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October 7, 2020 5:18 pm

New York Times Flunks Again in Coverage of Jews and Coronavirus

avatar by Ira Stoll


A taxi passes by in front of The New York Times head office, Feb. 7, 2013. Photo: Reuters / Carlo Allegri / File.

Double standards. Factual errors. Disproportionate coverage and lack of context. Conflicting information.

The problems that consistently afflict New York Times coverage of Jews and Judaism, particularly Orthodox Jews and Orthodox Judaism, are flaring again amid the newspaper’s coverage of New York’s latest coronavirus outbreak.

A New York Times column this week by Ginia Bellafante faulted the “insular” community for being ill-informed. “The city needs to do a better job at getting information to an insular community that already believes it has herd immunity,” a subheadline over the column said.

The column begins:

“DO NOT test your child for Covid.”

So began a text that recently circulated on the messaging platform WhatsApp, among yeshiva parents in Brooklyn’s Orthodox Jewish community.

A few paragraphs later, the Times column says, “many large Hasidic families live in small, cramped apartments, typically without internet access and often with just a landline.”

The end of the column includes the paragraph, “In a community that prizes seclusion and remains averse to technology, information has a tendency to spread very slowly.”

So which is it — landline only and technology averse? Or texting on WhatsApp? The Times columnist can’t seem to make up her mind about which broad-brush stereotype to deploy in describing Orthodox Jews.

The same column reports:

Governor Cuomo and his health commissioner, Howard A. Zucker, have also been talking to religious leaders …One crucial message that has yet to be received, Dr. Zucker said, is that herd immunity is a myth in these communities. Many in this part of Brooklyn believe that because the Orthodox were hit so hard by the virus this spring, they must have already been sick, and that the crisis has passed. This, according to public health officials, is simply not true.

Well, where could this “insular” community have possibly gotten this “myth” of herd immunity from?

Quite possibly from The New York Times itself, which in a July 10 news article reported:

According to antibody test results from CityMD that were shared with The New York Times, some neighborhoods were so exposed to the virus during the peak of the epidemic in March and April that they might have some protection during a second wave.

“Some communities might have herd immunity,” said Dr. Daniel Frogel, a senior vice president for operations at CityMD, which plays a key role in the city’s testing program… While stopping short of predicting that those neighborhoods would be protected against a major new outbreak of the virus — a phenomenon known as herd immunity — several epidemiologists said that the different levels of antibody prevalence across the city are likely to play a role in what happens next, assuming that antibodies do in fact offer significant protection against future infection.

“In the future, the infection rate should really be lower in minority communities,” said Kitaw Demissie, an epidemiologist and the dean of the School of Public Health at SUNY Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn.

A Times news article headlined “Backlash Grows in Orthodox Jewish Areas Over Virus Crackdown by Cuomo” carries a correction: “An earlier version of this article misstated the title of Simcha Felder. He is a state senator, not a state assemblyman.”

The Times news article describes the protesters against Cuomo and de Blasio as a “angry” and a “mob,” terms the Times has largely avoided using to refer to Black Lives Matter protesters, whom the newspaper has repeatedly described as “mostly peaceful.”

Three paragraphs of the Times article report “the anger was not limited to the Orthodox Jewish community. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, which has 1.5 million followers and 210 churches in Brooklyn and Queens, said it was taken by surprise by the governor’s announcement. Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn condemned the new rules as ‘outrageous’ in a statement on Tuesday night.”

“The religious freedom of our parishioners is being unjustly attacked,” DiMarzio is quoted as saying.

One wonders why the Catholics are three paragraphs in the middle of a long story and headline about the Jews, rather than the Jews being three paragraphs in the middle of a long story and headline about the Catholics. Maybe the idea of Catholics as spreaders of disease just doesn’t resonant as much for New York Times editors?  As a libel against Jews, though, it has a long, sordid history at the Times, of which this is just the latest sad chapter.

Ira Stoll was managing editor of The Forward and North American editor of The Jerusalem Post. His 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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