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The Media's Jewish Problem

By Ben L. Kaufman · May 25th, 2010 · On Second Thought

When Elena Kagan was nominated for the Supreme Court, an immediate story was that her confirmation would mean “three Jews, six Roman Catholics and no Protestants.”

That’s perfect for the Take Back America crowd with its Know Nothing heritage: no Protestant on the court for the first time. God, that must drive them nuts — Whore of Babylon and Christ Killers in black robes running the country.

Some right-wingers even began counting how many Jews have been appointed to the High Court by Democrats in the past century. Their answer? Too many.

That was even before the news media picked up right-wing concern that Kagan might be a lesbian and left-wing concern that she might be a baseball-playing lesbian but doesn’t admit it. And no one seems to have asked: When did her family change/shorten its name to Kagan?

It was no surprise that the news media leaped on the religion angle. JFK really didn’t settle that … except possibly for Catholics with most Americans. Anyone retelling the old joke about the phone ringing and President Kennedy asking, “Home or Rome?” would learn that most people today don’t get it.

Think about it. How many times have you read something like this in a profile or obit: “She was the child of Jewish immigrants?”

But how many times have you read, “She was the child of Lutheran immigrants” or “Catholic immigrants” or “Church of England immigrants?” Maybe Norwegian or Czech or English, but not by religion.

Or in a business story, especially about markets and investors, there’ll be a throwaway comment, “The Orthodox Jewish brothers…” Yet have you ever seen a reference to a speculator or money lender as an Episcopalian or Presbyterian in a story about banking?

Moreover, what does religion tell you about their judicial or investing practices? In short, so what?

The media still have a lingering fixation on Jews. Not Judaism, Jews.

Somehow it often seems necessary to identify people by their religion when they’re Jews.

Curmudgeon Notes

• A page from USA Today appeared in place of the expected A3 in the first section of last Monday’s Enquirer. It carried national and international news and the USAT logo in case anyone wondered about the unfamiliar type faces, style, bylines, etc. USAT and The Enquirer are both Gannett dailies. Enquirer Editor Tom Callinan said, “USA Today provides this and we thought we'd give it a try. USAT is a trusted source and readers typically approve. But we are monitoring reaction. I hope that it will free up the desk from briefs, etc. to work on more contextual editing elsewhere in the A section.” He added that no local staff consolidation or reduction in desk hours is involved.

• Have you noticed the images of 10 Downing Street, the official residence of the British prime minister? One uniformed policeman standing near the door. When there is an announcement, it’s usually the prime minister making his statement standing in front of the modest brick residence. Maybe he’s standing behind a portable lectern. No bullet proof glass. No teleprompter. That’s it.

• There appears to be a growing conviction that traditional investigative reporting probably will be done most by online nonprofits, whether campus- or foundation-based. The general idea is that few daily newspapers still have the staff and budget for demanding, often complex longterm projects. So if someone is to pick up investigative reporting — beyond quick hit enterprise projects that have their own value — it probably will be somewhere in the nonprofit world.

If investigative reporting does find a home in the nonprofit world, how much clout will funding foundations, corporations, unions and individuals have? Altruism is fine but rare. That’s something that critics of “corporate media” often overlook.

• Of course it had to be a Fox station. Seattle’s KCPQ apparently spiked a tape showing a Seattle cop beating the hell out of a young Hispanic man and shouting racist epithets. The freelance videographer who caught the April 17 assault then took it to another station that broadcast the images and voices. KCPQ finally showed it, saying it delayed only to investigate further. If that’s the case, how come KCPQ’s senior assignment editor was fired and the news director resigned?

The Seattle Times reported the flap and said an officer kicked the victim as he lay on the sidewalk, shouting, “I’m going to beat the (deleted) Mexican piss out of you, homey. You feel me?” Another officer stepped on the victim’s leg. They let the man go when they realized he wasn’t the person they sought.

• Cincinnati Beacon linked me to a Black Agenda Radio commentary that explored how language can dehumanize a person or group. What puzzled me was the broadcaster’s reference to “unauthorized” use of the “N-word.” There was no contact information for the commentator, so I don’t know what the authorized uses are.

• Network news audiences are dying. Literally. They’re old. What isn’t clear is the actual news consumption habits of young adults. We know they don’t buy daily papers. Anyone who teaches college suspects that many students choose to remain ignorant of public issues and events. The Harvard Crimson, quoting a report from the Kennedy School of Government, says 5 percent of teens and 8 percent of young adults read a daily newspaper. TV and other people are important news sources for young people but rarely for the hard, political or economic news on which mainstream media thrive.

• Story tip for The Kentucky Enquirer: Get a photo of valet parked cars outside Delta Airlines departure area and listen to threatening recording about unattended cars. What keeps someone from turning a bomb-laden car over to the valet, assured it will be parked where it can kill?

CONTACT BEN L. KAUFMAN: editor@citybeat.com



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