Asifa Impression #2: Misconceptions & Distortions

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Jews praying at the Internet Awareness gathering, Sunday May 20, 2012, at Citi Field. Why was the press to negative about it?

As discussed previously, the Internet Asifa was unprecedented. Individuals of other faiths, and even of no faith, have discussed the problems of the internet, but never has such a large community come together in such a public arena (spending quite a bit of money) just to raise awareness of it. In my opinion, it should have been cheered and heralded in the wider media as the unprecedented event it was.

That was not the case, however.

Given the general media’s long-standing misconceptions about and animosity toward religious Jews, it is not surprising. Nevertheless, one might have thought that the media would have at worst been indifferent. Yet, that too was not the case. It was incredible how often and how much these bastions of free access to information not only failed to convey the content, but used their platforms to air the typical prejudices against the religious Jewish world.

You kind of expect the New York Post to come up with a headline like, “What a Kvetch at Citi!” Sadly, you also expect even the more “high brow” tabloids to freely employ the shameful pejorative “Ultra-Orthodox” (which among other things raises the question: Who are the Orthodox? In fact, I emailed that question to the writer of the New York Times article; so far no response). “Ultra”-Orthodox is a not-so-subtle way of saying “extremist.” It is the equivalent of calling everyone who is not religious “ultra”-secularist.

It was also inevitable that there would be outright distortions, such as an MSN piece that claimed the event was streamed live on the internet, which if taken at face value would be the epitome of hypocrisy. Yet, the report conveniently failed to mention that the live stream authorized by the event organizers was restricted to a small number of locations where women could watch the event as it occurred.

Of course, the media jumped all over the fact that stadium attendance was only for men. Some had the decency to state without prejudice that it was because religious Jews observe separation of the sexes, which even if viewed negatively in the secular world (teen pregnancies, rampant promiscuity, high extramarital affair and divorce rates notwithstanding) is nothing to be ashamed about. Nevertheless, most media outlets cited it in a ridiculing way.

Perhaps the most obvious example of anti-religious invective, however, was the disproportional coverage given a small group of protestors. The highest estimate offered for the size of this group was 50 people. Even assuming 50 protestors, there were more than 60,000 participants at Citi Field and adjacent Arthur Asche stadiums. That yields less than one tenth of 1% (.01%).

Applying that proportion to a 1,000 word article there should have been less than one word on the matter. Of course, when it comes to bashing religious Jews a single word would never suffice. The New York Times, for instance, used 75 of its 837 words (almost 10%) to describe it. The Jewish Week (“Take Me Out Of The Ballgame”) allotted 246 of its 551 word article (more than 50%) to the protest!

The major media outlets also offered video reports of the event. Even granting 10% would yield 12 seconds of air time allotted for the protest. Yet, in a 3:38 second BBC piece a full 76 seconds was devoted to it (30%). The New York Times had its own video segment where which allotted 1:51 of 2:51 to the protestors, a whopping 60% (!) of the coverage.

No one says the religious community is perfect and that there are not issues that need to be addressed. But the evening was about addressing one issue, an issue that can be the cause of so many other issues: unrestricted internet use. This is a problem not only for religious Jews, but not-so-religious Jews and non-Jews as well. Yet, virtually no one reported it as such (the Boston Herald was a notable exception).

It is only fair to ask: What was the cause of this deficient and diversionary coverage? I hope to discuss that next.


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