New York Times Under Fire for ‘Inaccurate, Misleading’ Report on Hasidic Schools
by Ira Stoll
Even after the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) expressed “outrage” and denounced the New York Times coverage of yeshivas as “irresponsible,” the New York Times is redoubling its efforts on the topic. The Times published an article boasting about winning a journalism award for the coverage. And the Times issued yet another ridiculous attack on the Jewish schools, this one headlined, “How Public Money Goes to Support a Hasidic Village’s Private Schools.”
The Times flags a supposed “conflict” that two school board members in Kiryas Joel also serve on the board of the United Talmudical Academy of Kiryas Joel. The Times describes it as “a glaring conflict of interest.” Yet this supposed “conflict” doesn’t appear to bother the voters who elect the board members. School board members all over the country have conflicts of all sorts. Some of them are members of the teachers unions that the boards negotiate contracts with. Some of them are parents of children who attend the schools that are affected by the personnel, funding, and curriculum decisions that the boards make. The Times ignores those conflicts and, instead, of all the school board members and of all the potential conflicts, finds some Orthodox Jews to obsess about.
The Times baseline stance, so far as I can discern it after reading what seems like dozens of these stories, is that no Orthodox Jew deserves any “public money,” of any sort, notwithstanding that Orthodox Jews pay taxes, too. The Times has complained about public funding for special education services and nutrition programs at Jewish schools, as if Jewish schoolchildren deserve to starve, or those with special needs deserve to be deprived of services that are received by other students. It’s become almost comical—you half expect to see a New York Times article complaining that public money is being used to plow snow on streets where Orthodox Jews live, or that taxpayer money is being used to send out trucks to collect garbage in Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods. The same newspaper that wants to send planeloads of American dollars to the murderous regime in Iran (“sanctions relief,” “iran nuclear deal,”) sees it as a major investigative scandal if a single cent of taxpayer money benefits an Orthodox Jewish child in any way, shape, or form.
Never mind that many Jewish parents sacrifice to pay tuition at private schools while paying taxes to support public schools they largely do not use. And never mind that whatever public money Jewish schools get pales beside the government money lavished on the public schools. The Times doesn’t pay much attention to that context, preferring to depict Orthodox Jews as money-grubbing parasites, welfare sponges, echoing classical antisemitic tropes. If the Times tried this journalistic approach in covering historically Black colleges and universities, it’d be denounced as racist faster than you can spell Nikole Hannah-Jones.
The superintendent of the Kiryas Joel School District, Joel Petlin, issued a statement in response to the Times article noting that the Times “ignores the fact that we—like all school districts—are required to equitably provide these funds for services to the at-risk nonpublic school students within our borders. We have no discretion to keep this money for our public school students and every federal dollar spent is approved by the NY State Education Department.”
Petlin said the Times ignored the context the district gave the reporter, and instead published a story “that is inaccurate, misleading, and we think dangerous, as it comes at a time when antisemitism and attacks on the Jewish community are at their highest level in decades.”
The Times news article complains that “The district is also paying one son of Mr. Polatsek, the school board president, a six-figure salary to work as a teacher’s aide and emergency medical technician. It has a multimillion-dollar contract for bus service with a company managed by another of his sons.”
Now there is a rich vein. If the New York Times investigative reporters are concerned about children benefiting financially from their parents, maybe they could look a little closer to home. The New York Times Company’s 2022 proxy statement reports: “Certain Members of the Ochs-Sulzberger Family Employed by the Company during our 2021 Fiscal Year. A.G. Sulzberger was employed as Chairman and Publisher of The New York Times during 2021. See “Compensation of Executive Officers” for a description of his compensation. [That section indicates A.G. Sulzberger was paid $8,112,955 for his work in 2019, 2020, and 2021. New York Times Company stock was down 32.66 percent in 2022, destroying about $2.74 billion in value for shareholders.]
I emailed the Times reporter who wrote the story, Jay Root, asking him if he had any reply to the denunciation of his article as “inaccurate, misleading, and we think dangerous,” and also asking, “don’t you think it’s a little chutzpahdik for the 5th-generation Ochs-Sulzberger publisher of the Times who gets paid $8 million for three years by his cousins and other family members to get worked up over some school board member whose son works for the district?” Root did not immediately reply to my query.
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.