Monday, October 25, 2010

So the publisher hopes the story fizzles

Here's a review.

On September 24, the (NJ) Jewish Standard published its first same-sex wedding announcement on its 'Simchas' page.
The next week, October 1,The Jewish Standard published a public apology. It said that "a group of rabbis has reached out to us and conveyed the deep sensitivities within the traditional/Orthodox community" and has "made us aware that publication of that announcement caused pain and consternation, and we apologize for any pain we may have caused..."  The statement declared that the paper has "decided ...not to run such announcements in the future."
 The Jewish Standard received more than 300 comments on its website castigating it for its timidity, its fecklessness and for the pain it has caused to the other segments of the community. The comments ranged from questioning the newspaper's integrity to caustic challenges that it caved in the face of a threatened economic boycott of kosher advertisers who would in turn be threatened to desist from advertising lest their teudot (certificates of kashrut) be revoked. None of these allegations have been proven.
 The following issue, dated October 8,devoted just one page to the controversy. Instead, it chose to run a story on the cover and on two more pages about the 95th anniversary of a nursing home. On page 16, the publisher ran this boxed statement:
It said, in part: "We did not expect the heated response  we got and - in truth - we believe now we may have acted too quickly in issuing the follow-up statement... We urge everyone to take a step back and reflect on what this series of events has taught us about the community.. . and about the steps we must take to move forward together."
This statement is a sorry example of coy deflection: the publisher is not apologizing for his stance; he is apologizing for the firestorm. And he does not acknowledge his error; instead, he asks the community to reconsider its behavior.
 Worse still, the Jewish Standard printed, not pages of letters they had received, but a total of five letters: the first two denigrating the paper for running the announcement and the next two deriding the apology for running the announcement, as if the mail the paper had received was about even. based on the published comments on the paper's website, however, it received ONLY ONE letter challenging the publication of the same-sex wedding announcement and at least 300 applauding the announcement and decrying the newspaper's reversal. The fifth letter was a signed statement from thirty seven rabbis of the North Jersey Board of Rabbis urging the paper to be inclusive of "the entire Jewish community, not just one segment or another."
The October 15th issue of the Jewish Standard did ostensibly put the story on its front page. But rather than address the issue of inclusiveness or give an explanation of how this issue evolved, (e.g., who called the publisher? Was there an implicit or explicit threat?), the editors made the story about “community conflict” and featured a number of rabbis and community leaders whose focus was about community harmony. The paper also ran an editorial, entitled “Moving forward”, in which it promised “to engage in discussions and to chronicle the ongoing controversy’ and asked “for time to address this matter properly – to do the ‘due diligence’ we should have done from the start.”
An Op-Ed in this same issue appeared on page 16.     The author,  Orthodox rabbi Shmuel Goldin, expresses surprise and shock “by the depth of animosity directed toward Orthodoxy and toward our community’s Orthodox rabbinate in particular.”Rabbi Goldin explicitly states that “The Jewish Standard was never threatened...  (and that) No boycott ...was ever advocated by the RCBC” (the Rabbinic Council of Bergen County, the association of Orthodox rabbis in the county).  He concludes his essay by calling for “mutual respect and understanding.”
The October 22nd issue carried just two letters, both of which were only marginally connected to the heart of the controversy. One letter was a condemnation of “Orthodox bashing” and the other a rebuttal of Rabbi Shmuel Goldin’s biting defense of Orthodoxy.
It seems that Mr. Janoff and The Jewish Standard simply don’t get it. The Jewish Standard capitulated on a matter of editorial independence, most likely in response to warnings from leaders in the Orthodox community. The paper has not declared whether it will again run a same-sex wedding announcement (or a birth or adoption announcement when the parents are same-sex), nor has it acknowledged the overwhelming challenge to Orthodox supremacy in the community, nor has it acknowledged its own responsibility in its greatest misstep in The Jewish Standard’s history.

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