Love or Hate? The Mainstream Media and the Jews

When I was in high school, I boarded a bus every Saturday morning to take extracurricular classes on topics like law and debate. One of my debate teachers was a Yale student at the time, and his name was Mark Oppenheimer. When I ended up doing my undergrad at Yale, Mark was getting his PhD there in American Religious History.

Fast forward twenty years. I am now a rabbi, and Mark Oppenheimer is a writer of “Beliefs,” The New York Times’ religion column, a frequent contributor to The New York Times Magazine, and the editor at large of Tablet. Earlier this month, I invited Mark to speak at Congregation Beth Adam.

The title of Mark’s talk was “Love or Hate? The Mainstream Media and the Jews.” Mark spoke about how Jews are portrayed in the media. Mark opened his talk by telling us that he gets feedback (maybe even hate mail?) of two pretty equal varieties: one that thinks The New York Times is too anti-Israel and/or anti-Jewish in its reporting and one that thinks The New York Times is too pro-Jewish in its reporting.

Of course, these two reactions taken together suggest that people see what they read through their own particular lenses. The reality is that The New York Times’ writers and editors seek to be neither pro-Jewish nor anti-Jewish. Their job is to report.

While some readers think the paper (or any paper, for that matter) overemphasizes or under-emphasizes Jewish content, takes an overly positive or negative approach, or only shows small sections of the Jewish community – the papers’ editors don’t see it as their job to look at the big picture in terms of the overall way in which Jews (or Muslims or Christians, etc.) are portrayed by their media outlet over a length of time.

The situation is actually that reporters write about the stories they hear about. Editors place stories in the paper where they fit on a page. (And page placement actually matters very little in 2015 when so many people are reading online rather than in-print).

So, while some of us may think that the media either loves or hates the Jews, the reality is the media’s job is simply to report and hopefully to reflect a variety of viewpoints.

To hear more about Mark Oppenheimer’s talk, you can watch this YouTube video or check out other blogs and podcasts here.


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