From the Columbia Journalism Review November 2000:
A former stand-up comic and a dynamic public speaker, Gary Rosenblatt, editor of The Jewish Week, sounds half asleep, partly distracted and somewhat medicated when we chat by phone Thursday morning, June 24, 2004.
"How happy are you with your job?"
"I love it."
"How happy are you with your paper and which parts if any most need to be improved?"
"I'm happy with the paper overall. We could stand improvement across the board. We're always trying to reach more readers, particularly younger readers, more people outside the organized Jewish community."
"Would you describe The Jewish Week as a compelling read?"
"I don't want to tout our paper, but it's certainly our goal to be a compelling read."
"Would you describe it as the best Jewish newspaper?"
"I'd have to give the same answer."
"What do you think are the obstacles to good Jewish journalism?"
"I sometime describe our ongoing dilemma this way -- a Jewish journalist works with two competing mandates. The first commandment for journalists is to probe, explore and uncover and all the things people expect when they pick up their daily paper. On the other hand, one of the commandments in the organized Jewish community is the opposite, to cover-up and create a unified front, and not present any negative impression to the outside world. The Yiddish expression, shandze fer de goyim (scandal for the goyim). You're always walking that tightrope -- doing the job of a journalist and being a responsible part of the Jewish community."
"How much status does a journalist for a Jewish paper have in Jewish life?"
"We're like the Rodney Dangerfields of Jewish life. We don't get any respect. On the other hand, it is incremental in building respect. I think it can be there. It depends on the paper and the individual. It is too easy to hide behind the notion that there is some inherent part of our job that makes us not respected by the community. If you do a good job, you are respected by the community."
"What do you love and what do you hate about your job?"
"I write about and deal with issues that are meaningful to me. One of my first jobs was with TV Guide (sports editor from 1970-72). If you get a high from writing for a big audience, that was great. Now I get to combine my love of journalism with Jewish life. The downside is the same. Sometimes it can be dispiriting when you see the pettiness of the community you really care about. People you admire until you meet them. See their egos and the things that motivate them. Sometimes you wish you had just known them from a distance."
"How do you deal with threats, such as threats to the financial survivability of the paper if you publish something that a powerful person does not want?"
"It is part of the nature of the job. I remember in Baltimore, we did a story about Israel bonds. We were told that if that story appeared, it would not only hurt that local bonds drive, but the state of Israel was going to suffer. They both survived.
"That doesn't mean I'm dismissive of what you'd call a threat, which is a pretty strong word. A cautionary message. I try to take them all seriously and not be so cavalier as to not think about the consequences of things we write. My experience has born out that the sun will still come up the next day. I have yet to see the kind of article that would be so destructive. There are threats of boycotting the paper and boycotting our advertisers but it hasn't gone anywhere."
"Your paper was famous for its investigation of [Rabbi] Baruch Lanner and the abuse situation. Many people think that have you information about other rabbis who were similarly abusive. You even wrote a column about information pouring in to you. But you didn't seem to go on to investigate other rabbis with the same zest you applied to Lanner?"
"I don't think that's accurate. I have a lot of files. One rabbi in particular I've been trailing for over three years. I've talked to many dozen people. I have to apply the same standards as I would for the Lanner story. We have done stories about other rabbis and other cases of abuse. Until it meets that bar, I have continued to pursue some of these stories.
"I think the Lanner stories have had a corrective element. I've written that I don't think that the newspaper should be the mechanism for dealing with these issues. There should be communal mechanisms. The reason people come to us is that they have struck out everywhere else in the community. They come to us out of frustration and desperation. There was a rabbi [Willig] who was on the Beit Din on the Lanner case who I wrote about last year. He did a public mea culpa about his role."
"How would you rate the quality of Jewish journalism done on the Federations?"
"It depends on city to city, newspaper to newspaper, issue to issue. If I pick up a Jewish newspaper from different parts of the country, I sometimes wouldn't know what community I was reading about if I covered up the masthead. It's a lot easier to run a JTA story about what is going on in Israel than to send a reporter to cover a conflict in your own neighborhood. It's cheaper and safer to the run the JTA."
"Are there any individuals in the Jewish Establishment who you would regard as the greatest threats to Jewish journalism because they're bullies?"
"Yeah. I wouldn't name them. I've met some national Jewish leaders who've told me, not in a bullying way, that they believe that the role of Jewish newspapers is to promote Israel and the Jewish community and to unify the community and not to write critical articles about the community. I differ with that. The best way to educate, enlighten and involve people in the Jewish community is to tell them what is really going on. If we tell them we are one, all we do is lose our credibility. I don't think we are one is a goal."
"How often do you encounter bullying?"
"There are varying degrees of it, from canceling subscriptions to stopping advertising to getting my friends to do those things."
"What's the biggest hit you've taken for publishing a story?"
"It's hard to measure. When the Lanner story first broke, we were threatened with institutions pulling their advertising. We didn't see it happen."
"What are the joys and tribulations of being a Federation paper?"
"We do not consider ourselves a Federation paper. We have no formal ties with the UJA Federation. There was a time when the UJA were ex-officio members of the board of The Jewish Week but that stopped about eight years ago. They buy subscriptions for people who give $50 or more to UJA."
"Does that make them the dominant force behind the paper?"
"Yeah, in that sense, sure. Then we have close to 30,000 subscribe directly."
"How many papers does the Federation buy?"
"It depends from year to year."
"Between 55,000 and 70,000."
"If they are buying about twice the number of papers than subscribers, could not the paper be fairly called a Federation paper?"
"I don't think so. We have no formal ties. They don't have any say in editorial or financial matters. It's their choice. They think it serves them well to supply their donors with a Jewish newspaper.
"Some of the pressure I got in Baltimore, where we were an independent paper, was just as strong as the pressure I get here. From the Federation and the Establishment community."
"If you wrote a memoir, would you have a pile of stories you weren't able to work into the Jewish papers you've worked on?"
"I have a file I keep called, 'My Last Issue.' Not necessarily a tell-all memoir, I'd just like to deal with some of these issues."
"There isn't a market for hard-hitting muckraking Jewish journalism for a Jewish audience?"
"Jewish readers tend to be very bright, well-read, sophisticated people, and if you present them good journalism, I think they will want to read it."
"What did your father the rabbi think of your going into journalism?"
"He was proud of me. He used to tease me that if I stayed away from the rabbinate because I saw you live in a glass house, he'd say he only had his congregants giving him a hard time while I had everybody giving me a hard time. But they don't pay my salary directly."
"What's your relationship to Judaism?"
"I consider myself an active observant Jew."
"Do you believe in God?"
"Yep. I think it is a misinterpreted word. I don't think it means chosen to be better than everybody else. It means simply to be responsible."
"You're happy to believe that the Jews are God's Chosen People?"
"I don't have a choice."
"Some Jews reject it."
"I don't reject it."
"How do you think the Internet and blogging is affecting Jewish journalism?"
"That's a good question. It's very hard to say. I always wonder who has the time to read a lot of these blogs. I don't get the impression that those audiences are wide but I guess they're pretty deep. It does give me a lot of pause because I think it has the potential to reach as many people as standard journalism but it doesn't have the checks and balances and an editing process that more normative journalism has. That's something to worry about."
"You think that's more of a downer than a good sign?"
"It's certainly worrisome. People can come home late at night and write anything off the top of their head and send it out and it's out there."
"Is that scary?"
"It can be."
"Do you think we have too many checks and balances in Establishment Jewish journalism?"
"No. They are the same checks and balances you have in any professional journalistic enterprise, maybe with an added element of sensitivity, which I don't think is a bad thing. I don't think it is a question of whether or not you do a story but how you do a story. I don't see any stories that are absolutely verboten, but it depends on how you treat it."
"You should be sensitive to save people's feelings?"
"You should be aware of feelings. At times it is inevitable you will hurt people's feelings, say a rabbi who's losing a job. You have to weigh that against what you owe the readers in the larger community. Those are tough calls. I don't think there are clear definitions. They are ad hoc and made as much from your kishkes as from your brains."
"Did you read the book The New Rabbi?"
"What did you think of it?"
"Well, you know, there was a lot that I admired and I think he went a little too far sometimes in exposing people, specifically embarrassing them in ways that he could've handled a little more indirectly and gotten the same message across and not be as hurtful."
In my interviews, I never found a journalist who was willing to criticize Gary on the record. Most of them wanted to be friends with Gary. They regarded him as Mr. Jewish Journalism. Rosenblatt is hard to dislike even if you passionately disagree with him. He's not a threatening guy.
Gary views Jewish journalism as another form of Jewish communal service, like working at a shul or the Federation. Most hardcore journalists regard journalism as a holy calling unto itself.
April 21, 1997
Gail J. Hyman
To: Mr. Gary Rosenblatt
I wanted to put in writing our growing concern over the continuing lack of presence for UJA-Federation we feel in the page of Jewish Week.
Despite several regional pieces that ran last week on agency activities and the Joint Passover story on page 44, it is still difficult to locate UJA-Federation's name or communal role in the paper. Only a thorough read of all editions of the paper uncovers our identity; there remains no visible presence for us organizationally.
I bring this perspective to your attention because our leadership's increasing frustration and dissatisfaction with Jewish Week is at an all time high. Coverage of UJA-Federation, even as we engage in dialogue with you to change the situation, remains inconsistent. It is no longer sufficient to tell our leadership we are making progress when the newspaper demonstrates otherwise. It would seem that unless improvement in coverage of UJA-Federation is immediately forthcoming, meetings with the new subcommittee will not be of any use.
Gary, it would seem that based on the paper's track record in recent weeks, your commitment to assuring a consistent presence for UJA-Federation is in question.
I know that you are out of twon over the Passover holiday. I do hope that you will call me as soon as you return so that Steve, you and I can meet to discuss the seriousness of this situation and try to help avoid continuing on a course that could ultimately be very detrimental to Jewish Week.
CC Stephen D. Solender
August 25, 1995
From Gary Rosenblatt, editor and publisher of The Jewish Week:
Dear Mr. and Mrs. [Lawrence] Tisch [of Rye, NY 10580]:
I have been told that you were hurt by my column in last week's issue of The Jewish Week [pointing out that the Tisch family owns Lorillard Tobacco Company, Lawrence Tisch was once president of the Presidents Conference] and for this I sincerely apologize.
My intention was not to cause you embarrassment but to highlight some of the complex issues involved regarding Jewish views on smoking.
This unfortunate incident reminds me of the moral of a story my late father, who was a rabbi in Annapolis, MD, for 40 years, used to tell. [Man, Hasidic rabbi, gathering feathers for lashon hara.]
I am particularly mindful of that lesson now, and if I had it do over again, I would have tried to express my views in the column without bringing specific names into it.
In writing columns and editorials in Jewish community newspapers for more than 20 years, I have always tried to be sensitive to those I write about. But in these last few days I have come to appreciate that I can never be too attuned to people's feelings and I will strive to be more diligent in the future.
Perhaps I had come to think of your family as an institution rather than consisting of real people with real feelings. In any case, please know that I have the greatest respect for you and your good works and hope that in that spirit you will understand, if not forgive, my words from last week.
August 31, 1995
Draft Letter To All Jewish Week Board Members
[From Richard L. Hirsch, president, cc'd to Gary Rosenblatt, Richard Waloff]
As part of my responsibilities as president of the Board, I wanted to bring you up to date on some important matters.
By now, most of the Board members are probably aware of the controversy that erupted following publication of Gary's column "Where There's Smoke" in our August 18th issue. The Tisch family and Lester Pollack took umbrage at the criticism leveled therein and, not surprisingly, UJA took up the cause in defnese of their honor as major philanthropists. On August 24th, a meeting between representatives of The Jewish Week and UJA was held, yielding two outcomes:
1. An oversight had occured and the Board expressed regret along with unwavering support of The Jewish Week staff. Gary on the one hand, and MOrt and I on the other, would send the Tisch family and Lester Pollack conciliatory letters to smooth over any offense that might have been taken.
2. This relatively small controversy -- which for the most part has been resolved -- has further galvanized UJA's desire to dissolve its formal association and financial ties with The Jewish Week over a shorter time period than previously agreed upon.
The second point above is the larger issue which we at The Jewish Week need to focus on. The Board has courted this matter over the years but the time has come to address it proactively.
With that in mind, The Jewish Week and UJA have agreed to form a joint ad hoc committee to study options and opportunities, and to recommend a path for accelerating the amicable and mutually-beneficial separation of the two organizations. I suggest that The Jewish Week delegation comprise Stuart Himmelfarb, Larry Kobrin, Gary Rosenblatt, Rich Waloff and myself.
I believe that we must tread cautiously in these discussions, but at the same time be sensitive to the position of UJA. The Jewish Week has a terrific staff and an excellent product and we must protect not only our financial investment but, most importantly, the Week's raison d'etre.
August 31, 1995
To Mr and Mrs Lawrence Tisch
[From, Richard L. Hirsch, president of The Jewish Week, Morton A. Kornreich, Chairman]
Dear Billie and Larry:
We understand that Gary Rosenblatt has contacted you in an effort to resolve any misunderstandings that may have been created in the wake of the publication of his column titled "Where There's Smoke" in the August 18th issue of The Jewish Week. We would liek to add emphatically that the mention of the Tisch family name in this editorial context was not meant to detract from the magnitude of your philanthropic acts, which are legendary. Rather, its purpose was to sound a plea on behalf of the younger generation for the help which certain of the most powerful members of the Jewish community are uniquely positioned to provide. Unfortunately, the tone of the column was perceived as more critical than intended, and Gary and we regret that.
The Jewish Week strives to achieve journalistic balance in its coverage of the New York-area Jewish community. However, insofar as concerns the Tisch family, striking this balance would require that every paragraph of criticism be followed by pages of praise for your many acts of generosity. We are all mindful of your leading and multi-facted philanthropic role and for that you have earned the gratitude and respect of many, including us.
August 26, 1995
From Lawrence A. Kobrin
I sent this after the lunch meeting. While it may state the obvious, we seem to be drifting into an "assumption" that the communal "Nirvana" would be no payment of any kind from UJA-Federation to the Week. From their point of view, this would be simply crazy and they should not go around hinting to us or anyone else in the discussion that this is the real goal.
From: Lawrence A. Kobrin
At our meeting earlier this week concerning Jewish Week, there was some discussion of the long term financial plan for the relationship of UJA-Federation to the publication. In fact, a "blue ribbon" committee is now scheduled to explore the matter, although there seems to be an expectation or assumption that its final conclusion will be elimination of financial "subsidy" from UJA-Federation to the Week. From the point of view of the Week, that may be an acceptable long range conclusion about which the principal concern is one of timing or schedule. From the point of view of UJA-Federation, however, it wouldbe a terrible mistake which would undermine the very things we are mandated to do under our strategic plan and ultimately create a financial disaster for UJA-Federation. Several of us around the table were both directors of the Week and of UJA-Federation. It is from the latter perspective that I write a caution.
If one were to fantasize that the Week had suddenly achieved a large paid subscription base outside of the mailing list of UJA-Federation and was thus able to eliminate any financial relationship with UJA-Federation, the theory under which we appear to proceed would be that the best next steps would be for UJA-FEderation to eliminate any financial payment, to advise its donors that there was no further subscriptions although they were free to subscribe on their own. Based on our experience with the Long Island survey, in which the majority of those surveyed did not bother to respond and a substantial portion of those who simply did not [want] any Jewish publication sent to them, I would venture the guess that the vast majority of our donors, at all levels, would simply stop the Week and not receive any substitute (unless you consider The New York Times a source of Jewish news information).
As I said at the lunch meeting, our greatest problem is indifference and inattention to any Jewish information (beyond that contained in the Times or the Journal). If we do not force our way into the mailbox, for most of our donor population, and certainly the segment that is unaffiliated with synagogue life, there will be no contact or communication.
It is not clear to me how the opponents of the relationship of UJA-Federation to the Week propose to deal with this problem. Are we to rely on voluntary subscriptions to reach our prospective donor base, the Jewish community at large? Why will the marginally interested subscribe to anything? The Forward has been unable to attract a large reader base in New York. The World is similarly unable to do so. The Sentinel has become a joke with most of its "distribution boxes" abandoned or used for other publications. The Jerusalem Report, a slick and well written publication, has yet to hit big numbers in the New York area. The various national magazines have had similar difficulty. The Hebrew language HaDoar is in desperate condition and the scholarly journals have a limited subscription base which reach the scholars and few beyond.
Thus, once "independence" of the two institutions is achieved, UJA-Federation would have to proceed to consider what means to use to reach its donor base and hopefully beyond. The only means avaialble to do would be through the kind of publication that the Week now is. Anything more limited in scope or content would be viewed by most recipients as a house organ "throw away" and treated accordingly. Presumably, there would then be a negoations over the "discount rate" subscription price to be imposed for large direct mailings. I suspect that we would then be exactly back where we started except that the payment involved would be listed in a different way on the UJA-Federation administrative budget.
Perhaps I have missed something, but I fail to understand, from the point of view of a director of UJA-Federation, how all the rhetoric about "freedom of the press" and "playing fields" changes any of this analysis or projection. What the exploration of the strategic plan process, the several successive continuity studies, and our own experience at UJA-Federation should have taught us is that the greatest enemy is a complete indifference (particularly in the younger generation of non-traditional Jews) to all things that conern our organization. If we do not communicate with that group, we will ultimately have no Jewish agencies to which to allocate any budget or funds. That would be a disaster of unimaginable proportions.
I would hope that the study now to be made would keep this need in focus as the real goal and not simply the current pressures from specific communities or individuals or the need to find some extra savings in the administrative budget.
To: Jewish Week Board of Directors
While we recognize and take great pride in our longstanding and generally positive relationship with Jewish Week, we also acknowledge that there is a need to improve it. Indeed, at times, the relationship between UJA-Federation and Jewish Week has been a difficult and ambiguous one. We wish to clarify and strengthen it by each of us committing to our shared long-term goal of providing the Jewish community with news about it and the work of UJA-Federation, its campaigns and agencies.
To that end, UJA-Federation will continue to make its donor list available to Jewish Week for subscriptions so long as Jewish Week provides UJA-Federation with the regular "presence" it needs.
While we recognize Jewish Week as a quality paper in which we can all take pride, we believe it can maintain its quality while also fulfilling UJA-Federation's need for presence.
We are suggesting that a joint group of UJA-Federation and Jewish Week leadership be formed to regularly monitor the agreed upon goals and execute the plan as detailed in this memorandum. As was stated in the UJA-Federation Board of Directors resolution of February, 1994:
"WHEREAS, a fundamental principle governing UJA-Federation's consideration is that it remains committed to having a Jewish newspaper reach all of our donors so that issues concerning the Jewish community, including the message of UJA-Federation's campaign and the story of our agencies, is told and a sense of commitment and community is developed among our donors at the lowest possible cost..."
We are committed to assuring that this resolution be realized through our strengthened relationship.
RECOMMENDATION: To clarify UJA-Federation's realtionship with Jewish Week, we recommend that the following statement be included in the paper's staff box: "Jewish Week is an independent community newspaper. UJA-Federation buys subscriptions for its donors to assure that they are informed of news of the Jewish community. UJA-Federation bears no responsibility for the news or editorial material contained herein. Any positions reflected are solely those of the Jewish Week."
The Executive Committee of UJA-Federation recommends the following changes to increase coverage and give UJA-Federation presence both graphically and editorially.
* Priority changes proposed by UJA-Federation's executive committee.
* EDITORIAL: Train and sensitize Jewish Week reporters and editors to UJA-Federation as a resource and seek out its perspective on important stories. (EXAMPLE: The December 27th issue, UP CLOSE section, "Target Practice." We would have preferred more opportunity to help shape the piece, as well as provide more balance through either a sidebar or column.)
* UJA-Federation's role should be integrated into any featured story concerning one of its agencies. Encourage reporters to use UJA-Federation professional staff as key resources to help shape agency-based stories from our perspective, with our insights. * Develop one UJA-Federation cover story per month in all editions (12 a year).
* LEADERSHIP COLUMN: Arrange for a monthly column by a broad representation of UJA-Federation leadership. Columbs would be assigned to appropriate leadership and scheduled to address timely and important organizational efforts/issues.
* ADVERTISING: UJA-Federation should be the first full-page ad; UJA-Federation should develop an ad to conform with the space of the inside front cover page.
* Greater sensitivity of all UJA-Federation ad placements that should emphasize not only which page the ad appears but what sections its appears in (i.e. Israel Experience ad should have appeared opposite Israel page).
* OTHER PROPOSED CHANGES: In addition to the above stated priorities we recommend the following changes be made to assure UJA-Federation's presence in the Jewish Week.
* EDITORIAL: Use the first 15 to 20 pages in the general N.Y. section (in all editions)to find ways to feature UJA-Federation programs and events (as done in the Dec. 20th issue). Also, in those pages, provide greater UJA-Federation presence in headlines or kickers - including our name whenever possible.
* Use cover-page teasers to UJA-Federation stories, including the UJA-Federation name whenever possible.
* Wherever possible or appropriate, augment Jewish Week human-interest stories with a UJA-Federation perspective (via box or sidebar of our programs). Encourage Jewish Week to share with UJA-Federation professional staff on a weekly basis stories that they are working on. This weekly story development list would provide UJA-Federation the opportunity to assure that its perspective be included in more stories.
* Seek ways to incorporate UJA-Federation role in the first three to five pages of the paper, "In the Beginning" section (see Dec. 20th issue, page four -- New World Symphony photo, NYANA, with no mention of UJA-Federation).
* Create special UJA-Federation mission calendar in travel section, update quarterly.
* Major post-event UJA-Federation stories should be covered, whether through a story or photo, in all editions, not limited to the calendar pages of one edition (Lawyers Division dinner photo in Dec. 20th issue deserved better placement, and its relevancy transcended the borders or the Manhattan edition where it appeared).
From the Forward on Schiller: A Chasidic Spokesman Espouses Modernity — and Race Separation
Rabbi Schiller, 49, has made common cause with and spoken before a cast of characters and organizations that would send most American Jews running to the Anti- Defamation League: American white supremacists, anti-abortion extremists, Conrad Muhammad of the Nation of Islam and right-wing European nationalists.Me writes: I believe this is yet another example of a story Gary Rosenblatt of the Jewish Week suppressed.
Gary Rosenblatt Bogged Down By Bloggers
I was started to feel bad for Gary until I remembered my experience with him. My time interviewing Gary might as well have been spent talking to a wood block. What's the point of accountability if you refuse to answer any question that causes you discomfort?
I gave Gary every opportunity to answer various damaging reports about him. Gary wouldn't. He wouldn't answer any tough questions. He begged off of every single one.
So excuse me if I shed no tears over his hurt feelings. Excuse me if I afford no respect to his latest cries. Excuse me if my most vivid experience with Gary is him constantly saying, I'd rather not answer that.
When push came to shove, Gary was not accountable. Read my profile of him and make up your own mind.
In case Gary forgets, here are some questions he refused to answer:
* Why does he refuse to publish Yossi Abramowitz?
* Why has Gary never apologized for the way he had Yossi treated when he came in with his JNF scoop?
Gary's lead paragraph is a lie. I am a blogger and I asked Gary numerous questions, including questions about stories he was working on. JWB has also corresponded with Gary on these matters.
Gary's primary question about blogs (and JWB in particular) is: Are they good journalism? This is a stupid question. It's like asking if a telephone is good journalism. Blogs and phones are simply ways people communicate. The most important question to ask about blogs and writing is: Is it good? Does it have merit?
Journalism is a procedure. Merit is a destination. In this case, the destination is more important than the journey.
Inspired by Gary's column, I called him at 2:45pm EST to ask him such basic questions as the ones I raise in this essay. He was out to lunch. So I left my questions on his voicemail.
Gary writes: "Over the years in this profession I’ve gotten thicker skin, but there are people whose lives are more private than mine whose reputations and character are maligned in these reports. They have no one to turn to in order to set the record straight, and that’s just not right."
Gary provides no evidence to back up his assertions. I guess Gary is so mighty, he doesn't need to bother with such details as evidence.
Gary writes: "What bothers me, though, is that in this still emerging field, there is no accountability and there are no professional standards to be met. In the rush to get a story out first, the emphasis is on timeliness rather than accuracy, with seemingly little regard –– or responsibility –– for printing rumors or theories that are untrue. So people who are mentioned and maligned by an anonymous blogger have no recourse."
Again, Gary provides no evidence and no examples to substantiate his charges. I guess this is the type of lazy writing you can get away with when you edit and publish a lazy newspaper filled with mediocre writing. The whole thing is so blah, who's going to notice that the editor and publisher is making a lot of charges without substantiating them.
To rework a Gary Rosenblatt sentence in his latest blog, I mean column: "There is something very appealing about having one’s own newspaper. It’s easy to do, in this particular column it costs you no work in having to interview people with whom you might disagree, and before you know it, you can be sitting at the office and pontificating on any and all topics for all the world to read, even if you've made no exertion to substantiate your points." Sweet.
Gary writes: "I wouldn’t seek legal or medical advice from an amateur attorney or physician who insisted on remaining nameless, yet there are countless people reading blogs on the Web by would-be journalists whose reports go unsubstantiated and unedited, and the results are often hurtful, damaging people’s characters and reputations."
Gary writes: "More upsetting are the bloggers who criticize individuals by name, make accusations against rabbis and communal leaders, but don’t have the guts to identify themselves, or bother to interview the people they write about."
Gee, that sounds just like Gary Rosenblatt. He wrote a column about Jewish Whistleblower and company, but didn't bother to interview the people he wrote about.
Gary writes: "To demand full disclosure of others without identifying one’s self seems the height of chutzpah and hypocrisy to me."
Yeah, it is just like asking a baseball writer to hit a 100mph fastball before he's allowed to write about baseball. Gary uses anonymous sourcing when it suits him. He gives voice to the agendas of people he allows to remain anonymous.
Gary writes: "Call me old-fashioned, but I still think you do your best work if your reputation is on the line every time you write."
Gary's been phoning it in for years. His reputation in journalism rests almost entirely on work he did years ago, rather than the stuff he's done in the past few years. He has a cushy job where he's subsidized by the Jewish Federation buying most of his newspapers. He can keep his cushy job as long as he keeps playing ball with the machers. Gary is a far better player of Jewish politics than he is an editor.
Given the comparative magnitude of Gary's resources, the big story about him is that he, week in and week out, publishes a dull paper. And when you put your name on mediocrity, it doesn't make it anything more than mediocre. It's nothing more than Yesterday's News Tomorrow, which, more often than not, is precisely what The Jewish Week reads like if you keep up with the top five Jewish blogs (JWB, Miriam and Paul Shaviv, Chakira, Scott Rosenberg, Steven I. Weiss).
If Jewish Whistle Blower (JWB) develops an impressive track record of accurate reporting, then his work is still sterling even if JWB doesn't put his real name on it.
It is more important in these types of discussion that we concentrate on what is good rather than on what is "good journalism." It is less important that JWB might not live up to the protocols of journalism than to evaluate his work as a whole for its merit. Most Jewish weeklies are journalistically sound but dull timid affairs. JWB might not be journalistically sound (I'm not arguing one way or another on this), but his work is often timely and ground-breaking.
Inspired by Gary's column, I decided to ask the subject of this essay a question. I emailed Gary:
I guess Gary's rules of good journalism don't apply to Gary.
I guess he's not as open to being questioned by bloggers as he pretended. Gary did not return my email or my phone call. I guess Gary's plaintive complaint about bloggers, "none of them have ever asked me," was just a pose.
Has Gary ever given a good interview? I can't find one.
Shimon Rosenthal writes:
The Jewish Week paid a fine of less than a million dollars for abuse of mailing privileges. The details about the fine are public record and should be found at the New York Attorney General's office.
Paul Shaviv responds to JWB:
Those Amazing Anonymous Journalist Bloggers
Sultan_Knish writes: "But what is the difference between a professional journalist and an amateur blogger? Yes there's the office and the fat UJA funds derived salary and getting invited to dinners in your own honor."
I email Phil Jacobs, Editor of the Baltimore Jewish Times:
According to a source who's spoken to Phil Jacobs about this, Phil says he has been inundated with stories and the other responsiblitiesof being the editor of a paper. He just hasn't had time to do the research involved in doing this story. He knows that Vicki wouldn't talk to another reporter at his paper. He put Vicki on his list of articles to write, and hasn't gotten to it yet.
Maybe Phil should pay me to do the research and write this story for his august publication?
I email Gary Rosenblatt at The Jewish Week:
Gary has known that Vicki was the infamous "Rachel" for at least five months, and possibly for years. There was no mention of this in his paper's 3/26/04 profile of Vicki.
'I’m there for everybody' — Dr. Aviva Weisbord
Aviva Weisbord is a member of the human race. She's not an angel. It's impossible for her to have been there for everybody over 25 years. A single overstatement, wherever or however it occurs, has the power to destroy the credibility of a story in the mind of a reader (E.B. White).
Phil, if you feel you are possessed of the truth, simply state it, do not give it advance billing (E.B. White). "The truth is..."
One thing that Phil Jacobs does not mention is that Aviva Weisbord is the sister of accused sexual predator Rabbi Matis Weinberg.
I'm not arguing that this should disqualify Dr. Weisbord from anything but it is certainly relevant to a story on her.
Phil Jacobs is the facilitator of a support group for men who were sexually abused. It meets at Sidran Institute, founded by former Awareness Center board member Esther Giller, a successful writer for grants.
I believe that the first meeting for a Ner Israel-supported set of such support groups was at Hannah Weinberg's house, Aviva's mother.
These support groups are part of a reaction to the Samuel Juravel case, which the Baltimore Orthodox community leadership covered up years ago (when there were numerous accusations about Juravel's predatory behavior with boys).
Phil Jacobs, along with Gary Rosenblatt, were given the story of Vicki Polin’s 1989 appearance on Oprah before anybody but never published anything on it. About six months after Phil and Gary had the story, I was given it by Yori Yanover and, after ascertaining the transcript's accuracy, immediately published it.
Even though Jewish Week Editor Gary Rosenblatt broke the Rabbi Mordecai Gafni story, he chose to concentrate on charges against Gafni from about 20 years ago, rather on the abundant evidence that Gafni still acted like a creep (which I quickly published on my site after Gary's article broke open the dam of evidence against Gafni).
When Rosenblatt, who got first crack at those who said Gafni sexually abused them approximately 20 years ago, recently tried to talk to these women again, but they wanted nothing to do with Gary, saying he'd burned them the first time round.
What was and is important about Gafni is not primarily how Gafni acted 20 years ago, but his unchanged pattern of bad behavior (not just sexual bad behavior) that's continued to the present and was enabled over the past 20 months by such rabbis as Joseph Telushkin and Saul Berman as well as the Stephen S. Wise temple leadership.
Through his first column on Gafni, Rosenblatt, due to his earned prestige in much of Jewish life (he's a scholar in residence at various synagogues and is widely called "Mr. Jewish Journalism"), prompted people of good will to take the attitude of letting bygones be bygones with Gafni.
In the fall of 2004, The Jewish Week Editor Gary Rosenblatt (the most praised man in Jewish journalism who had the Gafni story served to him on a platter yet blew it), the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles and I wrote about Rabbi Mordecai Gafni.
Rosenblatt and the Journal portrayed Gafni as a powerful religious leader who'd committed sexual indiscretions two decades ago.
I portrayed Gafni as a creep and a charlatan. I wrote that he was dangerous whether or not he was screwing people under his religious leadership.
In retrospect, it turns out that I got it right and the Journal and Rosenblatt got it wrong (even though we all largely had our facts in line).
Did I get it right because I had better sources than my competitors? No. I got it right because I have different values than they do. Their primary concern is journalistic protocol (and perhaps community politics and advertising). My primary concern was merit (where you weigh competing values and decide which are most important in this case).
(As for the Forward, they haven't even been in the game reporting on sexual predators with the exception of their breaking the Mordecai Tendler story. Along with the Jewish Journal, they had the Aron Tendler story served to them on a platter in the fall of 2004 yet published nothing.)
When I started reporting on Gafni and other predators, Rosenblatt told a lot of people that my reporting could not be trusted.
So even though I was right on Gafni, Aron Tendler and company, does Rosenblatt apologize for not only blowing the story, but denouncing the one person who got it right? No.
The most important thing in writing about Gafni or anybody or any subject is to produce something of merit. That trumps following journalistic protocol. What's most important is to be right about what's most important.
What's most important about the Aron Tendler story is not that he was a sexual predator, but that the Jewish community (particularly the Los Angeles Orthodox rabbinate) allowed him to move from job to job while he was rubbing up against the vulnerable under him.
For instance, Rabbi Avraham Union (who runs the Rabbinical Council of California) knew about the Aron Tendler story for at least as long as he's run the RCC (more than a decade?) yet he did nothing until he had no choice. That Union lacks the courage of his convictions can be deduced from Rob Eshman's February 14, 1997 report on the Kabbalah Centre where Union says he backed off sending a letter denouncing the cult when he got a threat on his doorstep.
It's time to compile a list of all the people who protected Gafni and Tendler and company when they had reason to believe they were sexual predators. For instance, David Suissa of Olam was a big Gafni supporter. Rabbi David Wolpe had Gafni speak at Temple Sinai.