Wednesday, August 20, 2008


As children, many of us played a game that I used to call telephone/telegraph. We all sat in a circle. One person whispered something to the person sitting next to him/her. That person whispered what he had heard to the person sitting on the other side of him/her. And so it would go until the message had gone round the entire circle. You know what? The original message rarely got to the last person in its original form. The more complex or difficult the original message, the less likely that it would survive intact. Even simple messages were sometimes garbled.

Now let's look at the following:

Police today raided the premises of _______________. Working on an anonymous tip they were told that_____________was dealing in pirated copies of____________. The police allege that this pirating has been going on for the past ten years. The principals of___________are Joe Brown, Antonio Rodriguez and Aaron Schvartz. Mr. Schvartz, an Orthodox Jew, said:___________.

What's the first key word in this "news report"? ALLEGE. To allege is to assert without or before proof. Something is alleged until there is proof that it is true or false. "Alleged" does not mean that what you are reading is factual. And yet, for many people who only skim or partially read or hear a news story or other kind of story, allege is the word that disappears in the retelling. As "news" travels from place to place, from person to person, it becomes one large game of telephone/telegraph. Nothing is alleged; everything is true.

Another phrase in that report that gets garbled is anonymous tip. Tell me, if you got an anonymous tip to put all your money into a particular stock because it is going to take off like a rocket to Mars, would you do it? Wouldn't you want to know who was saying this? With rare exception, when I see anonymous I see unsubstantiated and uncorroborated things being said. However, in the news version of telephone/telegraph, anonymous somehow morphs into "trusted expert" and the like.

But there is one word in the report that everyone is going to remember and no one will garble: "orthodox Jew." Yup, that designation will travel with the story wherever it goes. For some people that designation will become the story; it won't be important what was done or if anything was done, but whatever it is or isn't was committed by an Orthodox Jew. In the sample report above, there are three people who are principals of the firm, yet only one is identified more specifically, and that identification is "Orthodox Jew." Let none of us kid ourselves. We stand out from the crowd because of the way we dress--and hopefully the way we speak and act-- and once we have been identified, certain suppositions are going to be made about us.

I once had occasion to meet a rather well known journalist at a professional convocation. The weather had already turned fairly warm and there I was in a long skirt and a long sleeved top. As we introduced ourselves he came straight out and asked me "Orthodox Jew?" Occasionally I've been known to think fast on my feet and I answered "No, bad legs and a case of eczema. But why would you ask?" He was kind of taken aback at the question. He hemmed and hawed and basically answered that he likes to know whom he is dealing with. I asked if he would have asked the same religion question to anyone else in our group. More hemming and hawing and no answer really forthcoming. I pushed him a little and asked him what he would have said had I been wearing a cross around my neck. Would he have asked me if I was a practicing Catholic? I then pointed out to him that pre-judging based on what you think you know, based on a stereotype, is a violation of basic journalistic principles. Journalists are supposed to deal in facts, not suppositions. And then I asked him this: "And if I were Orthodox Jewish, what would that tell you about me? How would that knowledge help you at this particular conference?" He disengaged from the conversation with speediness. I really don't think he wanted his preconceptions and personal biases challenged that day.

By the time the report above goes the telephone/telegraph route we are going to be reading/hearing a story about Aaron Schvartz, an ultra Orthodox Jew, who has been pirating_______for 17 years, making millions of dollars on which no taxes were paid, and who was finally caught through solid investigation and proof on the part of the police. A good dose of skepticism is a useful tool to have when reading/hearing "news reports," particularly when they in some way concern orthodox Jews, or the State of Israel. As I have said before, just because it gets printed doesn't mean it's so. Sad, isn't it?


Anonymous said...

Not Orthodox, not even Jewish and 90% of my clothing is tzniut. (Sometimes I wear v-necks.) I've gotten used to answering, "No I'm not hot/cold; no, I don't have to dress this way; no I'm not religious, etc."

Anonymous said...

There's more misinformation out there then there is legitimate information. Finding out what really happened requires you to be a first class detective, and even then you can't always get to the truth. We bought a Toyota LE. Someone reporting this at some point couldn't remember the car name but said it was the L car. The listener passed on that we bought a Lexus. That somehow became that one of us got a mega raise and were now well off enough to buy whatever we wanted. And sure enough the fund raising committee of the shul and local yeshiva called up suggesting that we pony up a hefty donation now that we had all that money. The car was used by the way.

And yeah, if a Jew was involved they are always going to mention that, at least if it is bad news.

Lion of Zion said...

welcome back. hope you had a good vacation.

Anonymous said...

It seems to be a fact of journalistic life that one Jew and whatever that Jew does represents all Jews with no exceptions. No one ever assumes that about Catholics who get into the news, if you even know they are Catholics. When Kennedy was President no one assumed that when he said something he was representing all Catholics with his views. It may not be fair, but today's reporting isn't about being fair and unbiased--it's about printing what will sell. Jews apparently sell newspaper stories.

Anonymous said...

ProfK - to be fair, it is an ALLEGED crime until convicted by the court. It is a news report, they reported that police arrested people for a crime blah, blah, blah. What do you want them to do, wait until the trial to print it?

As for the orthodox Jew bit, media often reports its thus. They would have mention he was a priest had he been one, or a religious Mormon or a public office holder or any other outstanding group that is professing to be religious or to be our leader.

Remember in the news the were talking about a politician cheating on his wife? Men cheat on wives all the time, but because he is a politician and strives to be a leader they mention him.

Orthodox Jews (black hat/beard types) are seen on par with ministers and priests, so if they are caught doing something wrong media reports on it. Many in the media don't know that OJ did not take an oath, but were just born into this lifestyle.