Yes, We Are Biased
Editor's Notebook

Yes, We Are Biased

I’m not going to pretend to be neutral or disinterested when the conversation is about expressions of hatred against Jews.

Michael Jacobs

Atlanta Jewish Times Editor Michael Jacobs is on his second stint leading the AJT's editorial operations. He previously served as managing editor from 2005 to 2008.

Next time you hear people talk about objectivity in the media, think about the Atlanta Initiative Against Anti-Semitism.

AIAAS held its launch event with about 250 people from more than 150 organizations, including me representing the AJT, on Thursday, March 30. You can read about what took place in a whirlwind, exciting two hours here. But while I wrote that article without inserting opinions, I can’t pretend my reporting lacked bias.

I can’t speak for other media in the Temple Emanu-El social hall that morning, but I’m not going to pretend to be neutral or disinterested when the conversation is about expressions of hatred against Jews. I wouldn’t be the editor of a Jewish newspaper (or the father of two Jewish sons) if I didn’t care deeply about the threat of anti-Semitism.

The AJT wasn’t there just to report on AIAAS and how it will turn this moment of anguish and energy into something productive for Jewish Atlanta and the wider community. This newspaper, your newspaper, was there as a participant — in the language of anti-hate activism, the AJT is trying to be an upstander, not a bystander.

That’s not a role an objective media outlet can play. Objectivity means not taking sides and, for the most part, not getting involved. It’s like the Prime Directive on the original “Star Trek”: We’re supposed to observe and report but not interfere.

But that’s not what a community newspaper should do. Of course we’re biased toward the best interests of our community.

So I was part of the discussion at my table, not just listening. I didn’t contribute as much as everyone else, but that’s partly because I’m more accustomed to asking questions than answering them.

I do hope people around the room listened more than they spoke. Not only would they have heard some excellent ideas, but they also would have learned that variations on many of those ideas are already being carried out by organizations. We need a better clearinghouse for sharing ideas and opportunities across the Jewish and non-Jewish communities — an area where the AJT can and should play a big role.

At our table of 10, including a moderator and a notetaker, we had three Christians. Looking around the room, I think that proportion of non-Jews was typical.

It was also important: Making progress against anti-Semitism is essentially about outreach, education and engagement with the general public because most anti-Semitism comes from outside the Jewish community.

A conversation about anti-Semitism with non-Jews, however, inevitably evolves into a discussion about hate in general, and that might be the first fundamental question the AIAAS leaders must answer: Can and should we remain focused exclusively on anti-Semitism?

If AIAAS strays beyond anti-Semitism, I’m afraid, it will become little more than an echo of the Anti-Defamation League in a smaller arena. That potential was apparent in the repeated calls for activism on hate-crimes legislation in Georgia, one of five states without such a law.

I’m not a fan of such laws. I see value in a measure ordering the collection of data on hate-motivated violence and vandalism so that we can better understand the problem. But people should be punished for their actions, not the thoughts behind them, and I see no evidence that laws targeting hate crimes make them less common. (I’m happy to be proved wrong.)

More important is that I worry about such legislation being a distraction. We need action more than words, and we probably need to start by showing interest in and helping resolve the problems of our neighbors. The more we engage with the others, the less room will be left for hate to grow.

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