The poet W.H. Auden said, “We are free to choose, but choose we must.” And that seemingly applies to the dilemma in which we find ourselves when figuring out what to believe from the subject matter that is presented to us by the media.
If you are a media entity and you are promoting a specific agenda, then you really have no right to portray yourself as serving up objective information that allows the consumers of media to draw their own conclusions.
Recently I discovered a new phenomenon in this arena: If you are a media entity of any variety — broadcast or print, Jewish or not — readers and viewers expect you to have an agenda and are ready to pounce on you if they believe that you are promoting something they don’t believe in.
We are witnessing this on the national stage, with the battle on the matter of who really was elected president on November 3, as well as here in this niche market newspaper. Our occasional columnist, Dr. Gila Jedwab, is being vilified and condemned by some in vociferous terms because of things she wrote about the coronavirus and our response to it as a community.
After last week’s column, which featured some ideas that could have been expressed more accurately and succinctly, your humble publisher here became the target of these critics who accused me of everything from promoting conspiracy theories to being responsible for people’s deaths.
So let me address several aspects of this matter. The most stunning revelation — for me, anyway — is the assumption that as the editor and publisher of the 5TJT I have to agree with every word and idea that is shared here with the reader. If someone posits an idea here, I have to own it and automatically believe in it. I don’t think that is how it works here — or anywhere else. Yes, we are surrounded by biased media today, so you might think that’s the norm. But for example, what if we have an ad in these pages for milk, and you buy a bottle of it that turns out to be spoiled. Am I responsible for that? Are you going to call me and ask me to do something about that milk product? I mean, do I have to reimburse you?
We all saw the message about valid ballots being watermarked so fake ballots are easily identified, but that was an erroneous report and rumor. Had this been a reality, it would have been a brilliant move. Dr. Jedwab included a reference to this idea in her essay last week, and I haven’t asked her, but she may be convinced that this is indeed true. If she believes it does that mean I also have to believe it? I don’t think so.
A few years ago, a regular contributor to the 5TJT wrote that it was his feeling that Jonathan Pollard should not be paroled from prison for a combination of reasons. It was a controversial piece and I did not agree, but the writer was arguing from a halachic perspective about the danger and exposure for the community if Pollard were released. I didn’t agree with that position and believed that Mr. Pollard was deceived and railroaded by the government and prosecutors. Still, the thought-provoking article ran here.
That’s what newspapers and, until recently, media are supposed to do: present the possibilities, options, and different points of view that exist out there and let the reader draw conclusions based on his or her own understanding, experience, and background. I responded to one of the many notes sent to me last weekend saying that I don’t believe that our working assumption is supposed to be that readers are ignorant or just plain stupid, as some have suggested.
Editing or publishing a newspaper based on that assumption is wrong and unnecessary. If you don’t agree with something that Dr. Jedwab or anyone else wrote here, you have an absolute right to reject the idea. You can vehemently disagree, but that doesn’t mean you have to threaten the writer (or the editor, for that matter, though we are not that sensitive).
We have all been reading for decades about the ability to achieve peace in the Middle East hinging only on creating a Palestinian state and having Jews evacuated from their homes in Judea and Samaria. It turns out that some residents of the Five Towns believed that was the only fair, right and just way to solve the problem. I’ve always thought this was a dangerous formula and the wrong way to proceed. Many of us also thought that creating a Palestinian state would result in the loss of Jewish lives in Israel. Still, many of our own people believed this was the only way to go, and despite having been proved wrong, they still feel the same way today. Is that discussion forbidden in these pages if I don’t subscribe to one side of the argument or the other?
Last week, a rabbi from a shul in Westchester County, where this paper is circulated, wrote to several of our regular advertisers asking them to please stop advertising in the 5TJT because we are publishing dangerous articles. The advertiser forwarded the email request to me and I found it very curious.
I wrote to the rabbi. I explained that I was not familiar with his name or his shul and thanked him for reading the paper. I asked him — just as a point of information — if over the last 20+ years that we are publishing he found anything worthwhile published here. I suggested that over these last two decades there might have been some things he found interesting or enjoyed that he may have wanted to comment on but did not.
That is, up until the point, last week, that he saw an opportunity to ruin, crush, and try to destroy a business because he found something he didn’t agree with. I inquired of him why he was silent until he saw an opportunity to potentially damage a company that employs 30 people. This was his response: “I wish you only the best. I will not say another word. My involvement is over.”
I interpreted that response as acknowledging that I had a point there and that he was wrong to do what he did.
Of course, we make mistakes here, and that includes errors in judgment. But this business of people in authority not making a single constructive comment or contributing an idea over two decades unless they see a pathway to orchestrate destruction disguised as their moral responsibility is shocking and absurd.
The fashion in which matters pertaining to the coronavirus have been constructed does not allow any independent or critical thinking. The Centers for Disease Control has stated from the start that mask-wearing is imperative when you are unable to social distance. This fundamental and even reasonable rule has been twisted and distorted, basically because the working assumption is that people are essentially thoughtless and cannot be trusted to make their own decisions. They do not know when they are sufficiently socially distanced so they have to be instructed to wear a mask at all times.
Former vice president Biden said the other day if people would wear masks all the time, 100,000 lives would be saved. How he knows that or what science it is based on, he didn’t say. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said it was “bad news” that the administration of outgoing President Donald Trump would be responsible for creating a plan for distributing a COVID-19 vaccine, because he believed they would mishandle that planning. He was particularly concerned about communities of color having access.
Cuomo may not be the brightest bulb in the fixture but he must know that Mr. Trump did not cook up the vaccine in the basement of the White House and that it was in fact produced by one of the most reliable drug companies on the globe. But the governor did not allow the facts to get in his way.
As far as the ability for leadership to bumble, last weekend Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that parents should be ready for public schools in the city to be closed on November 15, because the percentage of those testing positive for the virus in the five boroughs was approaching 3%. The mayor’s deal with the teachers’ union — whose members are paid whether they are in school or at home — is that at 3% the schools close. Last Thursday’s rate was 2.88%.
Over the weekend, the rate went down to 2.55%. On Monday, though, it was back up to 2.75%. But then Governor Cuomo interjected and suggested that instead of measuring this by the overall citywide number, we should gauge the spread of the virus by the percentage within any given school. Throughout the last eight months when schools were open, the positivity rate for students has always hovered at about .13% and for teachers at .24%. On November 18, the mayor announced a decision to close the public schools to in person learning.
Another great leadership idea recommends that for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday we limit the number of people in our homes to ten. Four police departments in upstate New York said this week that they will not be enforcing that directive. One officer said that he believed the edict was unconstitutional. I guess someone out there is thinking for himself.
So much for New York State and New York City’s leadership after all this time. The words that come to mind are thoughtless and imprudent — and that’s being very kind.
As for us, we are not only allowed to make choices within the parameters of Jewish law, but encouraged to run our lives that way. Leadership can also be wise and responsible, but at the end of the day and at the end of the process we have no personal choice other than to choose.
And that is something you have to do on your own.
Contact Larry Gordon at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow 5TJT.com on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for updates and live videos. Comments, questions, and suggestions are welcome at 5TJT.com and on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.