New York Times Hypes Speculative Story of Mayor de Blasio and the Yeshivas
In the ongoing train wreck that is the New York Times coverage of Orthodox Jewish schools in New York comes this breathless paragraph from a news article:
Critics feared that the Orthodox Jewish communities served by the schools — powerful voting blocs that have supported Mr. de Blasio in the past — might have pushed City Hall to issue a noncritical report, and any evidence that the mayor or his staff sought to influence the review for political ends could be highly damaging.
As usual in the Times, the adverbs and adjectives are a giveaway: not merely damaging, but “highly damaging,” at least according to the Times hype machine.
I mean, it “could be highly damaging,” or it could not be damaging at all, given that the largest community that most cares about this issue — parents of the children in the schools — isn’t particularly eager to have the government meddling in the matter, and may actually be grateful to Mayor Bill de Blasio for defending their interests. It could also be that most other New Yorkers are not as obsessed with this issue as the Times imagines that they are.
One might also argue — I would argue, in fact — that education in the city isn’t supposed to be insulated totally from politics or from mayoral involvement. One reason people elect the mayor is to oversee the schools. People may disagree, in respect of Jewish schools, whether that means leaving them alone or helping them raise their levels of secular education. But one person’s “political ends” are another person’s democratic accountability. Maybe de Blasio has politics in mind. Or maybe he has the well-being of the students in the schools and their families in mind. Maybe those two things aren’t mutually exclusive or even in tension in the way the Times seems to assume.
In a series of editorials, the Times has actually supported the idea of mayoral control of the city’s schools.
In 2002, a Times editorial cheered former mayor Michael Bloomberg. “The agreement will give Mayor Michael Bloomberg direct control over public education. With that control, he should be able to get rid of unnecessary managerial layers, increase efficiency and, most important, try to improve the teacher corps and the quality of education in city schools,” the Times said then. “Barring some last-minute mischief by the New York State Legislature, always a very real possibility, the mayor will have the authority to pick his own schools chancellor and control a majority of the Board of Education. It is a credit to Mr. Bloomberg that he has achieved an agreement that eluded previous mayors.”
A 2009 Times editorial praised state legislation “that would extend, and improve, Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s direct control of New York City’s school system. The legislation extends the powers that have allowed Mr. Bloomberg to bring order to a school system that was once known mainly for patronage and gridlock.”
Got that? When it comes to a mayor’s “direct control” of the city’s public schools, the Times editorialists are cheering. But when it comes to even the possibility of the mayor getting involved in an issue about Jewish schools, the Times can only imagine the worst — that it “could be highly damaging.” As if the mayor has some sort of obligation not to get involved, when in fact the schools are in his city and it’s his education department having a look at the matter. Never mind the stereotype of the depiction of Orthodox Jews as “powerful.” If Jews are so powerful, why haven’t we gotten school vouchers passed in New York state? It’s extraordinary how the Times manages to depict Jews as both politically powerful and, simultaneously, ignorant welfare sponges.
What’s definitely highly damaging — to the journalistic reputation of the Times — is this war on yeshivas. The newspaper has called yeshiva students “dorky.” Given the past history of the newspaper’s coverage of this issue and the criticism it has engendered, you’d think the editors there might be a little more cautious, waiting to find out what Mayor de Blasio actually did or didn’t do, and observing any public reaction to those actions, rather than jumping to the speculative and premature conclusion that it “could be highly damaging.” There’s enough genuine news in New York City to fill the newspaper without hyping things that “could” happen.
Ira Stoll is the former managing editor of The Forward and North American editor of The Jerusalem Post. More of his media critique, a regular Algemeiner feature, can be found here.