‘Who Needs the Daily Stormer When You’ve Got the New York Times?’: An Excellent Question
A Jewish organization worked tirelessly with non-Jewish allies to help win clemency for indigent prisoners, including many non-Jews, who had been sentenced to excessive sentences.
Rather than praising it, the New York Times targeted it on the Sunday front page with what the paper itself described as “an investigation.” The Times inaccurately smeared the work as an effort for “wealthy or well-connected people,” the product of what the Times called a “network” of “influential” “Orthodox Jewish leaders” operating “behind-the-scenes.” As if anyone could miss the point, the Times illustrated the article with a Protocols-of-Elders-of-Zion diagram in light blue and mustard yellow showing how all these rabbis have their tentacles in President Trump.
A thread of tweets by Newsweek editor Batya Ungar-Sargon did a fine job of assessing the situation, likening the Times investigation to neo-Nazi propaganda. “Who needs the Daily Stormer when you’ve got the New York Times? An Orthodox Jew helps free more than 4,000 Black men from prison. NYT: A LOOSE ALLIANCE OF ORTHODOX JEWS USED THEIR MONEY TO UNDERMINE JUSTICE AND PUPPET MASTER THE PRESIDENT. Anyone else who had done as much to mitigate mass incarceration would be lauded as a hero. But when Orthodox Jews do it, the whole enterprise is tainted by their ‘lobbying,’ their ‘lawyers,’ their ‘loose network;’ and of course, the crime of being Orthodox Jews to begin with! You can’t bring yourself to write about the First Step Act? Fine. You can’t bring yourself to admit Kushner did something good? Fine. But you don’t get to use your institutional allergy to reporting the facts to spread disgusting anti-Semitism.”
Ironically, the same Times reporter responsible for Sunday’s embarrassment — Kenneth P. Vogel — was as recently as 2018 assailing another “loose network” that criticized George Soros. “Employing barely coded anti-Semitism, they have built a warped portrayal of him as the mastermind of a ‘globalist’ movement,” Vogel wrote for the Times of efforts to smear Soros, which he said included notions of a “shadowy Jewish cabal” and a “common anti-Semitic trope.”
Vogel has gone from reporting on barely coded antisemitism and antisemitic tropes to, as Ungar-Sargon accurately described it, himself perpetuating it.
As the Times article itself concedes, the Orthodox Jewish groups “were not the only ones who had success with Mr. Trump.” Yet the Times doesn’t launch an investigation of the other groups, diagram them, or single them out by labeling them with their religion. It’s a double standard — bias on display.
What makes a “network,” by the Times definition? The Times reports, “The leaders of Aleph, Tzedek and their allies played a role in helping build support for a sweeping rewrite of federal sentencing laws in 2018.” By this definition, the Times itself is part of this network and should be added to its Protocols-of-Elders-of-Zion-style diagram. The paper editorialized in 2018: “liberal backers of the First Step Act, like Representative Hakeem Jeffries, the New York Democrat who is sponsoring the bill, argue that it’s better than nothing, especially in the current political environment. ‘We have a Republican president. Republicans control the House of Representatives and the Senate,’ Mr. Jeffries wrote in letter to his colleagues on Friday. ‘Those are the facts.’ He’s right.”
The Times editorialized again in 2019 that 91% of those who had benefited from the First Step Act’s sentence reductions are black, concluding, “The president can be proud of the passage of the First Step Act.” Were the paper’s editorialists part of the “loose network”? Why not launch a big front-page Sunday “investigation” of them? The reason is that they are not Orthodox Jews.
The Times isn’t bold enough to explicitly argue that the people who won clemency under Trump belong in prison at taxpayer expense, separated from their families. It marshals no evidence that these people pose any threat to society. Instead of that kind of substantive argument, which would be weak even if the Times had attempted it, the Times makes a process-based argument to assert the existence of a network. The evidence of the network is that two of the organizations used some of the same professional service providers. That’s a stretch. The New York Times Company has used McKinsey as a consultant. So did Purdue Pharma. Does that mean the New York Times is in a “network” responsible for opiate addiction? By adding the word “loose” to the word “network,” the Times has an expansive enough phrase that it can use it readily to tar anything within range with investigative innuendo.
Instead of investigating the prosecutorial abuses such as the trial penalty and “overcharging” and nonsensical mechanistic formulas that lead to long-term sentences for nonviolent first-time offenders, the Times trains its heavyweight investigative power on the entirely non-scandalous fact that some Orthodox Jews are involved, and effectively so, in the cause of criminal justice reform. What’s the scandal? The real scandal is that any editor at the Times is foolish and bigoted enough to have green-lighted this investigative project and signed off on putting it in the paper.
The context is that the editorial staff at the Times is on hair-trigger alert against racial bigotry, to the point where the editorial page editor was ousted after staff tweeted that an article made them unsafe, and a star reporter was recently forced out for repeating a slur word in an educational setting. As a Jew, Times journalism like this — falsely depicting Jews as secretly manipulating government actions on behalf of wealthy interests — makes me unsafe. Which Times editor will be canceled as a consequence? If the answer is not a single one, it is fair to conclude that Orthodox Jews are one of the few groups against which, at the Times, bigotry is acceptable.
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. A company he operates has consulted for the Aleph Institute and Tzedek Association.