When reporters become the targets

On Tuesday, the organization Reporters Without Borders (known by its French acronym RSF) denounced the Turkish government for arresting it’s longtime representative in Turkey, Erol Önderoglu, on charges of “terrorist propaganda” a month after having taken part in a campaign of solidarity with pro-Kurdish media. 

It was only the latest insult against journalists trying to survive and work in the post-Arab Spring era. 

On June 12th. RSF slammed Turkish authorities when a Syrian journalist named Ahmed Abdelqader, 33, the founder and editor of the online journal Aynala al-Watan (“Eye on Homeland) who is a refugee in southeastern Turkey, just barely managed to survive a second assassination attempt. 

Islamic State claimed responsibility the drive-by shooting of Abdelqader in the southeastern city of Urfa on the evening of 12 June. He remains hospitalized. 

According to RSF, over 200 reporters have been killed since the Arab Spring erupted in 2011, and at least 50 remain missing or are held by armed Islamist militias. 

Speaking with The Media Line, Marwan Hisham, a Syrian journalist currently living as a refugee in Turkey and co-author of the upcoming book Brothers of the Gun said that in honor of the moment “I'd like to pay tribute to all brave journalists all around the world who endanger their lives to get the stories they see out, despite all challenges. Targeting journalists and restricting their movements to conceal the truth is not something new, but I believe there hasn't been a time journalists, especially independent ones, were deliberately harassed like they are nowadays. The Syrian war has exposed the unspeakable horror journalists are vulnerable to, not only in war zones but in exile also: a number of journalists were assassinated or arrested not only by violent groups but by governments also. Others had to leave this risky profession fearing persecution.” 

“Now I can't go back to work from there,” he said, about abandoning his work in Syria to save his own life.

Perhaps the Nobel Academy in Stockholm was looking eastward, far eastward, when it awarded the Russian journalist Svetlana Alexievich the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2015.

Alexievich, who writes massive oral histories of suffering people, neither novels nor poems, is one of the most unusual laureates ever chosen. She refers to her work as “novels of voices, of the life of the sounds around you.” 

Yet, at a time when reporters are the targets of assassinations and oppression not only in Russia but throughout the warring Middle East, at a time when journalists are forced to flee rather than to pursue their stories, her work transcends.

On June 5th, 2016, Irina Bokova, the Director General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, decried Organization, (UNESCO) deplored the killing of Osama Jumaa, a Syrian journalist  killed in the battle for Aleppo. “I call on all parties in the conflict to respect the Geneva Conventions on the civilian status of journalists and their right to exercise their profession.”

Jumaa was killed when artillery fire hit an ambulance in which he was being treated for injuries he sustained earlier, while reporting on the bombing of a residential neighborhood for Images Live, a British photo agency.

The official figures to not take into account the dozens, possible hundreds of journalists jailed or killed by authorities in Libya, Egypt and Turkey, where the shuttering of media outlets has become routine. 

International monitoring groups estimate that over a thousand chroniclers– professional or semi-professional journalists and reporters– have fled the country when threatened by targeted persecution and by the conflict’s overwhelming violence which can come from any quarter—the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad, the air force bombings of his Russian allies, armed “opposition groups” and various extremist Islamic militias such as the al-Qaeda-linked al-Nusra front of the Islamic State. 

Many of them face constant difficulties and continue to fear for their safety in the countries in which they seek refuge. Syria’s borders are easily crossed not only by journalists fleeing violence but also by every kind of predator. Syrian journalists must also often cope with hostility from the authorities in these countries and the restrictions that local legislation imposes on them.

Last October, Ibrahim Abdul Qader and Fares Hamadi, both reporters, were found beheaded at the home of a mutual friend. 

“Until the international community and warring sides do something serious to protect journalists,” Hisham says, “they are going to stay at risk. I myself am a refugee now, in a situation where I cannot do my job normally. Inside Syria, I had to work undercover for years.” 

First Impressions

Last week, The Jewish Journal played host to two Muslim journalists.

Umar Cheema and Utku Çakirözer are Daniel Pearl Fellows chosen by the Daniel Pearl Foundation in conjunction with the Alfred Friendly Press Fellowships to work for six months in a U.S. newsroom.

The idea is to perpetuate the ideal of understanding embodied in the life of the slain Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl by exposing Muslim journalists to America and American journalism. Not coincidentally, most of the Fellows come from Pakistan, where Danny Pearl was kidnapped and murdered.

Çakirözer, a reporter for the daily Milliyet in Ankara, Turkey, worked at the Los Angeles Times. Cheema, a special correspondent with The News International in Islamabad, Pakistan, was the first Daniel Pearl Fellow to work at The New York Times.

The journalists spend six months at a mainstream American newspaper, followed by a week at The Jewish Journal. We hosted our first Pearl Fellows five years ago, and it began awkwardly. One was from Pakistan, the other from Yemen. I was excited to show them my culture, and since food is the way I forge a connection with new people or places, I took them to Canter’s Deli.

The Pakistani stared at the menu for 15 minutes.

“Please,” he said, “you tell me what to get.”

I suggested lox, bagels and cream cheese.

“What is that?” he asked.

“Salmon,” I said. “It’s good.”

When the plate arrived, the man tried his best. He poked at what must have looked like a Matterhorn of cream cheese, draped with a fish-smelling orange scarf, mounded on a roll the size of a bread loaf. It suddenly looked disgusting to me, too.

“Never mind,” I said, “I’ll get a doggy bag. You should just order the chicken soup.”

“What’s that?” he looked at me again.

“Chicken soup,” I said. Was he kidding?

“No,” he said, “What is a ‘doggy bag’?”

The meals have since become stress-free — we stick to shish kebab and pizza — but the thrust of the conversations has barely changed.

Every year for the past five years, at the end of the Fellows’ week, I lead a public discussion with these journalists on stage at the Los Angeles Press Club, in Hollywood.

And for five years now, journalist after journalist has shared what has now become a commonplace truth about how their fellow countrymen perceive America: self-interested, unilateral, bullying.

The Iraq War was a turning point, of course. People sympathized with America following Sept. 11, and Turks and Pakistanis even supported the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan; they understood it.

But the Iraq War turned into a war against Muslims. Turks saw it threaten the stability of the southern Kurdistan region.

“All problems are local,” Çakirözer said. “Your problem became our problem.”

Pakistanis felt the Americans were punishing them for Al-Qaeda.

“The impression is created that America is part of the problem,” Cheema said, “that they don’t want something good for Pakistan.”

This week’s news of President Pervez Musharraf’s resignation after nine years as Pakistan’s leader only served as a reminder, Cheema said, of America’s hand in propping up a deeply unpopular, anti-democratic leader.

Çakirözer said even if he tries to point out that the Bush administration has little support among Americans, and that its own policies have moderated greatly in the last few years, the negative impressions remain strong.

“Who is more popular in your country,” I asked Cheema, “George W. Bush or Osama bin Laden?”

Cheema was silent for a long time. It’s not that bin Laden is popular, Cheema finally explained, just that Bush is so unpopular. “People only like Osama in reaction,” he said.

It’s a question I’ve been asking for five years, and the response is always the same, always sobering. It leads me to wonder — putting all blame aside — how far the image of this country has fallen in the world’s eyes and if we can regain the ground we’ve lost.

The answer came from Cheema. At 32, he is the next generation of Pakistanis — traditionally Muslim, educated, passionate about his country. I asked him what, if anything, he liked best about America.

“The best thing I like in America,” he told the Press Club audience, “that is the First Amendment. I really like it. Freedom.”

“And I tell you one thing, I don’t know what you got from my first negative answers, but I love this country very much. America has the potential, the capability, to rule the world for another century, but what she’s doing in the rest of the world, she is losing legitimacy. Otherwise, American ideals are dreamed of everywhere in the world. The rags to riches, the pursuit of happiness — at least you are in a position to dream of these things, and they are good things, they make you more creative, more energetic. You are lucky enough to be blessed with so many freedoms, so many opportunities. My friends from Pakistan who live here, when they talk they say, ‘Umar, what you dream of you can do it here.’ And these are the things that give us hope.”

That should give us all a little hope.

Then I asked Çakirözer, from Turkey, what he liked best about America. He said it was something he had never seen in his country, and never seen in all the countries to which he’d traveled. Yet it was something that said a lot about the core values of a rich and prosperous nation.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“I think you call them, ‘doggy bags,'” he said.

Brad A. Greenberg’s The God Blog covered Umar and Utku’s visit to the weekly editorial meeting at The Jewish Journal

Q and A With Floyd Abrams

New York Times reporter Judith Miller went to jail this week for refusing to reveal confidential sources. The attorney for Miller and the Times is Floyd Abrams, who spoke with The Journal about the case, about his career, and also about his new book, “Speaking Freely: Trials of the First Amendment.”

Miller faced imprisonment after the U.S. Supreme Court last week refused to hear her appeal and also an appeal by another reporter, Matthew Cooper of Time Magazine. A judge had held both reporters in contempt for not talking to the grand jury probing an alleged leak by someone in the Bush administration. The investigation centers on who may have violated federal law by disclosing the identity of a covert CIA agent. The leak of the agent’s name, Valerie Plame, could have been retaliation, because it occurred shortly after Plame’s husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, became a public critic of the Bush administration.

Cooper avoided jail time after agreeing to testify. He said his confidential source had, at the last moment, given him clearance to answer questions. Miller could remain in custody for as long as four months – until the grand jury completes its term.

In the interview, Abrams also talked of the Jewish perspective in his legal work, and about his role this year as an adviser to a Columbia University committee assembled following high-profile allegations of campus anti-Semitism.

Abrams, 68, emerged as a leading First Amendment attorney through his role in the 1971 Pentagon Papers case, which he discusses at length in his book. Over the past 35 years, his career has been a virtual textbook in the development of First Amendment case law.

Jewish Journal: What’s at stake in the decision of Judith Miller and The New York Times to keep secret the names of confidential sources?

Floyd Abrams: Something that is a staple of Washington reporting and much used outside of Washington, as well. In Washington, a journalist literally cannot find anyone to speak to in the Defense Department, in the CIA, in Homeland Security, except on an off-the-record basis – on a promised basis not to reveal the name of the person who gives the information.

So what is really at issue here is whether journalists are going to be able to continue to function in certain types of reporting. They can do other sorts or reporting. There’s a lot of reporting where you don’t need confidential sources.

But if you want reporting that deals with national security-related matters, you have to give some sort of allowance for confidential sources to be used and protected. And if the word goes out either that journalists break their word or journalists can’t give their word, I think there’ll be a significant loss.

JJ: Your client and another reporter, Matt Cooper of Time magazine, face jail time because they won’t reveal information about their sources to a grand jury. But it was conservative columnist Robert Novak who actually used the information from the Bush administration source.

FA: Judy Miller did not even write a story about this. Matt Cooper, after Novak, wrote an article criticizing the unnamed leakers. The irony here is that a critic of the leaking and someone who didn’t even use the fruits of the leak are now sentenced to jail.

JJ: How is it that Novak doesn’t seem to be in the same hot seat as Miller and Cooper?

FA: If this investigation were being carried out by someone other than the special prosecutor, Pat Fitzgerald, who seems to me a straight shooter, I’d be very suspicious. How come Novak, a fellow who is pro-administration, is let loose, and my clients are in the dock? But no, I don’t think it’s that. Either he’s talked or he’s taken the Fifth Amendment [against self-incrimination]. Some people have suggested maybe the government does think it will indict Novak; that maybe he did do something illegal.

If something legally happens to Novak, that would raise very grave First Amendment problems, notwithstanding that he’s not the most appetizing victim, as far as the liberal community is concerned.

JJ: The coverage has tended to focus on Miller and Cooper.

FA: I don’t understand why Mr. Novak is not constantly barraged with questions from other journalists. If he has testified, he’d be free to say, ‘They asked me this. They asked me that. I protected my source. Or I didn’t protect my source.’

All of this is relevant to my side of the case, too. Because if I knew he had testified, I would be saying with a lot more confidence in court: “What are we doing here? Why are my clients here in the dock?” And if I knew that he had said something in particular, I might be able to say, “Why do you need my people? You’ve already heard from Novak.”

But the government and the courts will not let us see even the written submission of the Special Counsel in which he set forth what he has done, the theory being: It’s Grand Jury material; therefore it’s secret; therefore I can’t see it. Now that’s the general rule, but I’m representing people who are very close to being imprisoned, and I’m not entitled to see the documents submitted by the government in support of imprisoning them. That seems to us to be another violation of the Constitution, and that’s the due-process clause — that you shouldn’t just be able to lock someone up on the basis of secret information, period.

JJ: Earlier this year, you had a hand in addressing a politically charged issue at Columbia University. You served as an adviser to a faculty committee investigating allegations made by Jewish students against professors regarded as pro-Palestinian.

FA: We were asked to look into charges by some Jewish students that they were mistreated in class and that certain classes were biased against Israel. Some students were saying that they were marginalized in these classes and made to feel as if their views were condemned.

JJ: According to The New York Times, the most credible allegation involved professor Joseph Massad. A student said she asked if it was true that Israel sometimes gave a warning before a bombing, so that people would not be hurt. She accused the professor of getting angry, and responding, ‘If you’re going to deny the atrocities being committed against Palestinians, then you can get out of my classroom!’ The professor denied that the incident occurred.

FA: The student’s articulation of what happened was credible. The committee concluded that there were a few instances in which a particular professor had acted inappropriately or potentially so.

The broad issue here is this: Do students have academic freedom rights also? I think they do. They do not have to be humiliated, attacked, disdained. And what should a university do about charges of bias? For this was a matter more of alleged bias than intimidation.

You have to be careful not to sit in constant judgment of the bias or lack of bias of faculty members. That said, if a course becomes a political harangue, its pedagogic value is limited.

JJ: Where do you draw the line?

FA: You’d get rid of a professor who taught the flat-earth view simply on a basis that he’s wrong. It’s very hard, however, when a professor is talking about deeply politicized subjects.

The committee focused on what it was asked to focus on: incidents of alleged harassment of students by faculty. The broader questions it was not asked to look into. The usual First Amendment answer is to get some more faculty members so that students are exposed to a range of viewpoints – unless what a professor is doing is so far outside the realm of what can properly be offered in a great institution of learning.

JJ: You have not been a supporter of many of the campaign-reform laws, in particular McCain-Feingold.

FA: I wound up with a most unlikely client, Mitch McConnell, in challenging the McCain-Feingold law.

JJ: McConnell is one of the more conservative senators.

FA: Indeed. No one has ever said that Sen. McConnell is not consistently conservative. But on this issue I thought he was right, at least on the part of the case that interested me the most.

What bothered me and still does is the part of the law that makes it a crime for any union or corporation to put an ad on radio and television that mentions the name of a candidate for federal public office within 60 days of the election, or within 30 days of a nominating convention.

When I was called by Lions Gate Films, Michael Moore’s distributor of ‘Fahrenheit 9/11,’ which is a very strong anti-Bush movie, I had to tell them they could not put on television their ads with a picture of Bush within 60 days of the general election, so no ads in September and October of 2004. They couldn’t do it within 30 days of the Republican convention, so nothing in August of 2004. And they could do nothing in a state that had a primary within 30 days of that state’s primary.

Beyond that, the AFL [American Federation of Labor] had to cancel ads that it routinely used, where they would, for example, say congressman so-and-so should vote in favor of raising the minimum wage. And the chamber of commerce, the pro-business group, couldn’t put on similar ads for, say, tort reform, focused on vulnerable members of Congress who were up for election.

JJ: You lost that case in the Supreme Court.

FA: We lost narrowly and definitively. A 5-4 vote, with the three most conservative members, Rehnquist, Scalia and Thomas, voting for us. And Justice Kennedy voting for us, too. Kennedy is probably the most consistently protective of the First Amendment. And we lost all the justices traditionally viewed as more liberal.

JJ: What do you see as the actual solution to curbing the influence of money in politics?

FA: I don’t think there’s ever going to be a great solution…. I think that the optimum solution was the one advocated by the ACLU, that there ought to be public financing of political campaigns without limiting what private people can contribute. In New York City, for example, we have such a system. Michael Bloomberg last time spent $75 million running for mayor. At least the Democratic candidate had $16 million of city funding. So at least he could be heard, albeit by no means evenly. The other is to require instant disclosure over the Internet of every gift, or every gift over a certain amount made by anyone or anything. So it can become an issue if anybody thinks that too much corporate money goes one way or too much union money goes the other.

JJ: Does your heritage as a Jew give you a particular affinity as a lawyer for the First Amendment, which protects freedom of religion, freedom of speech and establishes the separation of church and state?

FA: Jews are amongst the first victims in countries that don’t recognize First Amendment rights or their equivalent. And it seems to me that Jews, in particular, have generally borne that in mind, and that is one reason why Jews have been drawn, out of interest and necessity, to the legal profession.

Many Jews have taken the broad view that it’s necessary for them and for all groups of potential dissenters to have these freedoms legally protected. Freedom of speech and equality under the law are such essential values to Jewish people that it has been well said that freedom is always spoken with a Hebrew accent. We carry those notions and principles with us.

JJ: Has post-9/11 America proved to be an especially chilly time for the First Amendment?

FA: During a time in which people are afraid, there is always more of a tendency to suppress speech or to limit it.

The flap about Newsweek, I think, is one example. There were flaws in the Newsweek article, but the notion that the press secretary to the president is now holding press conferences purporting to instruct the press on how to do journalism — and blaming the press for deaths in Afghanistan — is suggestive of what happens in times of war, in times of crisis and the like. It’s very easy to blame the press, to come down hard on the press, especially at a time when the press does have a lot to answer for. It is also very tempting to try to score political points off the press at such a time.

JJ: Your new book makes clear that the push and pull of competing interests lies at the heart of our legal system. You describe how the government sought to prevent the New York Times and other newspapers from publishing the Pentagon Papers, which were leaked by Daniel Ellsberg and contained critical accounts of U.S. involvement in Vietnam. The government claimed that national security was at stake, and ultimately, the government lost. That ruling is now enshrined in legal lore, but it was a very close call at the time, was it not?

FA: It was a very close call. After a case is over, decided — and somebody wins and somebody loses — it becomes the received wisdom. As in: That is the way it had to be. But that was a case that could have been lost

If Dan Ellsberg had gotten up in Central Park and started reading the Pentagon Papers, or indeed, if the Village Voice had published just what the New York Times did, I always thought the First Amendment side’s chances before the Supreme Court would have been greatly diminished. Only because the establishment press stood up and took this position did we finally eke out a victory.

What would have happened if we’d lost the Pentagon Papers case? I believe we really would live in a different sort of country. It would not necessarily be un-free, but it would be a lot less free than we are now.

Every president has grievances with the press, especially post-Sept. 11, with fears of war, fears of terrorism. And anyone who is in power has grievances with the press, but doesn’t even think about going to court and trying to stop the press from printing. That it is off the table is the big result, at the end of the day, of the Pentagon Papers case. The cultural lesson of the case is that presidents don’t have the weapon of a judicial injunction against the press, even when the press publishes material that the president believes is harmful to the country, not to mention the president himself.

JJ: You can still beat up the press afterward if it didn’t do its job properly.

FA: Correct.

JJ: Will the Pentagon Papers precedent survive a new Supreme Court? Or, for that matter, are other landmark decisions on the free press likely to be at stake?

FA: I don’t think that the central approach of the Pentagon Papers case is likely to be put back in play.

In lots of other areas, the battles go on and who’s on the court is absolutely essential. A lot of people think as many as three justices might leave during this term. Then you really start to cut into the core of the court and you have potential for vast changes in judicial rulings.


Newsroom Rebellion Silences Gossip About Mayor’s Family


An extraordinary minirebellion erupted in two Los Angeles newsrooms recently. At the Valley’s Daily News and the L.A. Weekly, reporters refused to pursue a story that senior editors at both papers very much wanted.

Insubordination is potential grounds for dismissal, so this refusal required chutzpah. But it’s not obvious that the editors were wrong and the intrepid reporters right.

The tip/rumor/innuendo in question involves personal information, as yet unconfirmed and unpublished, about a member of Mayor James Hahn’s family. Faced with resistance from reporters, management at the Daily News has since dropped the subject. The L.A. Weekly’s editor, apparently, still wants the story. Editors at the Los Angeles Times, for its part, elected to let the matter lie; no reporters’ rebellion was required.

In this column, I, too, will not disclose personal information about the Hahn family. But that doesn’t necessarily argue for my virtue. My wife, for one, objected to this article in any form. Alluding to personal, private information — gossip if you will — is no better than blurting it out, she insists, because it keeps the matter alive and dangling. Her views line up compatibly with the Torah, the Talmud and the writings of latter-day rabbis. All of these texts warn about lashon hara (gossip), carefully making distinctions between types of gossip, but generally condemning them all.

My wife adds that it’s elitist and condescending to obliquely reference something that journalists and politicos are whispering about, when I have no intention of actually informing the reader.

Her last point is awfully close to why Ron Kaye, managing editor of the Daily News, wanted his reporters to chase this lead.

“What’s so taboo about it?” Kaye said in an interview. “What makes us privileged and the public not? I don’t really understand why — other than it’s elitism and it goes to the timid culture of Los Angeles.”

This personal information, if published, would be captivating enough to get attention, but it pertains to nothing illegal, immoral or unethical. So is it automatically off limits?

Not in Kaye’s view: “If you’re going to step on the stage, you risk being totally exposed or revealed. I think the public should know fully the story of who Hahn is. And what his life is like and what happened to it. I think we have a right to know. Why do we talk about the personal lives of presidential candidates? It’s not because it’s the most important thing. We’re interested, and it becomes a form of symbolic language. When you step into the role of mayor in the media and glamour capital, you become part of the conversation.”

If Los Angeles worked like New York City, competitive pressures already would have flushed out any gossip involving the mayor. The tabloids might begin it, but the august New York Times would invariably respond with the “responsible” version. When it comes to celebrities, say Kobe Bryant or Michael Jackson, people are so conditioned to invasiveness that the publishing of revelations is hardly questioned. But why is it in Los Angeles that the personal life of actor Robert Blake looms more newsworthy than the mayor’s? Is it a reflection of Los Angeles’ civic culture that the mayor barely seems to qualify as a public figure?

In a Los Angeles Times guest column, blogger Mickey Kaus defended the fun of gossip, but also asserted that tattling on public officials would make more people pay attention to — and care about — what actually happens in official Los Angeles.

Kaye sees a connection between the handling of this story and the local media’s frequent unwillingness to pursue other, weightier grist.

“I’ve worked in journalism in this town for 25 years,” he said, “and the No. 1 issue has always been motivating staff to go full-bore, with the understanding that everything done by government is my public right to know. We need to confront public agencies and tell them that they have no right to any secret. It’s not as bad as 25 years ago, but it’s still bad.”

It’s a stretch to equate details about a politician’s personal life with the push for open, accountable government. But there are exceptions. In the early 1960s, no one reported on the philandering of President John F. Kennedy, as per the customs of the day. Yet, historians have since learned that one Kennedy mistress had connections to the mob, which could have — and may have — compromised JFK as president. Nor did anyone look into Kennedy’s serious health problems, which contrasted sharply with a projected youthful vigor so quintessential to his image.

If newshounds had bothered to examine Kennedy’s private life, they would indeed have found something newsworthy.

These conundrums plunge inevitably into situational ethics. It probably was nobody’s business that Rep. Bob Barr (R-Ga.) paid for his wife’s abortion — except perhaps until he equated abortion with murder on the floor of Congress. Nor did the long-ago affair of Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.) seem worth exposing years later — until perhaps the moment Hyde thundered that President Bill Clinton deserved to be impeached for lying about an affair.

When it comes to Hahn’s family life, the case for disclosure rests on shakier ethical footing, especially when looking through the prism of Judaism. Rabbi Joseph Telushkin dealt with such topics in his writings, and I do his work injustice to reference it so briefly and incompletely. But his citations include Leviticus, which prohibits being a “talebearer.” This stricture applies even to telling truthful tales. The Talmud goes so far as to warn against speaking well of a friend, “for although you will start with good traits, the discussion might turn to his bad traits.”

So well-behaved rabbis would keep their mouths shut — and forbid their children from majoring in journalism. But what about us scribes? I lean toward a difficult middle path, splitting the baby if you will, though unlike King Solomon, I’d be prepared to follow through.

That is, when it comes to a public official, it usually makes sense to investigate gossip or rumor. The Los Angeles Times called it right by probing the sexual-harassment rumors surrounding then-candidate Arnold Schwarzenegger. If you don’t investigate, you never know when there’s something that you should know — something that you ought to report. Critics lashed the Times for landing its Schwarzenegger stories closely in advance of the recall election. But the alternative of not publishing news of credible, multiple sexual-harassment allegations would have been irresponsible.

If newsmongers did choose to invest scarce resources in pursuit of the Hahn-related tidbit, and then confirmed the scuttlebutt, it would be contrary to their temperament to stay silent. Yet, in rare cases, when journalists check out rumors, they should be prepared to take their findings and shove them under the mattress. I say rare, because false rumors themselves can be newsworthy and fair game — and they can be dealt with sensitively, even if it undermines titillation.

Maybe the Los Angeles Times checked out the Hahn thing and let it go. Maybe it didn’t bother to check at all — which would be less defensible. Assistant City Editor John Hoeffel said he couldn’t share information about what stories his paper is or isn’t pursuing. He added: “In deciding whether to write a story about the mayor or the mayor’s family, we would weigh whether it affected his job as a public official. It would depend on whether the gossip is just colorful details about the mayor or a private matter. If we felt something was information that was important for the public to know about, we would write it.”

Editors at the L.A. Weekly did not reply to a request for an interview.

There’s another section of the Leviticus sanction against gossip. It states, “Neither shall thou stand idly by the blood of thy neighbor.” Jewish Week editor Gary Rosenblatt, in his column, has taken this admonition to mean that ethical journalism, which keeps its civic mission front and center, might pass the rabbis’ scrutiny after all.

Kaye of the Daily News said he could’ve found some reporter ambitious enough to do the deed. But he relied on the discretion of the veteran journalists he trusted most, such as Beth Barrett and Rick Orlov.

“If my best reporters, whom I respect deeply, won’t do it, it’s probably the wrong thing to do,” he said. “Nothing ever moved in the story. It didn’t become a public event. Nobody else touched the story and made you have to respond. It was an extremely close call. And I don’t know that, collectively, we as journalists did the right thing.”