Amid a blizzard last Thursday night, Menachem "Max" Stark was kidnapped outside his Brooklyn office; his smoldering remains were found in a Long Island dumpster Friday.
Stark was allegedly a slumlord who had angered a lot of former tenants and apparently owed money to more people than the city of Detroit; the New York Post also claims he was a loan shark. So the cliche question -- Who would want to do this? -- apparently turned up a long list. Shady business dealings and enemies is the theme for multiple news reports, based in part on law enforcement sources.
But the New York Post presented that theme in a very New York Post-y, with a cover headline that begged:
Slumlord found burned in dumpter:
WHO DIDN'T WANT HIM DEAD?
The accompanying story was basically made the case for Stark being an awful person Stark, complete with a little summary box at the bottom. And it quoted a cop saying “He’s a Hasidic Jew from Williamsburg, and we think he’s a scammer" and a commenter on FailedMessiah.com saying "“His slanted shtreimel on his head gives his crookedness away."
Elected officials immediately responded with outrage, demanding the Post apologize and, some, calling for a boycott. Some, though, as Ben Harris notes, not the "more responsible commentary," have charged that the coverage of Stark's death evinces some anti-Semitism.
I disagree that the paper's treatment is tied to Stark being Jewish.
Let's start with the cover photo and headline. The photo shows a slightly smiling Stark wearing a shtreimel (the fur hat commonly worn by haredi men) with an observant beard and payot hanging down to his chin. There is no question about whether this man is Jewish, though that could be said of all the photos I've seen of Stark. I'm not sure where the Post got the photo, but a quick Google Images search suggests that this was one of only a few options available online before the Stark family released some photos (like this one) this weekend.
Now the headline is a different story. And it rightfully has ignited a lot of blowback. BUT this is the New York Post, not the New York Times. The Post isn't just a tabloid: It sets the standard for tabloid tackiness and offensiveness. To be sure, this headline was particularly egregious -- I mean, the deceased hadn't even been cold two days -- and, beyond being insenstive, could arguably be said to justify Stark's murder. But, again, nothing anti-Semitic here.
As for the story inside, the quotes offer some real fodder to those who see anti-Semitic reporting by some outlets. But if you put the quotes in context, the meaning just isn't there. The law enforcement quote seemed to be a soundbite taken from the larger discussion of how Stark's allegedly shady business dealings operated -- not because he was a Hasidic Jew but because, like Bernie Madoff, he was able to feed off of some in the community. (The New York Times story, of course, calls this theory into question.) And the shtreimel comment sounds like a joke: his hat literally is crooked.
None of this is said as to justify the Post's reportage. To be sure, I never read the paper. Its editorial judgment leaves much to be desired. And the treatment of Max Stark's murder is a poignant example. But it's not anti-Semitism.
It also isn't likely to be influenced by reader outrage. That's just the Post.
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