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November 29, 2020 7:37 pm

Times Bares Its Anti-Hasidic Bias in Covering COVID-Era Weddings

avatar by Ira Stoll


Orthodox Jews in Brooklyn following the cancellation of a wedding with 10,000 invited guests due to coronavirus restrictions, Oct. 19, 2020. Photo: Reuters / Lev Radin / Sipa USA.

When is the religion of wedding guests worth reporting in the era of COVID-19?

For the New York Times, only if it is Hasidic Jews getting married.

“$15,000 Fine After Secret Hasidic Wedding Draws Thousands of Guests,” was the headline over a Times news article earlier this month. Never mind that the wedding wasn’t a “secret” to either the guests or to Times readers and editors who appear to take pleasure in COVID-shaming Hasidic Jews, feeding a longstanding antisemitic stereotype about Jews as spreaders of disease. The Times reported that “The wedding in Brooklyn, which lasted for more than four hours, was held at the Yetev Lev D’Satmar synagogue in Williamsburg and celebrated the marriage of Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum, the grandson of Satmar Grand Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum. The bride’s name could not be determined.”

Compare that to the Times treatment of two other weddings. “Wedding and Party Infect 56 and Lock Down 300,” was the Times headline over an article about a wedding at “the North Fork Country Club in Cutchogue.” The Times didn’t name the participants in that wedding. With this one, the Times doesn’t say whether the people getting married were Jewish, Christian, atheist, or some other religion. No religion mentioned in the headline of that article, and no religion mentioned in the article itself. No mention of the occupation of the bridegroom either—perhaps the occupation is only worth mentioning, in the Times’ view, if the occupation is rabbi. The Daily Mail identified the couple as Cydnie Piscatello and James Rugnetta.

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The Times also mentioned in passing in a recent news article that “In rural Maine, a wedding with 55 guests ultimately resulted in 177 cases.” But that wedding got no headline coverage in the Times, and no Times description of the religion of the participants. The New York Review of Books reported, “On August 7, 2020, a Maine wedding became a super-spreader event when sixty-two guests, most not wearing masks or practicing social distancing, in defiance of state regulations, gathered indoors at the Tri-Town Baptist Church in East Millinocket and later supped and danced at a reception, also indoors, at the Big Moose Inn. Officiating was Todd Bell of Calvary Baptist Church…. According to the Maine CDC, the wedding plague has triggered outbreaks at a county jail, a nursing home, and a school, causing more than 270 cases of Covid-19 and killing eight.” But for the Times, the religion of COVID-era weddings is only worth mentioning when there are Hasidim involved.

In the past I’ve tried to cut the Times a little slack on this issue by offering the explanation that news is what happens near a reporter or editor, and lots of Times editors and reporters live in Brooklyn adjacent to Orthodox Jews, while few live in rural Maine. Yet that explanation does not suffice. Times photographers captured umasked or masks-under-the-chin dancing in the streets of Brooklyn and Atlanta this month to mark Joe Biden’s election victory. Rather than scolding the participants (who did not appear to be Orthodox Jews), the Times celebrated it with a front-of-the arts-section critic’s notebook piece by a dance critic describing it as “a celebration of community” and “reclaiming…your faith in the world.”

The organized Jewish community has been slow to recognize the biased coverage for what it is, but there are some encouraging recent signs that that is beginning to change. The executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Boston, Jeremy Burton, tweeted out a link to a Times article about a party at a Queens, NY sex club (no religion mentioned in the Times account), and commented sarcastically, “80 people at sex club in Queens. 120 at illegal club in Manhattan. 550 at Halloween party in the Bronx. Sheriff responding to ‘1 large event every evening since August.’ But sure, keep talking about how Orthodox Jews are cause of NYC COVID spread.”

A writer for Tablet, Armin Rosen, tweeted, “There have been frequent large gatherings of the people all over the city since early May, but it doesn’t get talked about because it doesn’t reinforce any useful media or political narrative…or at least the gatherings that don’t involve Jews don’t reinforce any useful media or political narrative.”

This is not to recommend that anyone, Hasidic Jew or not, host a large in-person gathering or attend one. It is simply to observe that the Times has a standard in covering this event that is not being applied equally. When participants are Hasidic Jews, they get described as such. When participants are something else, the Times leaves it out of the story. It’s enough to make a reader suspect that what really bothers the Times and its readers is less the behavior than the Hasidic Judaism.

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.

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