Jewish Journal


February 12, 1998

The Truth About the Media and Jews


Jonathan Tobin edits a Jewish newspaper inConnecticut, and his editorial opinions occasionally appear in TheJewish Journal. One such effort, "Distinguishing Fact from FictionIsn't Getting Easier," was published on Jan. 23. Herewith some factto counter Tobin's fiction.

Tobin begins by wondering how Jews, numbering 2percent of the U.S. population, can generate so much attention fromthe media. He writes: "The one [reason] that makes the most sense tome is the fact that the major news media often appear obsessed withJewish topics and personalities."

That's not fact; that's fiction. If Tobin willlook around this country, he will discover that the 2 percent of thepopulation that is Jewish comprises close to 20 percent of thecountry's professionals -- using the census definition ofprofessional as including doctors, dentists, accountants, attorneys,scientists, college professors, architects, engineers and the like.These are people with higher visibility, especially in the majorpopulation areas, where the media also congregate.

Jews are also prominent in the management andcreative ends of the entertainment business, including literature,motion pictures, television and radio, another high-profile segmentof American society. Twenty-one percent of the Nobel Prize winnersare Jews, most of them professionals. It is not the media that havepushed Jews into the news; it is what Jews have accomplished thatmakes them newsworthy.

Tobin informs us that once we understand thatIsrael has the fourth-largest concentration of foreign correspondentson the planet, "everything that continues to drive friends of Israelcrazy about the media falls into place. Thus, while media biascertainly plays a role in the coverage of Israel at times, more oftenit is the disproportionate attention devoted to the country that isat fault."

If Tobin were to ask people in the profession whyIsrael attracts such attention from the media, he would find that ithas as much to do with Christians as with Jews. Until 1967, whenNazareth was practically the only center of Christian interest inIsrael (a few sites of miracles excluded), The New York Times was theonly American news organization to maintain a full-time correspondentin Israel. The rest relied upon stringers, part-timers who werecalled upon whenever needed. I was a stringer in Jerusalem forvarious American media during those years.

Since 1967, all that has changed. Today, Israelcontrols the Old City of Jerusalem and Bethlehem, among other sitesof importance to Christians. The fact is that the intense interest of60 million evangelical Protestants in the Holy Land provides much ofthe motivation for the extensive coverage Israel receives.

Add to this the important facts that Israel, ademocracy, permits access to all shades of opinion and the freedom towrite about them; that it makes available to the media satellitetransmission of news (try that in Damascus); that it has experiencedtechnicians always available for TV filming and processing; that manyof its people speak English and can provide instant descriptions ofwhat occurred at a tragedy or political upheaval without the need fortranslators -- and you have a journalist's paradise, in contrast toconditions in the surrounding countries.

As an example of unfair media coverage, Tobincites a recent New York Times report that deals, in part, with theplight of Russian and Ukrainian prostitutes in Israel. The storydescribes a phenomenon not uncommon elsewhere, as The Times'correspondent notes. Tobin sees the fact that The Times chose to runthe story as it did, in the following light: "For those with aknowledge of the history of 19th-century anti-Semitic propaganda, theidea that the Jews are running the 'White Slave Trade' is nothingnew...but it took a sick mind to imagine that the Jews were runningthe world's oldest profession."

I have The Times article in front of me. Nowheredoes it mention that Jews are running the profession or evenimporting women into Israel. It speaks only of Russians, and the bulkof the article discusses the traffic in prostitutes in countriesother than Israel, with Jews not even mentioned. The only Jewish malediscussed is the owner of a Tel Aviv brothel who hires but does notimport prostitutes. Of the Jewish slave traders who Tobin claims tohave read about, not a word.

I decided to do some research on the subject ofThe Times' alleged biases against Israel and/or Jews. There, on Page4A, of the New England edition, I found this shocking headline."Casanovas, Beware! It's Risky for Non-Koreans."

The Times' correspondent in Seoul wrote of theresentment Koreans feel when one of their women marries a non-Koreanman. "Korea is often suspicious of foreign intentions -- a suspicionthat historically has usually been justified. Thus, while there aremany exceptions, for many Koreans, the idea of interracial datingseems an affront to Korean patriotism and to 'pure'bloodlines."

I imagine that somewhere in Los Angeles'Koreatown, the editor of a Korean-American newspaper is leveling hiseditorial cannon at The New York Times, convinced that its editorschose to slander his home country by writing about a problem thattroubles South Korea but also exists elsewhere. In fact, the Timescorrespondent writes, "Interracial relationships are a sensitiveissue in many countries...relating to national identity, to attitudestoward foreigners and to ideas about the purity of women."

Sound familiar?

Tobin should meet with a Korean-American newspapereditor. They might find a lot in common, trashing the anti-Semitic,anti-Korean biases of The New York Times. The rest of us, who dependon The Times for much of our information about Israel, will continueto do so, unhindered by Tobin's paranoia.


Contributing writer Yehuda Lev writes fromProvidence, R.I.

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