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July 23, 2019 9:32 am

New York Times Stealth-Edits Morgenthau Obituary to Add Jewish Angle

avatar by Ira Stoll

Opinion

Then-Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau announces the indictment of former New York Giants receiver Plaxico Burress on charges of possession of a loaded pistol and reckless endangerment in New York, Aug. 3, 2009. Photo: Reuters / Jamie Fine / File.

The New York Times has “stealth edited” its obituary of longtime district attorney of New York County Robert Morgenthau after The Algemeiner pointed out the article’s egregious omission of his Jewish identity.

The version of the obituary published in Monday’s print Times and online Monday morning entirely omitted Morgenthau’s role in founding New York’s Museum of Jewish Heritage.

After the Algemeiner article was published, the Times revised the obituary, which was published again in Tuesday’s print edition in the Times.

The sentence that on Monday read, “Robert Morris Morgenthau was born in Manhattan on July 31, 1919” was revised for Tuesday’s paper to read, “Robert Morris Morgenthau was born in Manhattan on July 31, 1919 into a family originally of German-Jewish stock whose roots in America reached back to the 1860s.” I’m not sure why the word “originally” is needed there, but at least the word “Jewish” has been added.

For Tuesday’s paper, the Times also added an entirely new paragraph to the article: “He had earlier played a major role in founding the Museum of Jewish Heritage: A Living Memorial to the Holocaust in Lower Manhattan and was its chairman into his 90s.” The phrase “in Lower Manhattan” in that sentence is inartfully placed, making it sound, because of the string of capital letters, like there was a Holocaust in Lower Manhattan. But at least the museum is mentioned.

Even the new and improved version of the Times obituary fails to mention Morgenthau’s heroic role in assisting the heirs of Holocaust victims seeking to recover looted artworks, a role in which he took on the New York art world.

A “stealth edit” of the sort the Times performed here is not as good as an editor’s note or a formal correction, but it’s better than nothing. It is a tacit acknowledgement by the Times of the reality that the original version of the obituary could have done a better job of handling the Jewish angle.

Ira Stoll was 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.

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