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?


  1. Your "test" is absurd as you're comparing apples and oranges. (Rape and murder.) Also, there's no comparison to someone who allegedly engages in criminal behavior with dangerous people and a pretty college girl. And finally, even the Post has limits (so far) and differentiates between rape and murder. A valid "test" would be to change the subject here from a Chassid to a non Jew. And anyone with an ounce of knowledge about the Post knows that they do this all the time.

    On the flip side. The Post is widely read in Brooklyn frum community, and I'm sure if you surveyed those folks you'd find a vast majority wouldn't have given a rat's ass if the headline and story were the same but the subject were not one of "them". In fact they'ed probably nod their heads in agreement.

    1. Menachem,

      Just saying that two things are like apples and oranges doesn't make it so. (BTW, I'm not comparing the crimes, just the way their reported.) The Post's headline and my "thought experiment" both deal with violent crimes against people who were taking risks, with a long list of people with enough motivation to commit the crime. Your dismissal of the comparison needs some backing up.

      True, the Post is pretty tact-less, using racial slurs, innuendo, half-truths, etc., in their headlines. But this goes well beyond that - it is implicitly giving a wink and a nod to whoever did this.

      Your allegation against the Brooklyn frum community is simply beyond words. It's also besides the point - such a headline is not excusable just because the group which would be most offended by it wouldn't care if it happened to someone else. It may be an indictment against that community, but doesn't give carte blanche to anyone else.

    2. It is absolutely not giving "a wink and a nod" to murder. It's a standard colloquial phrase used when assessing the motive in a murder case.

      My point about the frum community in Brooklyn, and you can deny it all you want but I know it has truth from first hand experience, is that you simply forfeit your right to complain about something you regularly wallow in. Just saying "it's beyond words" doesn't make it so. And we also know quite well that when an African American or Latino is in a similar situation the "community" is quite willing to accept any and all assumptions and generalizations.

    3. "Standard colloquial phrase"? Not sure about that, but it's not relevant how common the wording is. The Post's protestations notwithstanding, there was nothing in the headline to indicate that it was dealing with assessing the motive. The headline was just a sassy way of saying that the guy was (in the Post's assessment) scum.

      I think you're missing the point about the Brooklyn thing. Just because (in your opinion) the obvious offended party has lost their right to complain (I don't they can lose a right to complain; at worst, they become hypocritical, but still maintain the right to be hypocritical), the Post is responsible for its own actions. The headline crossed a line, and it doesn't become excusable just because the complaints of some of those offended by it seem hollow.

      In any event, my original point still stands - had the Post ran an equivalent headline for a different crime, it would be considered indefensible.