November 16, 2018

‘Peoplehood Over Partisanship’

People in Queens, N.Y., gather for a candlelight vigil for the victims of the Pittsburgh shooting. Photo by Jeenah Moon/Reuters

The following is a sermon that Rabbi Nolan Lebovitz of Adat Shalom delivered to his congregation on the Solidarity Shabbat of Nov. 3.


This morning’s talk feels like a monumental task: to discuss a tragic event that seems like it belongs in a different era in history — the murder of 11 Jews at shul during a brit milah in Pittsburgh by a neo-Nazi only one week ago. And I have to begin by acknowledging that I have far more questions at this point than answers. I have to contemplate whether we, as a Jewish community here in America, whether we can ever go back or should ever go back to the way we felt last Friday before the mass murder.

Most of us listen so much to the preachers of the great American cathedrals of the 24-hour news stations that I do not see any need to cover that which Jake Tapper or Rachel Maddow or Sean Hannity have already said. In this discussion, I’ll attempt to consider the atrocity and our path forward from a different perspective — from a Jewish perspective.

All week, I have felt depressed and sad and mournful. And yet, I’ve seen little mourning. Rabbis in Pittsburgh, like Rabbi Jeremy Markiz who celebrated his aufruf with us last Shabbat, has asked for space to mourn. The front-page headline of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette yesterday was “Yitgadal V’Yitkadash” in Hebrew, referencing the iconic prayer during our mourning period.

Yet, in the immediate aftermath, the news ran with rage, certain rabbis in this community jumped to explain and blame from the outset. And it strikes me that, perhaps, in moments of our deepest anguish —  that is not the time for clearest thinking. And so I purposefully tried to remain silent. I purposefully tried to get to know that which was taken from our family.

1. Joyce Fienberg, a mother of two and grandmother of one, had a long career at the University of Pittsburgh as a research specialist.

2. Dr. Richard Gottfried was a dentist who devoted his life to his community, serving the local school district.

3. Rose Mallinger, 97 years young, was a mother of three, a grandmother of five and a great-grandmother of one, and she still cooked family meals for High Holidays. Her daughter Andrea was injured in the shooting.

4. Dr. Jerry Rabinowitz wore bow ties and smiles; and in the early 1990s, when he treated HIV patients, he held their hands without gloves to show them not to be afraid.

5 & 6. Brothers Cecil Rosenthal and David Rosenthal were special souls, described as gentle and kind; and they always looked out for one another.

7 & 8. Bernice and Sylvan Simon were killed in the same synagogue in which they were married 62 years ago.

9. Daniel Stein was a simple guy, who according to his family was loved by all.

10. Melvin Wax liked to tell jokes in shul.

11. Irving Younger greeted people in shul and helped people know the correct page in the siddur.

‘The hope I have…is that we allow for a spirit of wisdom and compromise to once again enter public discourse.”

We pray God comforts all of the mourners among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem, and we pray for the full recovery of body and spirit for all of the wounded and the brave first responders who raced to the scene to battle evil. 

Those lives were not only ripped from us, our sense of security was stripped away as well. The silver lining of this entire week is the solidarity of other communities —  Christians, Muslims and others — who have stepped forward and offered assistance. I have received letters from surrounding churches, emails from church leaders in the interfaith softball league in which we participate, and outreach from my professors and classmates in Claremont.

However, in my opinion, this Solidarity Shabbat is not about interfaith dialogue. This is a Shabbat to consider out loud that which we rarely do as Jews in America. We have tremendous solidarity when it comes to tragedy. We all believe vehemently that our brothers and sisters should not be murdered. But I wonder if we, the American-Jewish community, can agree on any fundamental truths about the way forward?

The reason I ask is because this community of Adat Shalom is made up of all kinds of Jews. Different levels of religious practice, different levels of community participation, different political leanings. I’ve always seen our community as richer for this diversity, and I’ve always believed that we share more in common than we do that divides us. And I suspect you do, too, and that’s why you’re here. I wonder if we can sit here and reflect together. Even if it’s uncomfortable, can we reflect about a path forward together? 

Anti-Semitism is nothing new. But, does this shooting signify something more significant than just a brutal act of anti-Semitism? Is it a mark of moral decay? A corrosion of the very fabric of the American tapestry? I was willing to accept Charlottesville [Va.] as an aberration. But I have to admit that I think Pittsburgh makes a trend.

I think all of us can agree that the atmosphere in this country has become more extreme over the years, in every sense: politically, socially, culturally. Drastic change and new policy comes about at a faster rate than ever before. Our swing from the last administration to this one, in every sense, has been a deep and drastic pendulum swing. And I want to suggest that this aggressive societal change is never good for Jews.

We did not bring about this atrocity. I resent any context that uses Israel policy or American Jewish success to explain the context of this deranged neo-Nazi’s behavior. We didn’t ask for this Solidarity Shabbat. At the same time, if our mission is to be the light unto the nations, perhaps this is the time for us to rise up to shed light in this dark period. Perhaps the way to honor 11 Jews murdered for coming to synagogue is to sit in synagogue and wonder how we can help protect one another.

As the inheritors of Talmudic argumentation, we don’t participate in a lot of healthy debate. We don’t insist on respecting minority opinions like our holy texts do. We don’t strive for compromise for the sake of later generations. Today we, much like our American neighbors, try to win and strike and smear our opponents. For example, think about the debates between Secretary [Hillary] Clinton and President [Donald] Trump. Do you feel like we gained any understanding from an exchange of ideas regarding the fears and also the benefits of our immigration policy, or around the rights and also the responsibilities of gun ownership, or around the freedom and also the limitations of media and social media in this new day and age? 

“The silver lining of this entire week is the solidarity of other communities — Christians, Muslims and others — who have stepped forward and offered assistance”

As a people who begin the holiest day of our year with Kol Nidre, the negation of all of our verbal vows, we have to do a better job explaining to people that words matter. This point didn’t strike me as crucial until my childhood friend and now assistant professor of American politics at Northeastern Illinois University, William Adler, was on television this week explaining the nuance and connotation of the word “nationalist,” as opposed to the word “patriot.” For better or worse, saying “nationalist” into a microphone that is attached to the seal of the Oval Office creates a signpost to human garbage of every order, including the white nationalist neo-Nazi who committed this murder. It sends a message that nationalism is welcome. We are too schooled in the value of words to accept this harmful wordplay. Now is not the time to be blind to the type of code that is being used to incite anti-Semitism and anti-Israel behavior on both sides.

I know there are many today who don’t want me to discuss both sides during this time — who don’t want to take stock in our position in America at-large because it’s easier to put the entire blame for everything at the feet of one person. I think that simple logic is incredibly unwise and un-Jewish. Whenever we hear a single, simple solution to a complicated societal problem, we should be smarter than to believe it.

For a people whose most sacred law bans idol worship, I see a great deal of it in our politics. And so today, I believe it’s incumbent on Jews who voted for President Trump to call the White House and express outrage at any notion that allows the alt-right, white nationalists, neo-Nazis and others to feel comfortable out of the shadows. If we voted for President Trump, we are not to then root for him, but rather hold him responsible. It’s our obligation to call and explain that the messianic Jew who recited the Mourner’s Kaddish in Jesus’ name before Vice President Pence does not represent the Jewish people. It’s our obligation to denounce this tone-deaf response to respecting the Jewish community. The important foreign policy moves for Israel have been much appreciated, but that can’t be traded in exchange for a stoking of dangerous fires for Jews here in America. We should never have to make that choice. These calls should simply begin, “Mr. President, I’m a Jew who actually voted for you, and I am profoundly disappointed in …” And then insert your ideas. And I’m sorry anybody feels like this is getting political but I hear rabbis screaming about President Trump all the time and I dismiss them because they’ve been screaming since the day he was elected. And I’m sure the president does as well. But when something like this happens, it’s time for all of us to reflect, reconsider and call our elected officials responsible for an appropriate reaction. His words have to be more thoughtful and have to clearly denounce white nationalism at every opportunity.

Not to draw a comparison on situations, but I spoke the same way in 2016 about those of us who voted for President [Barack] Obama and his Israel policy. I called on Democratic Jews to call the White House and speak out against President Obama’s damaging parting shot against Israel in the form of Resolution 2334 at the U.N. Had I been the rabbi here at the time, I would have called on Democratic Jews to call the White House and decry the Iran deal as well.

It’s time for alumni of UCLA to call the university administration and ask them about the difference between free speech and hate speech in light of the upcoming national conference for Students for Justice in Palestine to be held on the UCLA campus. SJP members and speakers regularly call for violence against Jews and Israel.

My point is that the nature of this Shabbat calls on each of us to look inside ourselves and see what organizations we support, parties with which we are associated, and how each of us can act to speak out against anti-Semitism. There are many, many anti-Semites I can list — associated with each party — who regularly speak against Jews or Israel in a way they would never about other peoples and other countries. And if we vote for a candidate, then we must declare ourselves his or her overseer, not only her or his fan.

Our Torah reveals to us flaws of each of our ancestors, each of our heroes. Nobody is perfect. To think that the atmosphere in this country has become toxic solely because of one person or one president is naïve. And, to absolve ourselves of any responsibility regarding President Trump’s coded language is impetuous. Every single one of us must hold ourselves to stand up against anti-Semitism, specifically, and racism in general across the country.

This mass murder of Jews occurred during a weekend when African-Americans were killed by a racist and during a week when Nazi-themed Halloween costumes and parties were revealed around the country and synagogues were vandalized, one in the Los Angeles area. The Tree of Life synagogue is a symptom of a terrible disease of hate and racism in this country at large. But we can’t address this problem if we act like Americans. If we retreat to our corners and act petty and try to win. We can only add something to the conversation if and only if we rely on our Jewish values of wisdom and compromise and responsibility, and a recognition that words matter.

“I know there are many today who don’t want me to discuss both sides during this time — who don’t want to take stock in our position in America at-large because it’s easier to put the entire blame for everything at the feet of one person. I think that simple logic is incredibly unwise and un-Jewish.” 

The hope I have for this community is that we come together in the way of tzedakah that we give as a community to the Tree of Life synagogue. If you’d like to participate, go to our website or please call our office on Monday.

The hope I have for this Solidarity Shabbat is that Jews in America realize
that there is far more that we have in common with each other than divides us politically. To stand against anti-Semitism means that each of us needs to look inside and not choose partisanship over peoplehood, but rather use our partisanship to protect our joint bond of peoplehood. Kol Yisrael Aravim Zeh La’Zeh — All Jews are responsible for one another. That is the spirit of our people. Perhaps the path forward to protect our people is to really listen to the concerns of our neighbors here in this room and around our community, and then use our partisanship to protect our people.

The hope I have for America is that a new spirit of promise of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is extended for all people irrespective of race, religion or gender. That we allow for a spirit of wisdom and compromise to once again enter public discourse. And that we, as Jews, lead through our values of love, justice, humility and Torah. Because, in the words of our prophet Zechariah, “Not by might and not by power, but by God’s spirit alone” may we all live in peace. 

May we all live in peace, soon. And let us say, amen.

NYT Forced to Issue Correction on Haley Story

Photo from Flickr.

The New York Times was forced to issue a correction to a Thursday story accusing United States Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley of spending $52,701 on curtains for her residence.

The story was initially titled, “Nikki Haley’s View of New York Is Priceless. Her Curtains? $52,701.” However, the sixth paragraph of the story stated, ““A spokesman for Ms. Haley said plans to buy the curtains were made in 2016, during the Obama administration. Ms. Haley had no say in the purchase, he said.”

CNN’s Jake Tapper confirmed that Haley didn’t have a say in the matter:

At the top of The New York Times article is currently an editor’s note that reads:

An earlier version of this article and headline created an unfair impression about who was responsible for the purchase in question. While Nikki R. Haley is the current ambassador to the United Nations, the decision on leasing the ambassador’s residence and purchasing the curtains was made during the Obama administration, according to current and former officials. The article should not have focused on Ms. Haley, nor should a picture of her have been used. The article and headline have now been edited to reflect those concerns, and the picture has been removed.

The headline now reads: “State Department Spent $52,701 on Curtains for Residence of U.N. Envoy.”

H/T: Washington Examiner

Biased Media a Win for Trump

Michael Wolff. Photo by Brendan McDermid/Reuters

Over the past two weeks, the media world has been agog with reactions to the new gossipy tell-all from the West Wing, Michael Wolff’s “Fire and Fury.” The book is riddled with errors both small and large, and relies heavily on unverified anecdotes, particularly from former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon. Bannon’s comments have prompted the majority of headlines: He apparently called Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with a Russian-backed lawyer “treasonous,” suggested that President Donald Trump was an insane person, and attacked Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump with alacrity. Trump responded in Trumpian fashion: he attacked the book as fake news, and slammed Bannon — rightly — as a self-aggrandizing boor with a penchant for overwrought drama.

But put aside all the chaos regarding Trump — after all, we already knew most of this stuff in a broad way. We knew that Trump wasn’t exactly the “stable genius” he professes to be; we knew that Bannon was a nefarious force motivated to strike down Jared and Ivanka; we knew that the White House seems to function with the force and efficiency of a hamster wheel, with Trump’s itchy Twitter thumb starring as the hamster.

There’s something else more disturbing: the tendency of the media to believe that which they find comfortable, and to disbelieve everything else. The most egregious example came courtesy of Wolff himself, who stated, “If it rings true, it is true.” The meaning of this rather self-serving phrase: If you like what you read, take it as truth. That’s the essence of confirmation bias — the bias we all have toward believing that which confirms our already-decided views. Wolff made that statement to MSNBC’s Katy Tur, who responded, “Congratulations on the book, and congratulations on the president hating it.” Can you imagine such a congratulatory message from Tur to muckraking anti-Hillary Clinton author Ed Klein? Of course not.

Then there was Brian Stelter, CNN’s supposed journalistic ombudsman. Stelter stated, “Wolff’s errors are sloppy, but many Trump experts say the book ‘rings true’ overall. My advice: Read it — skeptically.” Stelter’s own colleague, Jake Tapper, fired back, “Having many errors but ‘ringing true’ is not a journalistic standard. That said, quotes are quotes. And if facts can be ascertained by further reporting as true, that’s also a service.”

But the damage has already been done. Not to Trump — to the media.

When the entire Wolff affair is said and done, it won’t be Trump who emerges worse off.

Trump has been making political hay out of the media’s bias against him for over two years. This week, he’s attacked the media again, suggesting that next week he hopes to hold a “Fake News Awards,” which presumably will come complete with little gold statuettes. The only way for the media to fight back would be with intrepid truth-telling: double-sourced non-rumor-mongering, a real attempt to fight back against confirmation bias. Instead, the media have chosen to run with anonymous sourcing that often turns to dross; they’ve been unable to hide their smiles when the news is bad for Trump, and unable to hide their frowns when the news helps Trump. That lends Trump credibility.

When the entire Wolff affair is said and done, then, it won’t be Trump who emerges worse off. Trump is what we always thought he was: an unstable, charismatic, volatile human being. The media, however, may have blown their credibility in the desire for a cheap hit — and all to promote Steve Bannon’s personal profile. That’s a major win for Trump, not the media that hate him.


Ben Shapiro is a best-selling author, editor-in-chief at The Daily Wire and host of the conservative podcast “The Ben Shapiro Show.”

CNN Anchor Hammers U.N. for Anti-Israel Bias

Photo from Flickr/nrkbeta.

CNN anchor Jake Tapper criticized the United Nations for being biased against Israel in a segment on Thursday, as he blasted various countries for criticizing Israel despite having “questionable records.”

Tapper began his segment by summarizing the U.N.’s vote to condemn the Trump administration’s Jerusalem move by a margin of 128 votes in favor of the condemnation, nine against and 35 abstentions. The anchor proceeded to review the records of some of the countries who voted to condemn the move, starting with Venezuela.

“The U.S. imperils global peace, says the representative of Venezuela, a country in a humanitarian disaster,” said Tapper, “with violence in the streets, an economy in complete collapse, citizens malnourished, dying children being turned away from hospitals, starving families joining street gangs to scrounge for food.”

“On what moral platform does the government of Venezuela stand today?” asked Tapper.

Tapper also noted the irony of Syria and Yemen condemning the U.S. despite the fact that their citizens have been ravished by the civil wars plaguing each country, as well as other countries like Myanmar, North Korea and China condemning the move despite their heinous human rights abuses.

The anchor proceeded to highlight some statistics from U.N. Watch reflecting the U.N.’s bias against Israel.

“The United Nations General Assembly from 2012-2015 has adopted 97 resolutions specifically criticizing an individual country, and of those 97, 83 of them have focused on Israel,” said Tapper. “That is 86%.”

Tapper added, “Certainly Israel is not above criticism, but considering the genocide of the Rohingya people in Myanmar, the lack of basic human rights in North Korea, the children starving in the streets of Venezuela, the citizens of Syria targeted for murder by their own leader using the most grotesque and painful weapons, you have to ask, is Israel is deserving of 86% of the world’s condemnation?”

“Or possibly is something else afoot at the United Nations? Something that allows the representative of the Assad government lecture the United States for moving its embassy.”

The full segment can be seen below:

Jake Tapper and Linda Sarsour mixed it up on Twitter. And it wasn’t about Jews. Or was it?

Jake Tapper speaking to a crowd at the Harvard Institute of Politics Forum on Dec. 1, 2016. Photo by Scott Eisen/Getty Images

Jake Tapper, the CNN anchor, uses Twitter as a platform to joke, kibbitz with friends and colleagues, and, as he does on his show, “The Lead,” to call out deviations from what he sees as basic American values like tolerance and free speech.

One of his best-known encounters of the latter kind came last year, when he pressed candidate Donald Trump to disavow an endorsement by David Duke, the anti-Semite and racist. (Trump did, eventually.)

So it was odd to see Linda Sarsour, the feminist and Palestinian-American activist, say on Twitter on Tuesday that Tapper had joined “the ranks of the alt-right.”

It was part of a fraught exchange between a Muslim American well known for her friendship with some liberal Jews and for her clashes with the Jewish establishment — she endorses the boycott Israel movement — and a celebrity who makes no secret of his Jewishness. But it was one in which Jews never came up, at least explicitly.

So what started it all?

Tapper earlier on Wednesday criticized Sarsour and the Women’s March — which she helped found — for celebrating the birthday of Assata Shakur, a black militant convicted in the 1973 murder of a New Jersey State Trooper. She was jailed in 1977 and escaped in 1979, eventually fleeing to Cuba, where she lives today. Tapper responded to Sarsour’s birthday greetings by tweeting, “Shakur is a cop-killer fugitive in Cuba. This, ugly sentiments from @lsarsour & @dykemarchchi …Any progressives out there condemning this?” He linked to a Women’s March tweet marking Shakur’s birthday.

The Women’s March, in an extensive thread, had said that it was feting Shakur because of her role in repudiating sexism in the black nationalist movement, and did not endorse her role in the murder of the trooper.

Sarsour rejoined on Twitter, first with her gibe about Tapper joining the alt-right and then asking him directly: “Please share my ‘ugly’ sentiments? Unapologetically Muslim? Unapologetically Palestinian? Pro-immigrant? Pro-justice? Shame.”

Tapper, replying, referred to Sarsour’s attacks on Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the onetime Muslim who is now an outspoken critic of Islam. Ali has at times said her focus is only on militant Islam, but at other times has targeted the faith more broadly, earning herself a reputation in some quarters as an Islamaphobe.

In a now deleted 2011 tweet, Sarsour, comparing Ali to anti-Islam activist Brigitte Gabriel, had said: “Brigitte Gabriel=Ayaan Hirsi Ali. She’s asking 4 an a$$ whippin’. I wish I could take their vaginas away – they don’t deserve to be women.” (Asked about the tweet recently, she said, “People say stupid shit sometimes.”)

That, Tapper said, was “pretty vile” addressed to Ali, a survivor of female genital mutilation.

So, nothing in this fight is Jewish, right?

Yair Rosenberg, the Tablet blogger, noted on Twitter that Tapper — a graduate of Akiba Hebrew Academy in suburban Philadelphia who frequently celebrates his Jewish upbringing —  came in seventh among Jews in an Anti-Defamation League tally of journalists abused by the alt-right.

Beyond that, there are some hints of a Jewish subtext — that Tapper was coming at this from the perspective of Jewish experience, and that Sarsour understood this. Certainly, Sarsour seemed, by lumping Tapper in with the alt-right, to be seeking to wound him in the way that some folks belittle some black men by referring to them as Uncle Toms.

And Tapper, in his initial tweet pointing out progressive excesses, called out the Chicago Dyke March, for also wishing Shakur a happy birthday. Chicago Dyke March’s only known controversy of late was its ejection of three Jewish marchers for bearing flags marked with the Star of David.

(Sarsour did not reply to a request for comment, and CNN did not reply to a request to interview Tapper.)

On the other hand, Tapper’s overarching outrage at the happy birthday greeting would appear to stem not from any animus toward Sarsour or anti-Zionists, per se, but toward Shakur. As an ABC reporter in 2011 he aggressively pursued a story about how unhappy New Jersey cops were that President Barack Obama had invited the rapper Common to the White House; Common had recorded a paean to Shakur. As recently as last year Tapper urged fellow journalists travelling to Cuba to ask Shakur if she wanted an interview.

Added bonus irony? Tapper, now reviled by President Donald Trump and many of his followers who consider CNN hopelessly biased, earned kudos in 2011 from conservatives for holding Obama’s feet to the fire.

Good news about bad news

Reporters at the White House on Feb. 27. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Everyone knows TV political journalism failed us during the 2016 campaign.

Everyone knows TV news was clueless about Donald Trump voters and blue states swinging red. Everyone knows anchors let lying candidates roll them. Everyone knows TV coverage hyped the horse race and gave issues the cold shoulder. Everyone knows the cable news default frame for covering controversy is he-said/she-said food fights. Everyone knows local news is all about crashes, crime and fluff. Everyone knows investigative reporting is a luxury local stations can’t afford. Everyone knows down-ballot races are ratings poison.

Well, sometimes something everyone knows is wrong.

Those charges aren’t baseless. I could program a YouTube channel 24/7 with clips that make me cringe. But I also can beat the drum for TV newsmen and newswomen who know what excellence is, who go for it every day and who make me hopeful that at a dangerous moment, TV news can countervail against propaganda, paranoia and a president who calls news media “the enemy of the people” and “scum.”

I say that confidently because over the past couple of months, together with a few dozen USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism faculty colleagues, staff and journalists, we’ve been screening the nearly 100 entries for the ninth biennial Walter Cronkite Awards for Excellence in TV Political Journalism.

Pick a knock on TV news — ignoring blue voters turning red, say — and it’s contested by Cronkite entries such as Ask Ohio, a “60 Minutes” report listening to laid-off workers talk about trade, or like the Pennsylvania and North Carolina swing voters profiled on “PBS NewsHour Weekend.” I’m glad it was so hard to narrow down the entries — there’s that much good work to celebrate.

The award’s recipients were just announced. If you want to be optimistic about journalism as advocate for accuracy, an instrument of accountability and a prompt toward civic engagement, check out online what some of these Cronkite winners are up to.

– Jake Tapper, CNN anchor and chief Washington correspondent, tenaciously asking Donald Trump about his comments regarding Judge Gonzalo Curiel: “[Saying Curiel] can’t do his job because of his race, is that not the definition of racism?” Or Tapper fact-checking whoppers in Trump’s and Hillary Clinton’s stump speeches.

– Katy Tur, on the road with Trump for 17 months for NBC News and MSNBC, master of her subject matter and unflappable despite an onslaught by the candidate and supporters he got to taunt her.

– Univision News and Fusion anchor Jorge Ramos’s intimate portrait of a divided America in a chillingly candid encounter with an unmasked member of the Ku Klux Klan, and an interview with a Muslim woman beaten in a Minnesota restaurant.

– Brian Stelter’s essays grappling with post- and alternate-fact media and politics, the assault on truth and the path for journalists to regain public trust on his CNN program, “Reliable Sources.”

– Investigative reporting on Texas’ border war on drugs by KXAN in Austin; on denial of mental health benefits to veterans by WXIA in Atlanta; on the human story of medical cannabis by Sabrina Ahmed at WOI in West Des Moines; on forged voter signatures by Marshall Zelinger at KMGH in Denver; on judicial elections by Brandon Rittiman at KUSA in Denver, whose work also won KUSA a fact-checking prize, the Brooks Jackson award, which went to the Scripps chain, as well. Public station KCETLink in Los Angeles was commended for Val Zavala’s 60-second animated explainers of 17 propositions on the California ballot.

– More than 500 hours of original political programming across Hearst Television’s 32 stations and the E.W. Scripps Company’s 33 stations, a direct consequence of those chains’ executives asking the stations they own to commit resources and air time to quality political news.

In 1972, a poll of voters in 18 states asked trust thermometer questions about a list of candidates for the presidency and statewide offices; Walter Cronkite’s name, a ringer, was included. His 73 percent rating topped the list and led to him being called “the most trusted man in America.” Sure, maybe the competition was lousy. But he earned the public trust they lacked by doing his work so well. Before he said on the air that the Vietnam War was unwinnable, he went to Vietnam, he asked questions of everyone, he saw with his own eyes what was going on, he weighed the evidence, he told the truth — and people, including President Lyndon Johnson, listened.

Since then, sources for news and definitions of news have proliferated. Hostility toward news, never absent, is being stoked to serve a nihilistic itch to blow up the state. The trust thermometer is below freezing. “Public trust in media at all time low,” says the Financial Times about an Edelman poll. “Americans’ Trust in Mass Media Sinks to New Low,” says Gallup. An AP-NORC Media Insight Project poll finds that “only 6 percent of people say they have a great deal of confidence in the press, about the same level of trust Americans have in Congress.”

It’s always worth celebrating good journalism. But I can’t think of a more urgent hour than this to honor journalists for stepping up to their civic responsibility to face reality.


MARTY KAPLAN directs the Norman Lear Center at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, which administers the Walter Cronkite Awards for Excellence in TV Political Journalism. Reach him at martyk@jewishjournal.com.

Donald Trump cites Jewish groups in bizarre explanation for not disavowing KKK

Donald Trump, entering the fifth day of defending himself against his equivocal response on CNN to an endorsement by David Duke, said the former Ku Klux Klan head was a “bad man.”

The characterization Thursday on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” is about as direct as the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination has been so far in disavowing the white supremacist who expressed support for him.

But Trump had to add a wrinkle. Having previously blamed a faulty earpiece for failing to condemn Duke, he this time said he couldn’t just come out and condemn groups generically because — what if they were Jewish?

 

“And the one question that was asked of me on CNN — he’s having a great time — he talked about ‘groups of people.’ And I don’t like to disavow groups if I don’t know who they are. I mean, you could have the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies in ‘groups,’” he said.

 

 

The thing is, though, in the original encounter on CNN Sunday, Trump clearly understood that interviewer Jake Tapper was not referring to just any groups, but to white supremacist groups in particular. How do we know this? Because Trump said so.

“Well just so you understand, I don’t know anything about David Duke, okay, I don’t know anything about what you’re even talking about with white supremacy or white supremacists. So I don’t know, I don’t know. Did he endorse me, or what’s going on, because, you know I know nothing about David Duke, I know nothing about white supremacists. So you’re asking me a question that I’m supposed to be talking about people that I know nothing about,” he said.

Tapper pushed back, saying, “But I guess the question from the Anti-Defamation League is, even if you don’t know about their endorsement, there are these groups and individuals endorsing you. Would you just say, unequivocally, that you condemn them and you don’t want their support?”

Trump again demurred. “Well, I have to look at the group. I don’t know what group you’re talking about. You wouldn’t want me to condemn a group that I know nothing about. I’d have to look. If you would send me a list of groups, I will do research on them, and certainly I would disavow if I thought there was something wrong. But you may have groups in there that are totally fine and that would be unfair, so give me a list of the groups and I’ll let you know,” he said.

Even in the unlikely event Trump had never heard the term “white supremacist,'” “white” coupled with “supremacist” is kind of self-explanatory. Now, Trump is making it even weirder by suggesting that when Tapper said “white supremacist,” the candidate heard “Jewish philanthropy.”

Trump refuses to disavow KKK support

Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump on Sunday refused to distance himself from white nationalist and former KKK leader David Duke after the latter announced his support for Trump’s presidential bid.

Appearing on CNN’s “State of the Union” program on Sunday, host Jake Tapper asked Trump if he would “unequivocally condemn David Duke and say you don’t want his support.”

“Just so you understand, I don’t know anything about David Duke, OK?” Trump replied. “I don’t know anything about what you’re even talking about with white supremacy or white supremacists. So I don’t know. I don’t know — did he endorse me, or what’s going on? Because I know nothing about David Duke; I know nothing about white supremacists.”

Duke recently said on his radio program, “Voting against Donald Trump at this point is really treason to your heritage.” He encouraged listeners to volunteer for the campaign, saying that at Trump campaign offices, “you’re going to meet people that have the same kind of mindset that you have.”

On Thursday, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) called on Trump to repudiate the support of Duke and other white supremacist groups. Mr. Trump may have distanced himself from white supremacists, but he must do so unequivocally,” Marvin Nathan, ADL National Chair, and Jonathan A. Greenblatt, ADL CEO, said in a joint statement. “It is time for him to come out firmly against these bigoted views and the people that espouse them.”

But the Republican presidential front-runner refused to do so. Asked again if he’d broadly distance himself from those groups, Trump said he knew nothing about their support for his bid for the Republican presidential nomination. “I have to look at the group. I mean, I don’t know what group you’re talking about,” Trump said. “You wouldn’t want me to condemn a group that I know nothing about. I’d have to look. If you would send me a list of the groups, I will do research on them and certainly I would disavow if I thought there was something wrong. You may have groups in there that are totally fine — it would be very unfair. So give me a list of the groups and I’ll let you know.”

Tapper tried once again to get Trump to disavow Duke’s endorsement but to no success. “Honestly, I don’t know David Duke,” he stated. “I don’t believe I’ve ever met him. I’m pretty sure I didn’t meet him. And I just don’t know anything about him.”

On Friday, Trump mildly rejected Duke’s support. “I disavow, okay?” Trump said during a press conference. A man wearing a shirt reading “KKK endorses Trump,” was also ejected from a campaign rally.

On Monday, Trump blamed CNN for providing a “lousy earpiece” in explaining why he refused to disavow the Ku Klux Klan and David Duke. “I’m sitting in a house in Florida with a very bad earpiece that they gave me, and you could hardly hear what he was saying. But what I heard was various groups, and I don’t mind disavowing anybody, and I disavowed David Duke and I disavowed him the day before at a major news conference, which is surprising because he was at the major news conference, CNN was at the major news conference, and they heard me very easily disavow David Duke,” the Republican presidential front-runner explained on NBC’s “Today” show. ”Now, I go, and I sit down again, I have a lousy earpiece that is provided by them, and frankly, he talked about groups.  And I have no problem with disavowing groups, but I’d, at least, like to know who they are. It would be very unfair to disavow a group, Matt, if the group shouldn’t be disavowed. I have to know who the groups are. But I disavowed David Duke.”