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December 25, 2014 1:40 pm

‘Are You Brain Dead?’ CNN Exec’s Shocking Question to Young Jewish Activist

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CNN's Atlanta HQ; one of its top executives asked a Jewish high school senior whether she was "brain dead" after she challenged him over Israel coverage. Photo: Wikicommons

Hayley Nagelberg, a high school senior from West Orange, NJ, has revealed that a top CNN executive asked her if she was “brain dead” following a question-and-answer session in Atlanta, where the news broadcaster is based, earlier this week.

Nagelberg, who was among 700 Jewish teenagers from around North America gathered in Atlanta for the United Synagogue Youth’s  64th annual international convention, wrote about the exchange in a blog for the Times of Israel. The meeting with Richard Davis, the Executive Vice President of News Standards and Practices for CNN, was part of a study session around the concept of “love your neighbor as yourself.”

Wrote Nagelberg:

During the hour that I spent listening to [Davis] and his colleague Etan Horrowitz, CNN’s Mobile Editor, I felt my jaw drop lower and lower in disbelief, and the scowl on my face grow increasingly intense in anger and frustration.

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Davis told me and my peers and staff that it is up to us, and everyone else, as consumers to check other news sources if we think we may want more information. He said, “You can’t be in the news business and also be a babysitter to the people that only read the first paragraph”. I was confused. Isn’t it a news organization’s job to provide the facts? While an educated reader should always check a variety of news sources for different presentations, one should expect a leading news distributor to get the basic story right. And in a day and age where most people only read headlines, or maybe the first few lines or paragraphs if you’re lucky, shouldn’t CNN make sure that all salient and truthful information can be found there?

During an animated conversation about CNN’s “abysmal” coverage of last month’s terrorist atrocity at a synagogue in the Har Nof neighborhood of Jerusalem, in which four worshippers and a Druze policeman were brutally murdered, Davis was asked to explain why the broadcaster initially identified the synagogue as a “mosque.”

“To expound on how the words ‘mosque’ and ‘synagogue’ could have been swapped, Davis gave an even more infuriating response,” said Nagelberg. “Apparently, in the room where the headlines were written, there was some conversation taking place regarding a mosque in Damascus. ‘Haven’t you ever written something you heard instead of what you meant to write?’ he asked.”

Undeterred, the feisty Nagelberg approached Davis directly after the session concluded.

I questioned him on the Har Nof headlines again. I first had to prove to him that I had in fact even seen the headlines I was questioning. When I managed to satisfy his questions, I wanted to know why CNN, when releasing the headlines at issue, couldn’t call it a terrorist attack. Davis explained that they would never jump to a conclusion that anything is a terrorist attack. “Okay”, I said, fully understanding the weight that the word “terrorist” carries. “But by the time it was known that it was four Israelis and two Palestinians, it was known that there were meat cleavers and stabbings involved. Why couldn’t you call it an ‘attack’?” I continued. His response? “You’ve got to be kidding me? One word? Are you brain dead?”

Nagelberg concluded, “No, I am not brain dead. I am a seventeen-year old girl from New Jersey who is appalled by the biased media coverage of Israel here in America,” before wondering aloud whether Davis, who was “one of the CNN’s original team members at the 1980 launch,” according to the broadcaster’s website, might be suffering from the same affliction himself.

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