Thursday, September 2, 2004

I spent 90-minutes on the phone Thursday with Jason Maoz, editor of The Jewish Press, for my book Yesterday's News Tomorrow: Inside American Jewish Journalism.

Jason and his publication struck me as isolated from the mainstream of Jewish weeklies.

For two or three years, Jason submitted a bunch of articles to the AJPA (American Jewish Press Association) awards process. Nothing even merited an honorable mention. Sources say that that the AJPA is in Gary Rosenblatt's thrall, and that it would never honor The Jewish Press in any form.

So I emailed Rob Eshman of the Jewish Journal, Gary Rosenblatt of The Jewish Week and J.J. Goldberg of the Forward:

Jason Maoz, editor of The Jewish Press. Do you regard him as a peer? It seems that few journalists for the mainstream Jewish weeklies accord The Jewish Press any respect? He complained that The Jewish Press was not taken seriously for AJPA awards. He regards the AJPA as in the thrall of Gary Rosenblatt. Would prefer an on-the-record response but will settle for anything.

Rob Eshman, editor of the Jewish Journal, replies:

I've read it all the way through maybe twice, so it wouldn't be fair for me to offer an opinion. (Now, here comes my opinion): The times I have flipped through it, my impression was it seems to cater to a certain niche of American Jewry, and it seems to do that quite well.

I don't think anybody is in Gary's thrall, handsome and funny and brilliant as he is-- uh oh, maybe I AM in his thrall. Seriously, Gary's a very good editor and he puts out a very good paper. There are a lot worse role models out there for editors of any paper, but he's not the boss of anyone at AJPA. The Jewish Week serves its audience, and certainly has taken on tough stories in a responsible way. No one editor or one community Jewish paper is going to please all the Jews all the time.

Papers like The Jewish Week and The Jewish Journal have to appeal to a large and broad Jewish audience to fulfill their missions and stay solvent. We don't have big backers, endowment, niche Jewish markets or relatively Jewish populations. We try to serve the needs of hundreds of thousands of Jews in each issue: smart Jews, simple Jews, wise and ignorant, right, left, rich, poor, traditional, freaky. The result can be articles that are sometimes too safe and predictable and middle of the road, but all of the good editors I know push beyond that as much as possible.

Joe Schick writes: "Maoz deserves a lot of credit for significantly improving the JP. He thinks outside the box in seeking to improve the paper's content. Who else would have taken 2500 words from Robert Avrech's blog and devoted the front and back pages to it, and done the same with Steven Weiss' piece about the Israel Policy Forum's pro-Geneva Accord party? No other editor takes blogs seriously, either."

Jason Maoz, editor of The Jewish Press, responds to Protocols criticisms here:

The bit about Lubavitch advertising is typical. Are we supposed to start turning down ads from certain groups within Orthodoxy? For better or worse, Lubavitch is such a driving force in Jewish communities across the country and around the world. Of course they're going to advertise their activities in an Orthodox paper like The Jewish Press. And of course we'll cover many of those activities. Look at the JTA's coverage of Jewish life in foreign countries. Almost invariably when they quote an Orthodox rabbi in south America, Europe, Asia, etc., that rabbi is a Lubavitcher. You can't cover the Orthodox world without giving Lubavitch an inordinate amount of ink. And by the way, contrary to some dumb rumor posted by an ignorant twit on some blog recently, there is not one Lubavitcher in any editorial decision-making capacity at The Jewish Press.

As for the "Kahanist rag" comment -- obviously a retort made by a retard. There may be some columnists we feature who share some of Kahane's views, but they're in a minority -- and certainly don't reflect the official editorial positions taken by the paper in recent years.

As to the comment about our being heavily feature - and commentary-oriented at the expense of hard news, of course that's true. A weekly publication in the age of the Internet and 24-hour cable news must by necessity focus more on background and features. Time and Newsweek realized this years ago and began to go more in the direction of lifestyle-type features. It would be presumptuous for us to think that most readers look to a weekly of any kind as their primary news source. It's even more ludicrous to expect a weekly newspaper -- one that goes to press Tuesday and that most people don't read before Friday and Saturday -- to contain breaking news stories.

Ordinarily I wouldn't bother responding to the ladies of the fish market who hang out at Protocols and try to sound as though they have anything meaningful to say. But a few recent remarks warrant a response beyond that which I offered on Friday.

I don't think I need to elaborate further on the Lubavitch issue other than to ask the poster named Sidney if he would be kind enough to take a few moments --from what I'm certain must be a busy and challenging schedule of intellectual pursuit -- to explain what he means by "Lubavitch slant." Yes, as I noted in my Friday comments, we take ads from Lubavitch organizations. And we do have a few Lubavitcher columnists -- among the dozens our regular columnists and contributors who cover the spectrum of Orthodoxy from Modern to yeshivish to chassidish. (We also frequently feature pieces by secular Jews and non-Jews; I suppose this means we have a "secular slant" or a "Christian slant" to go along with that alleged "Lubavitch slant.")

So please, Sid (you'll pardon the informality), ads and opinion columns aside, tell me where exactly you detect that old-time Chabad religion in our news stories or our editorials. I'm sure someone blessed with your Alpine intellect knows the difference between reporting on a Lubavitch-affiliated institution or event and, as you so strikingly phrased it (tell me you write for Yated and I promise I won't doubt it for a second ), being a paper "that allowed/s Lubavitch 'Christians' to still proclaim their leader as the second coming [sic] messiah."

One more thing, Sid. Show me when and where we turned Baruch Goldstein into a "Jewish saviour." (Shhh -- don't tell the Lubavitchers; we wouldn't want them to think we practice a polytheistic form of messianism.) If nothing else, your timing is exquisitely bad, since this very week in our Letters to the Editor section, one of our frequent contributors, Steven Plaut, strongly admonishes two readers who saw fit to defend the actions of the same Baruch Goldstein you posit as one of our paper's designated "Jewish saviours." Since I oversee the Letters section and solicited Plaut's rejoinder to the aforementioned readers, I'm afraid that makes me the house heretic. Stoning commences immediately after Mincha tomorrow. (Bongs optional.)

Which brings me to the poster known as Mike Da Kike -- (my, the time and thought that had to have gone into formulating such a sensitive and literate moniker) -- and his story about "interviewing for a job" here.

Remember that marvelous scene in "Annie Hall" where Woody Allen (as Alvy Singer) encounters a blowhard on line in a movie theater spouting off about Marshall McLuhan? Woody/Alvy summons forth the real Marshall McLuhan who shuts up the pretentious bore by telling him, "You know nothing of my work." At which point Woody/Alvy turns to the camera and says, "Boy, if life were only like this!"

Well, life is like that, at least in this instance, as I have the luxury of summoning myself to question the claims of Mr. Kike, who, when he made them early Friday, had no idea I would involve myself in this little discussion. I happen to be in the unique position of knowing that we have not had an editorial opening at The Jewish Press for at least five years now. There was a spot open about five, maybe five and a half, years ago, but we hired someone very quickly. Before that, there was an editorial hire in 1997 -- me. So unless Mr. Kike was one of the four or five interviewees who didn't get the job five and a half years ago(and I believe all of them were women) -- or unless he interviewed before 1997, which would make his story irrelevant at best because The Jewish Press was a far different paper from what it is today -- his story doesn't hold up.

(In reviewing Mr. Kike's post, I see he doesn't describe the position for which he supposedly applied, and so perhaps I jumped the gun in assuming it was related in any manner to editorial work. We have filled a couple of custodial positions over the past few years, and perhaps that is what he is referring to -- which, come to think of it, makes perfect sense when one considers the quality of his prose.)

Finally, poster Benjy throws around some IQ figures. I'm thumbing through the last few issues of The Jewish Press where I see such notorious exemplars of low IQ as Jonathan Tobin, Joseph Schick, Phyllis Chesler, Victor Davis Hanson, Dr. Yitzchok Levine, Ed Koch, Rabbi Dovid Goldwasser, Rabbi Moshe Meir Weiss, Rabbi Steven Riskin, Marvin Schick, Professor Louis Rene Beres, and arts critic Richard McBee (none of them Lubavitch and all of them, I'd wager, considerably more intelligent than Benjy). Not a bad lineup at all, and one that definitely can do without the services of Mike Da Kike. But do send us an updated resume, Mr. Kike -- those custodial positions tend to have a high turnover rate, and you never know when you'll get lucky.

Re Gershon Tannenbaum: I don't think I've ever spoken with him. He doesn't work out of the offices of The Jewish Press and I don't handle his "My Machberes" feature. What I do know is that anyone who's ever spoken with me about him has had only nice things to say. And the "Machberes" column, while not everyone's cup of tea, has an enormous following. I have no familiarity with the issues brought up here and, frankly, feel that vilifying someone over legal matters that are either years or decades old offers little or no edification.


Jewish Press Editor Jason Maoz Has Never Been To The General Assembly

He replies to my inquiries:

Always thought of it as a convocation of self-important drones boring each other to death with their fatuous presentations. A living nightmare of Jewish Establishment worthies descending on one location in numbers far too great to bear for anyone possessed of a sensitive and discerning constitution. Establishment worthies who've never had an original thought, who worship at the shrine of consensus, who think they're bravely flouting liberal pieties in the rare instance they disagree ever so slightly with a New York Times editorial, who think the sun of Judaism rises and sets on Manhattan, who believe with all their hearts that Gary Rosenblatt is a gifted and compelling prose stylist and Abraham Foxman a Lion of Judah. I guess I'll have to reconsider.

Relations between the Orthodox and the Fed here in NY are somewhat better than they were 10 or 20 years ago, but nowhere near ideal.