I would like to give a shout out to Shoshana Keats Jaskoll on her recent blog “Who needs rabbinic leadership? A call for Orthodox organizations to heed the voices of the women they cannot see” and Rabbi Natan Slifkin on his “How to save Orthodox Judaism.” Both articles discuss the major shortcomings of the news and magazine based media targeting the Orthodox world. The fact that women are removed from pictures and convicted criminals are glorified in these publications is absolutely accurate. The fact that stories are skewed to make the community always appear righteous and beyond reproach are completely true of these tabloids. The fact that important stories are overlooked for fear that the community cannot handle reality is evident in these periodicals. If there is any truth to the idea that news is fake, it is not so much in the New York Times or Haaretz but in Ami and similar papers and magazines.
In 2011, I published a book on abuse — Abuse in the Jewish Community. Shortly after I was invited to speak about the book on a radio show. I was informed that I would be the only guest speaking on the topic, but I was blindsided. There was another guest, the publisher of one of the magazines referred to, who took his time to criticize me and the book. As I listened to him rail against me for not being accurate or fair, I realized that he likely did not read the text I wrote. So I asked him on air if he did. His response was that he did not have to see that I was an evil individual. I did not berate him overtly; there was no reason to. Anyone who could be a critic without reading the book was no critic at all.
I foolishly thought it would end there. It did not. About two weeks later an editorial appeared in his magazine with a caricature used by Nazis to depict evil Jews. In the article he berated me and while he did not specifically use my name he did otherwise identify me. This was not about news or entertainment. I must admit that I was shocked by the virulence of the article but at the same time I realized it reflected a preconception so radical that his magazine was designed to perpetuate only what he wanted to believe. This was about two things, his desire to have “news” presented in a completely biased manner and his ego.
Not long after that a Hareidi newspaper publisher contacted me. He wanted to interview me and get my “insight” into “some important issues affecting our world.” I agreed simply because he sounded knowledgeable and sincere. And, he was. His questions were well articulated and on point. I had one request of him. I asked if I could see the article before it went to print. He actually consented, most publications do not allow that. The article was well written and my comments were not altered. There was only one problem. When my background was listed the publisher changed the yeshiva I went to. Apparently he felt that I needed more Hareidi cred so he took it upon himself to change my background for public consumption, his public. Honesty and accuracy be damned.
And then there was the case where I was interviewed along with other professionals for a series of articles for a Hareidi magazine. For some reason my bio was the only one of the professionals not included. When I asked why I was told there was no reason, “just an oversight.” They told me it would be corrected. I am waiting to see if that will happen.
So, yes, there are problems with ultra-Orthodox publications. My experiences may pale by comparison to the fact that felons are covered as heroes or that an entire gender is erased. However, all of these experiences attest to the fact that much of what is published is dismissable as incomplete or even fake.
I agree with Rabbi Slifkin that a more centrist weekly publication to counter the bias might be helpful. I also agree with Shoshanna Keats Jaskoll that people should stop buying ultra-Orthodox tabloids. But we live in an age of tribalism. These newspapers and magazines have a readership that they are playing to, a readership that accepts as gospel much of what they read in these newspapers and magazines, a readership that is steeped in a cultural cognition which rejects information that is believed to be incongruous with their firm cultural beliefs. They will not be easily disengaged from the “fakeness” that they choose to buy.