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January 4, 2019 11:06 am

New York Times Smears Orthodox Jews, Violating Own Policies and Promises

avatar by Ira Stoll

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

When I began writing for The Algemeiner, one of my first columns was about a Times article headlined “F.B.I. Questions Police Leaders Amid Inquiry Into Businessmen Linked to de Blasio,” in which it took the Times only two paragraphs before injecting the religion of the businessmen into the story.

The column, headlined “New York Times Smears Orthodox Jews, Violates Own Policies,” asked, “If these businessmen — Jona Rechnitz and Jeremy Reichberg — were, say, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, atheists or lapsed Catholics, do you think the Times would mention it in the third paragraph of the news item about the investigation?”

The Algemeiner column went on to note, “here is the entry on religion from my 1999 copy of the New York Times stylebook: ‘The religion of a person in the news should be mentioned only when it is pertinent and its pertinence is clear to the reader.’”

As recently as 1986, the Times issued an editor’s note, clarifying, “The race, religion or ethnic background of a person in the news, under The Times’s policies, may be specified only if it is pertinent to the news. And in such a case, the relevance must be demonstrated in the article.” In that 1986 case, the paper said, the religious reference “did not meet this test and should not have been cited.”

I followed up with another column reporting that the Anti-Defamation League called the Times coverage “disturbing” and “irresponsible,” and that the then-metro editor of the Times, Wendell Jamieson, conceded, “we could have explained it better in today’s story, and will endeavor to do so in the stories that will inevitably follow.”

More than two and a half years later, Jamieson is no longer employed by the Times. He turns out to have been correct, though, that more stories would follow. Whether the Times has “explained it better,” though, is open to question, as two recent examples show.

A December 17, 2018 Times news article begins, “On Christmas Day 2013, two Orthodox Jewish businessmen dressed up as Santa, wearing red-and-white felt hats, and packed the trunk of a black Aston Martin convertible with gifts they later delivered to high-ranking New York City police officials. Earlier that year, the men — Jeremy Reichberg and Jona Rechnitz — had invited police officials aboard a private jet headed to Las Vegas for Super Bowl weekend at the MGM Grand. Mr. Reichberg had solicited a prostitute to join them, and selected a revealing outfit for her to wear on the flight.”

In that one, the Times mentioned the “Orthodox Jewish” status of Reichberg and Rechnitz in the first sentence of the story, though the religion of the police officials involved goes unreported by the Times.

I wrote to the Times reporter whose byline was atop that article, Jan Ransom, on December 19, 2018, asking her, “I wonder why you and or your editors felt it was relevant to include in the first sentence of the article the religion of Reichberg and Rechnitz — ‘two Orthodox Jewish businessmen…’ but not to include the religion of officer James Grant, who is also on trial, or of David Villanueva, or of any of the other police officers involved. I don’t know what religion if any they adhere to, but if the point is to point out religious hypocrisy or failure to adhere to the moral strictures of the religion, it seemed to me to be a bit tilted to do that with only the Orthodox Jews and not the other guys. I wanted to give you and or your editors a chance to respond before writing about it.”

Ransom didn’t bother to respond to my email.

This week, the Times has another article about the case, also under Ransom’s byline, reporting on the jury’s verdict in the case after a seven-week trial:

A former police commander was acquitted of federal corruption charges on Wednesday after a seven-week trial in which prosecutors contended he had done favors for two businessmen in return for lavish gifts, including a junket to Las Vegas with a prostitute.

The jury in Federal District Court in Manhattan found James Grant, who was a deputy inspector in the New York Police Department, not guilty on all charges. Still, jurors decided to convict one of the businessmen, Jeremy Reichberg, on several bribery and conspiracy charges involving other police officials.

The jury found Mr. Reichberg not guilty on one count — that he had paid bribes to Mr. Grant.

This time around, the Times doesn’t initially identify the religions of Grant or Reichberg. Even so, though, the Times bias against Jews and Israel manages to shine through. The Times reports, “Mr. Grant’s lawyer, John Meringolo, said his client and Mr. Reichberg had met in Borough Park — a predominantly Orthodox Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn — more than a decade ago.” This is just weird. When the Times covers crimes or alleged crimes or government corruption cases that happen in predominantly Christian neighborhoods, or in predominantly African American neighborhoods, does it say so? Rarely, if ever.

The Times reports, “Mr. Rechnitz testified that he and Mr. Reichberg also courted Philip Banks III, a former chief of the department, the highest ranked uniformed officer. They showered him with gifts and took him on several trips, including to Israel.” If there were “several” trips, why does the Times only name one destination, Israel?

The paper didn’t say, “Israel, a predominantly Jewish country.” Given the tenor of the coverage of this one, I suppose one should be thankful, though if the Times did describe Israel, like Borough Park, as “predominantly” Jewish it would at least undermine the false claim the Times has published elsewhere that “undemocratic rule by a Jewish minority” is not a “hypothetical future” but the “unacceptable present.”

What’s really unacceptable, at least to this reader, is the double standards and policy violations in the Times‘ own coverage of this court case.

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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