Editor’s Notebook – When Jews Do Wrong

Editor’s Notebook – When Jews Do Wrong

We’re in the middle of the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival, which every year faces the same question: What qualifies as a Jewish film?

We face a similar question at the AJT: What qualifies as Jewish news?

Is it anything that involves someone who is Jewish? Must it affect Jewish people in particular? Should we report on local governments in areas with large Jewish populations? Do we give special attention to elected officials and candidates who are Jewish? Is it more important to report on businesses that are owned by Jews or cater to Jews? Do we write about Jewish-owned restaurants or only those that are kosher and thus available to our entire community? When it comes to crime, are we worried about only Jewish victims or also Jewish culprits?

Michael Jacobs
Michael Jacobs

For the most part, we take a broad view of Jewish news, which means we’re looking for interesting stories about Jewish people as well as news about and directly affecting the Jewish community. We leave most of the local government coverage to other outlets. We like to write about local Jewish athletes (we’re hoping to catch up with new Atlanta Brave Nate Freiman during spring training), but we don’t feel the need to cover every Falcons or Hawks game just because those teams’ primary owners are Jewish.

But the answers aren’t simple when it comes to Jews accused or convicted of wrongdoing.

In the Jan. 15 issue we ran information from a Department of Justice press release about guilty pleas to real estate fraud by two men, one of whom is Jewish. Such an occurrence leads to a series of questions:

  • Do we report the case and name the culprits? If so, do we specify that a convict is Jewish, or leave it to readers to infer Jewishness based on the coverage by the AJT?

The case in question was part of an ongoing investigation in which at least two Jewish investors previously pleaded guilty, but we missed those convictions when they happened. So we had more questions:

  • Is it fair to mention those convicted earlier? Is it fair not to? If we don’t name them, should we at least mention previous Jewish convictions so that the person being named is put in context, or does that unnecessarily cast aspersions on the whole community?

I think we were right to report the latest convictions, but it was awkward to call one person out as Jewish and not address the religion of the other. Mentioning previous Jewish convicts without naming them seemed like a fair compromise, but we potentially provided fodder to those who see us all as “greedy Jews.”

It’s my belief that we should not ignore wrongdoing by members of our community, but we probably don’t need to specify that a person is Jewish when we’re doing it. As Publisher Michael Morris and I always emphasize, however, this is your community newspaper, so it’s important to know what you think. There’s no point in reporting things few people want to read.

If you care about whether we report on people in our community who do wrong, email your thoughts to mjacobs@atljewishtimes.com. There are several possibilities:

  • Don’t write about Jewish wrongdoers.
  • Write about Jewish wrongdoers only when they sink to a certain level, with the line somewhere between a killer like Hemy Neuman or a national embezzler like Bernie Madoff on one hand and a low-level drug dealer or a bookie on the other.
  • Write about anyone who has done wrong.
  • Write about anyone accused of wrongdoing.

If you think we should write such stories, should we specify who is Jewish or leave it to readers to guess?

I look forward to your feedback.

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