Why Crown Heights Hate Crimes Aren’t Newsworthy
Noting the recent spate of hate crimes against Jews in his community, Rabbi Yaacov Behrman, who heads the Crown Heights-based “Jewish Future Alliance,” innocently asked, “Where is the public outrage? Indeed, why isn’t this front-page headlines?”
In the wake of Congresswoman Ilhan Omar’s controversial comments, and reports of rising attacks on Jews around the world, Rabbi Behrman deserves an answer. As someone who ran a successful crisis communications firm in New York for 25 years, I’m happy to explain.
The mainstream media has abandoned all pretense of objectivity. Whereas in the past journalists viewed themselves as unbiased chroniclers of the news, their focus today is on manufacturing it and dominating the ensuing conversations. A journalist’s influence today isn’t determined by the quality or accuracy of their reporting, but rather the size of their Twitter following and the frequency of their television appearances.
As the spark of the Omar controversy, journalist Glenn Greenwald tweeted a story about GOP House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy threatening action against Omar and Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib for their comments on Israel. The tweet included this personal comment: “It’s stunning how much time U.S. political leaders spend defending a foreign nation even if it means attacking free speech rights of Americans.”
“It’s all about the Benjamins baby,” Omar retweeted in support.
Forward opinion editor Batya Ungar-Sargon joined the conversation, asking Omar to identify who’s “paying American politicians to be pro-Israel.” To which Omar responded, “AIPAC!” Ungar-Sargon then admonished, “Please learn how to talk about Jews in a non-anti-Semitic way. Sincerely, American Jews.”
Twitter isn’t a community engaged in Talmudic-like discourse and debate. Rather, it’s a forum where people shout and scream at each other, often using obscenities, and offer up opinion bonbons. The tweeter who gets the most retweets is deemed the wisest. Twitter also gives its users an exaggerated sense of importance; Ungar-Sargon does not speak for all American Jews. Indeed, some Jews commenting on an article about the controversy argue that Omar’s tweets weren’t antisemitic.
One could mistakenly conclude from reading the most trafficked Twitter comments that America’s black leaders overwhelmingly support the BDS movement. In fact, some black leaders vigorously oppose the movement and are at the forefront of efforts to defeat it. One such leader is New York Assemblyman Walter Mosley, whose district includes parts of Crown Heights.
Mosley knows Israel’s history and appreciates that Ralph Bunche, a black political scientist, contributed mightily to the country’s founding. He also understands that the BDS movement is driven by antisemitism, and his district makes him an authoritative source on hate crimes. Unfortunately, Mosley has less than 5,000 Twitter followers, so journalists don’t deem his comments worthy.
The Crown Heights hate crimes don’t reflect the worldview of America’s mainstream journalists. Hate crimes are largely of interest to them if attackers are wearing MAGA hats and chanting support for President Trump.
So, if Rabbi Behrman wants the Crown Heights hate attacks to make front-page news, he needs to spend considerably less time studying Torah and build up his Twitter following from the measly 5,000 followers he has now. By comparison, Omar has 587,000 followers.
But it’s debatable whether it’s worth the effort because the mainstream media has lost its credibility with the American public. For example, a recent poll found that more than two-thirds of the public think that the news media “is more concerned with advancing its points of view rather than reporting all the facts.”
The mainstream media’s refusal to cover the Crown Heights hate crimes underscores that the American public is a lot smarter and more perceptive than reporters on Twitter understand.
Eric Starkman is a Los Angeles-based writer. For 25 years, he owned and managed a New York PR and crisis communications firm. Earlier, he was a journalist with major publications in the US and Canada.