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May 6, 2021 5:17 pm

New York Times Finds Riverdale Synagogue Attacks Not ‘Fit to Print’

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avatar by Ira Stoll


Ohel Menachem Riverdale Jewish Youth Library Lubavitch, where glass windows were smashed in New York on April 25, 2021. Photo by Lev Radin/Sipa USA

Rock-throwing attacks on four synagogues in the Bronx, for which a suspect was arrested and released, have been national and international news.

CNN covered the story. The Washington Post covered the story. The Wall Street Journal covered the story. The Arizona Republic covered the story. The Daily Mail, a British tabloid, covered the story.

Yet the New York Times — which has as part of its name “New York,” the city where the attacks happened — hasn’t found the news fit to print.

A search on the Times website for the name “Jordan Burnette,” the person arrested and charged on 42 counts, including hate crimes, for the attacks, produces no results from 2021. A search for “Riverdale,” the Bronx neighborhood where the synagogues were targeted, turns up no results about these synagogue attacks, either. The Times “today’s paper” function simulating the print newspaper headlines doesn’t even break out New York stories into their own section anymore for the weekday paper, instead lumping them in with “national.” But there appears to be no headline in recent days about the case.

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The Times website provides a contact form for the newspaper’s new metro editor, James Dao. I wrote to him asking why the Times had decided to skip covering the attacks on the synagogues. He did not get back to me with an answer by deadline. That’s too bad; if he had, I’d have been happy to supply his side of the story.

Richard J. Tofel, the longtime and extremely successful news executive, recently urged news organizations to “get serious about transparency” and abandon the “trust us” approach. Wrote Tofel, “It’s simply no longer correct that ‘the less said, the better.’ … In an institution that faces the public as much as does a newsroom, the most sophisticated instinct is one that favors transparency. If we want to regain the trust of our audience, after all, we need to trust them. That begins with sharing with them the facts as we find them.” The Times might consider taking Tofel’s good advice.

Maybe there’s some justification for skipping the story: no one was injured in the attacks. The Times has mostly dealt with anti-Asian-American violence not by reporting individual arrests or incidents but with a big project. That project said, “Using media reports from across the country, The Times found more than 110 episodes since March 2020 in which there was clear evidence of race-based hate.” That’s great, but if other outlets took the same approach as the Times, there’d be no “media reports” for the Times to find, because the individual episodes wouldn’t even be reported to begin with.

In the absence of the Times providing an explanation, one is left to speculate. Maybe the paper is just institutionally bad at covering antisemitism — it did a bad job with the Holocaust, as Laurel Leff documented in her book Buried by the Times, and it did a bad job with the Crown Heights riots, as even Times journalists involved in that coverage have publicly conceded. Maybe the paper doesn’t care about mostly Orthodox synagogues in the Bronx, but would have paid a lot of attention if rocks were thrown at Reform synagogues in Manhattan or in Park Slope, Brooklyn. Maybe the Times thinks attacks on Orthodox Jews are a rational response to a population that, if one reads the New York Times coverage carefully, are responsible for spreading measles and coronavirus while sponging on welfare, failing to educate their children, and supporting an apartheid state. Seriously, that’s what someone who reads the New York Times would take away about Orthodox Jews.

Anyway, if, just hypothetically, an Orthodox Jew were ever arrested for throwing rocks through the windows of the New York Times headquarters, Washington bureau, or Jerusalem bureau, or even, say, four Brooklyn mosques — does one think the Times would find that news fit to print? Of course I am not suggesting anyone do that: Violent attacks on vulnerable civilian targets are wrong, as is the destruction of other people’s property. Lots of other outlets, from CNN to the Washington Post to the Wall Street Journal, apply a consistent standard in finding such actions newsworthy. That the New York Times hasn’t been able to find space or reportorial resources to fill its readers in on this particular story is too bad.

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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