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March 11, 2018 5:48 pm

What Really Bothers The New York Times — Nepotism in the White House, or Jews?

avatar by Ira Stoll


Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump. Photo: Ryan Johnson via Wikimedia Commons.

The New York Times recently unveiled an unusual three-part editorial series (one, two, three) on the evils of “nepotism in the White House.”

After a brief attempt to distinguish between its own family business and the president’s (“A legacy of family control has helped sustain many private companies, including The New York Times. But it has never been embraced in public service by Americans…”), the Times sets out a brief history of presidential family assistance, from John Quincy Adams through Robert Kennedy, Rosalynn Carter, and Hillary Clinton.

The context is useful, because none of the other presidential relatives have gotten the three-part-series treatment and the extensive negative coverage that the Times is giving to President Trump’s daughter Ivanka and her husband Jared Kushner.

The Times greeted President Kennedy’s appointment of his brother Robert as attorney general, for example, not with a three-part editorial series on the evils of nepotism, but with a mere couple of paragraphs in an editorial on December 17, 1960:

The one appointment this far that we find most disappointing is Mr. Kennedy’s choice of his young brother Robert as Attorney General. Let us willingly grant that Robert Kennedy is tough, able, alert, hard-hitting and single-mindedly devoted to his older brother’s interests — all qualities that came through with clarity this year when he was the extremely astute manager of John F. Kennedy’s campaign for nomination and then election.

But these are qualities, coupled with the complete trust the President-elect has in him, that entitle him to an important position in the White House as a confidant or adviser of the President, not as chief legal officer of the United States. In the post of Attorney General he will be in charge of the civil rights program, of the antitrust program, of the appointments to the Federal judiciary, among many other responsibilities. If Robert Kennedy were one of the outstanding lawyers of the country, a pre-eminent legal philosopher, a noted prosecutor or legal officer at Federal or state level, the situation would be different. But his experience as counsel to the McClellan committee, notably successful as he was, is surely insufficient to warrant his present appointment.

It turned out that Robert Kennedy was a wonderful attorney general who played an important role both in racially integrating Southern state universities and in mediating a peaceful conclusion to the Cuban Missile Crisis. But that’s another story.

Back during the Kennedy administration, the Times uttered not a peep of editorial protest to John Kennedy’s appointment of his own brother-in-law, Sargent Shriver, as founding director of the Peace Corps.

In 1960, the Times’ position seemed to be that a presidential relative would be a fine White House adviser. Yet when it comes to that role as played by Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner in the Trump White House, the Times of 2018 finds it unacceptable. What could possibly account for the Times’s change of perspective on the issue?

One clue is provided by the opening paragraph of the Times editorial attack on Jared Kushner. Like many Times attacks on Jews or Israel, the Kushner-bashing editorial happened to appear in the print newspaper on a Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, when religious Jews are limited in the ability to respond to such an attack. The editorial begins:

For a Middle East negotiator, President Trump could have chosen a seasoned envoy trusted by all stakeholders and fluent in the region’s nuance. Instead, he appointed the heir to an opaque Manhattan real estate empire with deep ties to Israel who boasts that, as a businessman, “I don’t care about the past.”

Did you catch the mention of “deep ties to Israel”? What really bothers the Times editorial writers about Jared Kushner, in other words, isn’t that he is President Trump’s son-in-law, but that he has what the newspaper calls “deep ties to Israel.” In fact, while the editorial is ostensibly about “nepotism,” the word “Israel” appears five times.

In case any Times readers didn’t get the point from the five mentions of Israel in the Kushner editorial, including the one in the first paragraph, the newspaper had prepared the ground with a print op-ed under the too-cute title, “Has Jared Kushner Conspired To Defraud America?” (If the newspaper had any solid evidence he had, it wouldn’t need to phrase the headline as a question.)

That op-ed said:

On Tuesday, The Washington Post reported that “officials in at least four countries” — United Arab Emirates, China, Israel and Mexico — “have privately discussed ways they can manipulate” Mr. Kushner by taking advantage of his “complex business arrangements, financial difficulties and lack of foreign policy experience.” The president gave his son-in-law an expansive foreign policy role, including an effort to negotiate peace between Israel and the Palestinians. The implication in the article is that the United States government has intercepted communications of foreign leaders talking about ways they could take advantage of Mr. Kushner…

The biggest concern in the Post report — and surely one reason such intelligence led to Mr. Kushner’s being stripped of his interim top-secret security clearance last week — is that foreign countries would offer him personal financial benefits…

What’s the greater security risk? The groundless speculative concern, irresponsibly fueled by the Times and playing into the old antisemitic accusation that American Jews are disloyal, that Kushner is going to be a paid asset of Israel? Or the anonymous sources who demonstrably jeopardized American intelligence methods by disclosing intercepted communications of foreign leaders? The Times is apparently very concerned about Kushner, but the newspaper expresses no concern about the anonymous leakers who let the foreign leaders know we can listen in on their private communications.

In case the source of the Times’ disdain for Jared and Ivanka wasn’t totally clear, the newspaper gives it away in the third and final editorial of the series, when it writes, “After Mr. Trump blamed ‘many sides’ for a violent neo-Nazi demonstration in Charlottesville, Va., in which a young counterprotester was killed, Ms. Trump, who converted to Judaism when she married Mr. Kushner, tweeted an anodyne rejection of ‘racism, white supremacy and neo-Nazis.’”

How is Ivanka Trump’s religion or the timing of her conversion at all relevant? Shouldn’t everyone be against neo-Nazis? The Times has no problem celebrating Jews who convert to Christianity (see here and here and here for examples), but when a Christian converts to Judaism, the Times can’t seem to handle it.

It’s almost enough to make a reader suspect that what really bothers the Times isn’t “nepotism in the White House” but Jews in the White House. I’m not saying that Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump should be beyond all criticism. And I’m not saying that any criticism of them is necessarily motivated by antisemitism. I don’t want to draw any conclusions about the Times’ motives or cast any aspersions. But when one Times editorial mentions Israel five times and the other Times editorial goes out of its way to mention Ivanka Trump’s Judaism, it’s hard to avoid looking back, again, at the Robert Kennedy example. Not only did the Times only devote a couple of paragraphs rather than three entire editorials to the Kennedy appointment, but somehow the Times failed to mention at all Robert Kennedy’s deep Roman Catholic faith or his family ties to Ireland. Whether the double standard is for Democratic presidents versus Republicans ones or for Christian presidential relatives versus Jewish ones, the clear conclusion is that there’s been a dramatic lack of consistency in the Times approach to the issue.

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

The opinions presented by Algemeiner bloggers are solely theirs and do not represent those of The Algemeiner, its publishers or editors. If you would like to share your views with a blog post on The Algemeiner, please be in touch through our Contact page.

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