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July 20, 2017 3:21 pm

New York Times Obituary of Harvard Figure Omits His Clashes With Jewish Community

avatar by Ira Stoll

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The headquarters of The New York Times. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

A laudatory New York Times obituary of a Harvard “neurobiologist and explorer,” S. Allen Counter, managed somehow to omit any mention of his acrimonious relations with the university’s Jewish community.

It’s not that they were any kind of secret. As the Harvard Crimson reported:

In 1982, The Crimson filed a formal complaint with the University against Counter, charging religious discrimination.

Counter had allegedly referred to a Crimson reporter as a “militant Jew” in a conversation with another Crimson staff member. According to the reporter, Adam S. Cohen ’84, Counter had never met him and knew nothing about him except his name.

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In a 1985 magazine article, Counter wrote, as The Crimson described it:

“para-white ethnic groups” who influence the media use the word “nigger” to denigrate Blacks and “to convince themselves and other of their imagined white identity.” The article never specifically mentions Jews.

One passage says “the widespread increase in the use of ‘nigger'”…may well be part of a much larger ethnic scheme designed to denigrate Afro-Americans and keep them as the focus of negative attention for the American majority.”

Another passage reads, “Significantly, the media forms through which some conspire to traduce Blacks with racial epithets are not controlled by the ostensibly racist white groups.” The article blames “Euro-American individuals and special interest groups with powerful influence in the media” for common use of the epithet.

Counter refers to movies such as Blazing Saddles, The Godfather, Roots II and Saturday Night Fever and he says the media may do more damage to Black society than groups such as the Ku Klux Klan.

In 1992, a student leader of Harvard Hillel, Daniel Libenson, called on Counter to resign as director of the Harvard Foundation for Intercultural and Race Relations after Counter wrote a letter complaining about “Crimson writers active in Hillel.” (He may well have been talking about me.) Counter later apologized for the letter, which the dean of Harvard College at the time condemned as “disturbing” and “very unfortunate.” Libenson wrote:

It has becomes clear that Dr. Counter is no longer a suitable Director of Harvard’s racial diversity organization. At best he is out of touch with today’s racial climate, willing to make accusations about campus groups based on sloppy research or outright lies, and is engaged in publicly putting down individual students.

At worst, Dr. Counter’s letter insinuates a Jewish conspiracy on campus between Hillel and The crimson (led by “Crimson writers active in Hillel), trying to put forward a “racial agenda” different from that of the Foundation.

Having devoted my entire college career to building a racial climate of mutual respect and understanding, all the while believing that this was also Dr. Counter’s goal, his letter leaves me utterly devastated. His behavior is immature and shocking coming from a Harvard official.

A charitable explanation would be that the Times omitted mention of any of this in its obituary as part of some kind of wise and admirable policy of restraint, not speaking ill of the dead because they aren’t able to speak in their own defense. Yet the Times applies a different standard in its obituary of Raymond Sackler, published a day after the one of Counter. Of Sackler, the Times writes: “Raymond Raphael Sackler was born on Feb. 16, 1920, in Brooklyn to Isaac Sackler and the former Sophie Ziesel, Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe who ran a grocery store.” In the Sackler case, the Times provides extended treatment to misconduct that even the Times concedes had no personal connection to Raymond Sackler:

OxyContin, introduced in 1995, was Purdue Pharma’s breakthrough palliative for chronic pain. Under a marketing strategy that Arthur Sackler had pioneered decades earlier, the company aggressively pressed doctors to prescribe the drug, wooing them with free trips to pain-management seminars and paid speaking engagements. Sales soared.

By 2001, prescriptions for OxyContin were generating more than $1.5 billion a year — surpassing sales of Viagra — and accounted for some 80 percent of the company’s revenue.

OxyContin, made with a synthetic version of morphine, was said to be nonaddictive because in the form of long-acting tablets, it released its active ingredient slowly.

But the time-release effect could be defeated by crushing the tablets and snorting the powder, or by smoking it, or by adding water and injecting it — all for an immediate, sometimes heroinlike, high.

Federal regulators accused Purdue Pharma of misleading consumers when it asserted that OxyContin was less likely than traditional narcotics to be abused.

In 2007, the company agreed to pay $600 million to resolve the federal charges, although its executives insisted that they had adequately informed doctors and consumers about the potential for drug abuse and had responded quickly to reports of overdose deaths.

They also said they had contributed to independent research on pain to guard against rampant overprescribing.

“During the past six years, we have implemented changes to our internal training, compliance and monitoring systems that seek to assure that similar events do not occur again,” the company said at the time of the settlement.

Several company officials pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of misbranding and were fined more than $34 million. The Sacklers personally were never formally accused of wrongdoing.

So Sackler, who wasn’t personally or formally accused of wrongdoing, but who was Jewish, gets a whole section of his Times obituary devoted to misconduct. Counter, who was accused of wronging the Jews, gets a sanitized Times obituary that focuses only on his good work and omits his missteps. It’s a Times double standard.

More of Ira Stoll’s media critique, a regular Algemeiner feature, can be found here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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