Monday, January 6, 2014

Testing the Post's Defense

As a tabloid, the New York Post does not shy away from controversies. They're in business to sell newspapers, and printing shocking headlines is standard fare. However, its reporting of a recent sickening murder has many saying that it has gone too far.

In reporting the gruesome killing of a Hasidic slumlord (well, alleged slumlord, according to his brother-in-law), the Post ran a photo of the victim in Hasidic garb, with the headline, "Who didn't want him dead?". Outrage has been swift - while the Post is well-known for its crass headlines, this seems to be the first time they have justified a murder. Not so far as to excuse it, but showing some understanding for the murderers intent is crossing a pretty big line.

The Post, (as of this writing) instead of issuing an apology, retraction, or making any sort of gesture that maybe the headline went too far, issued a statement to the effect that they're not condoning the murder, just pointing out that the list of those who might have wanted to commit this heinous act is long. True, that's all the words of the headline literally say, but the insinuation that a murder victim was public enemy #1 (after all, who didn't want him dead) goes far beyond pointing out that his list of haters was longer than most's. They might as well have written "Good riddance to bad rubbish!".

Besides the Post, there are many who are saying that it's just a case of "the Post being the Post". According to this line of reasoning, the only reason the Jewish community is up in arms about the headline is because it's happening to one of our own. This is a bit naive, since people often only get up in arms if they identify with a victim. That doesn't mean that their indignation is misplaced.

To test if the Post's (and its defenders') defense holds water, let's change the variables just a bit. If, instead of a Hasidic business man being murdered, a drunk, pretty college girl was raped, would it even cross the minds of the Post's editorial staff to run a crass headline to the effect that, well, the girl invited trouble and there's a list a mile long of guys who would love to have sex with her? If they did run such a headline, would as many people come to the Post's defense?