being heckled by adult men as she was going to court and even so disturbing to see a young girl who had suffered being made the villain.

Berkowitz: I’m very disturbed by those images. But again, there, we have to remember one thing. Whatever these types of crimes are have to be eradicated and in order to eradicate them they have to do it within the way the community knows how to solve its problems because sometimes when you come banging with drums from the outside the community becomes more insular. So the community needs to face this, the community leaders within are dealing with this, but sometimes what they say to the outside seems as if they’re covering up for it.

But I must say again these deviants must be punished and they now know because of the awareness that’s happening they now know that they cannot continue to commit these crimes.

They know that they’ll be caught and our children are also taught because of like I told you, you say that we are separated… they are now taught what is considered inappropriate …

… And I must say as a parent it’s the number one thing that I worry about in our camps, in our schools, what are you teaching your staff, our teachers to make sure that our children are protected. And I’m very pleased that the new programs that the Chasidic schools are teaching within our, with their sensitivities, to teach our children about the differences.

In subsequent email correspondence with Berkowitz, the producer of NBC readily admits that Berkwoitz did not advocate that victims turn to rabbis instead of the police. But NBC edited the interview and added a narrated voice-over to imply that he was referring to handling reporting internally.

Berkowitz’s view on reporting sexual abuse is of course consistent with the 2011 Crown Heights Rabbinical Court ruling, which requires that suspected abuse be reported directly to the police.

After publishing an article highlighting the inaccuracy, and after Berkowitz sent multiple emails to the producer of the show, Robert Buchanan, NBC finally agreed to remove the inaccurate segment admitting in an email that because “some are misinterpreting your … [Rabbi Berkowitz] … comment- we are going to take the story off the web.”

NBC then issued an editor’s note clarifying the rabbi’s comments on sexual abuse:

In the story, he said ‘the community can handle the problem themselves.’ Rabbi Berkowitz says he was referring to the community handling efforts to prevent sexual abuse – not whether to report sexual abuse to police. He says he has always advocated reporting suspected abuse to the appropriate law enforcement agencies…

Of course this clarification misses the point by leaving out any mention of their underlying mistakes that led to the false voice-over narration.

NBC damaged this rabbi’s reputation without taking full responsibility for creating a misperception about his views on reporting sexual abuse to the police.

Whether NBC’s deceptive editing stems from a political bias, stereotypes about Hasidic Jews, or an attempt to make material more salacious to attract more viewers, NBC should seek to restore its journalistic integrity by explaining how and why this happened and interview Rabbi Berkowitz in a way that truly demonstrates his honorable character on the tenets of Jewish belief.

Eliyahu Federman has been published in the New York Times, Jerusalem Post, The Forward, USA Today and elsewhere on issues related to sexual abuse awareness, gender equality and police-community relations. He graduated law school in NY, where he served as executive editor of law review.


5 Comments

  • Eli…Thanks for calling out the rampant unprofessionalism of NBC, NYTimes, and various other media outlets whose bias particularly against religious groups and the State of Israel has made their institutions such an embarrassing and noxious irritant over recent years. The fact that they are in a position to influence American and world public opinion makes this even more toxic and egregious.

  • This style of reporting is not new.
    It is widespread and has been around a long time. I first learned of it in my childhood. That means the 1950′s!

    It is the reason that individuals have to be careful of absorbing news items. You have to be SKEPTICAL of every news article you expose yourself to.

    I think the substance of this article qualifies to be reported to HONESTREPORTING(dot)com.

    Perhaps it would get headlines – in competing media outlets – if protesters picketed NBC with signs that say MEDIA ABUSE.

  • This article is full of accusations and conclusions but close to no facts to support them.

    How about getting Berkowitz to upload the entire unedited version of the interview and let the listeners come to their own conclusions and allow the doctor doing the interview opportunity to respond.

    That would be more helpful and more honest. Any claim of copy write issues do not apply under the not for profit educational exemption.

    • Gimpel,

      I know the Chabad community and they are peaceful, law-abiding, wonderful people. I can’t imagine that any leader of Chabad would advocate not working with authorities on any legal matter. In my own experience, there was no hesitation when someone fell and seriously injured themselves on Shabbat after services to call an ambulance and get the victim the proper care they needed.

      PLUS, NBC has a known track record of lying and deliberately misrepresenting the news. They are little better these days than the old Soviet News Agency, Ivestia. In fact, The Russian Times these days is more reliable than NBC.

    • HE DID

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Book Reviews Commentary ‎Kosher Lust: Love is Not the Answer (REVIEW)

    ‎Kosher Lust: Love is Not the Answer (REVIEW)

    Kosher Lust, by Shmuley Boteach (Gefen Publishing House, 2014). You really do want to find something positive to say about Shmuley Boteach. He is a phenomenon; very bright, an articulate bundle of energy and self-promotion. Anyone who has the chutzpah to describe himself as “America’s Rabbi” deserves ten out of ten for effort. I believe that along with most Chabad alumni, official and unofficial, he does a lot of good and is a sort of national treasure. In this world [...]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Theater Hollywood’s Revisiting of Passover’s Exodus Story a Part of Throwback ‘Year of the Bible’

    Hollywood’s Revisiting of Passover’s Exodus Story a Part of Throwback ‘Year of the Bible’

    JNS.org – In a throwback to the golden age of cinema, Hollywood has declared 2014 the “Year of the Bible.” From Ridley Scott’s Exodus starring Christian Bale as Moses, to Russell Crowe playing Noah, Hollywood is gambling on new innovations in technology and star power to revisit some of the most popular stories ever told. “It’s definitely a throwback to the 1950s and early ’60s,” Dr. Stephen J. Whitfield, an American Studies professor at Brandeis University, told JNS.org. Starting with The [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture US & Canada ‘Jewish Giant’ Headlines New York Jewish Museum Exhibit

    ‘Jewish Giant’ Headlines New York Jewish Museum Exhibit

    Eddie Carmel, dubbed “The Jewish Giant” by American photographer Diane Arbus, is the centerpiece of a new exhibit opening April 11 at The Jewish Museum in New York. Arbus met Carmel, who was billed “The World’s Tallest Man,” at Hubert’s Dime Museum and Flea Circus in 1959 but waited until 1970 to photograph him at his parents’ home in the Bronx, according to the museum. The son of immigrants from Tel Aviv, Carmel posed for Arbus with his head bowed to [...]

    Read more →
  • Music US & Canada Disney Hit ‘Frozen’ Gets Passover Themed Makeover With ‘Chozen’ (VIDEO)

    Disney Hit ‘Frozen’ Gets Passover Themed Makeover With ‘Chozen’ (VIDEO)

    A Passover themed cover of hit songs Let It Go and Do You Want to Build a Snowman? from Disney’s Frozen has attracted tons of media buzz and a cool 65,ooo views on YouTube within days of going online. The work of Jewish a capella group Six13, the track is aptly named Chozen. We are celebrating “our freedom, our favorite festival, our fabulous fans, and aspiring Disney princesses everywhere” the group said. The Chozen music video tells the story of [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Jewish Identity Retreat Gives Young Artists New Platform to Engage With Jewish Ideas

    Retreat Gives Young Artists New Platform to Engage With Jewish Ideas

    JNS.org – Many young Jewish artists struggle to define who they are personally, artistically, and religiously. Against the backdrop of that struggle, the recent Asylum Arts International Jewish Artists Retreat provided a space for some 70 young Jewish artists to explore Jewish ideas, to build community and a culture of reciprocity, and to learn skills to assist their career development. “We are trying to encourage and excite people to engage in Jewish themes,” says Rebecca Guber, director of Asylum Arts. [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Jewish Literature Darren Aronofsky Adds Psychological Depth, Little Else to ‘Noah’

    Darren Aronofsky Adds Psychological Depth, Little Else to ‘Noah’

    JNS.org – Has the era of large-scale biblical epics returned? Not since “The Ten Commandments” has there been so much torrential water on the big screen (not counting weather-related disaster films such as “The Impossible”) than in “Noah,” the latest blockbuster from writer and director Darren Aronofsky. “Noah” takes the traditional tale and splices it in an eco-friendly and psychologically driven plot. After Adam and Eve got booted out of the Garden of Eden and after Cain killed Abel, mankind [...]

    Read more →
  • Food Israel Israeli Arab Microbiologist Wins on Israel’s ‘MasterChef’ Reality Show

    Israeli Arab Microbiologist Wins on Israel’s ‘MasterChef’ Reality Show

    JNS.org – An Israeli-Arab microbiologist and mother of three won the fourth season of Israel’s most popular reality TV show, “MasterChef.” Nof Atamna-Ismaeel, 32, who holds a PhD in microbiology and is from the Israeli-Arab town of Baqa al-Gharbiyye, described winning as the “the most exciting moment in her life.” She said she plans to use the prize money to open up an Arab-Jewish cooking school. MasterChef is a popular reality TV show that originated in the U.K. It is [...]

    Read more →
  • Europe Theater Play About Muslim Man Who Discovers His Parents Are Jewish Seeking Funds

    Play About Muslim Man Who Discovers His Parents Are Jewish Seeking Funds

    Jewish comedian and writer David Baddiel is seeking public support to help produce a musical based on his film about a British Muslim man who discovers his parents are Jewish. London’s Theatre Royal Stratford East is in development to premiere The Infidel in October, London’s Evening Standard reported on Wednesday. However, the theater needs another £55,000 on top of around £200,000 already raised in order to produce the show. Baddiel, 49, retained the stage rights to the story when he wrote the [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.