Crown Heights Riots
Twenty one years ago today a car accident in Crown Heights was quickly followed by anti-Jewish riots. Nobody was more surprised by the New York Times’ coverage of the event than New York Times reporter Ari Goldman. Last year he wrote:
“When I picked up the paper, the article I read was not the story I had reported. I saw headlines that described the riots in terms solely of race. ‘Two Deaths Ignite Racial Clash in Tense Brooklyn Neighborhood,’ the Times headline said. And, worse, I read an opening paragraph, what journalists call a ‘lead,’ that was simply untrue:
“Hasidim and blacks clashed in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn through the day and into the night yesterday.”
“In all my reporting during the riots I never saw — or heard of — any violence by Jews against blacks. But the Times was dedicated to this version of events: blacks and Jews clashing amid racial tensions. To show Jewish culpability in the riots, the paper even ran a picture — laughable even at the time — of a chasidic man brandishing an open umbrella before a police officer in riot gear. The caption read: ‘A police officer scuffling with a Hasidic man yesterday on President Street.’ …
“On Aug. 21, as I stood in a group of chasidic men in front of the Lubavitch headquarters, a group of demonstrators were coming down Eastern Parkway. ‘Heil Hitler,’ they chanted. ‘Death to the Jews.’
“Police in riot gear stood nearby but did nothing.
“Suddenly rocks and bottles started to fly toward us and a chasidic man just a few feet away from me was hit in the throat and fell to the ground. Some ran to help the injured man but most of us ran for cover. I ran for a payphone and, my hands shaking with rage, dialed my editor. I spoke in a way that I never had before or since when talking to a boss.
“‘You don’t know what’s happening here!’ I yelled. ‘I am on the streets getting attacked. Someone next to me just got hit. I am writing memos and what comes out in the paper? ‘Hasidim and blacks clashed’? That’s not what is happening here. Jews are being attacked! You’ve got this story all wrong. All wrong.’”
One exception was former NYT editor A.M. Rosenthal, who wrote
“The press treats it all as some kind of cultural clash between a poverty-ridden people fed up with life and a powerful, prosperous and unfortunately peculiar bunch of stuck-up neighbors — very sad of course, but certainly understandable. No — it is an anti-Semitic pogrom and the words should not be left unsaid.”
The same paragraph could describes coverage of the Israel – Arab conflict.
Goldman later complained about how a subsequent New York Times piece paralleled the man who was deliberately murdered by an angry mob with the child who was killed in the traffic accident
“Perhaps most troubling was an article written in the midst of the rioting under this headline: ‘Amid Distrust in Brooklyn: Boy and Scholar Fall Victim.’ The article compared the life of Gavin Cato, the 7-year-old boy killed in the car accident that spurred the riots, and the life of Yankel Rosenbaum, 29, who was stabbed to death later that night. It recycled every newspaper cliché and was an insult to the memory of both victims, but, again, it fit the frame.
“’They did not know each other,’ the article said. ‘They had no reason to know… They died unaware….’ In the eyes of the Times, the deaths were morally equivalent and had equal weight.
Terrorist attack killing Rachel Levy
Elder of Ziyon points out that the New York Times continued seeking new lows. In the Crown Heights case the New York Times ignored the difference between car accident and murder by mob, but at least it was paralleling two innocent victims. Ten years later it used the same format to compare a terrorist murderer with an innocent victim.
“The suicide bomber and her victim look strikingly similar.
“Two high school seniors in jeans with flowing black hair, the teenage girls walked next to each other up to the entrance of a Jerusalem supermarket last Friday.
Ayat al-Akhras, 18, from the Dheisheh refugee camp near Bethlehem, was carrying a bomb.Rachel Levy, 17, from a neighborhood nearby, was carrying her mother’s shopping list for a Sabbath eve dinner.
“The vastly different trajectories of their lives intersected for one deadly moment, mirroring the intimate conflict of their two peoples. At the door of the supermarket, Ms. Akhras detonated the explosives, killing Ms. Levy and a security guard, along with herself.”
The New York Times is currently fanning the flames against Sheldon Adelson. On August 14, Governor’s Romney pick for Vice President, Congressman Paul Ryan, went to meet with the Republican’s top donor. The NYT’s original coverage of the event was fair and balanced, referring to Adelson as a “casino mogul and Major G.O.P. donor, referring to the visit as a “meeting,” and not giving even a hint to Adelson’s religion or pro-Israel leanings until the tenth paragraph, and then doing it fairly.
But that day President Obama’s campaign e-mailed his supporters that
“Paul Ryan is making a pilgrimage to the Sands’ Venetian casino in Las Vegas to kiss the ring of Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire casino magnate who’s already donated more than $35 million to Republican groups in this election.”
Henceforth the New York Times adopted the Obama campaign’s language.
Their editorial copied Obama’s pilgrimage language. Charles Blow copied the phrase kiss the ring. Trip Gabriel atoned for co-writing the original balanced piece by mentioning Adelson’s pet cause, Israel in the first paragraph of his NYT blog post. Thomas Friedman had already blasted Adelson, asserting that Governor Romney’s trip to Israel was all about satisfying “the political whims of the right-wing, super pro-Bibi Netanyahu, American Jewish casino magnate Sheldon Adelson … it was all about money anyway — how much Romney would abase himself by saying whatever the Israeli right wanted to hear and how big a jackpot of donations Adelson would shower on the Romney campaign in return.”
The pilgrimage to kiss the ring of the evil rich Jewish Zionist war-mongerer who pulls the strings of the American Christians. It would be unfair to accuse the NYT of anti-Semitism since they never make similar suggestions about donations from Jewish liberals like George Soros. It’s only right-wing or religious Jews that draw the NYT’s fire.
New York Times columnists have played a leading role in promoting the view that most opposition to the president is racist in nature. Two thirds of voters reject this idea, but far more blacks than whites believe it.
I was in New York City when it elected David Dinkins its first black mayor in 1989. I had the same reaction as I would have after the 2008 election. I hoped that people were right, that we were entering a new era of racial harmony. In both cases, the opposite occurred. Racial tensions and anti-Semitism both rose. I still thank God that George Zimmerman was “white Hispanic” and not Jewish so that race-baiters like Al Sharpton could at least leave out the anti-Semitism this time.
Things are going to get worse before they get better. The New York Times certainly isn’t helping. The president needs another huge turnout from his base to win re-election and nothing like race-baiting and anti-Semitic imagery to gin up the base. The New York Times is doing its part. The good news: Many New Yorkers, including many Jews, recognized their mistake and voted for the Republican, in that case Rudy Giuliani. Things stopped getting worse. Crown Heights is no model of friendship and goodwill, but the anti-Semitic mobs haven’t returned. Perhaps history will repeat itself on the national scale.