Last week, I was the news, and it was a fascinating experience.
For over 40 years I have been the one asking the questions, analyzing stories, profiling personalities, and so on. Then last week there was a freeze-frame moment when the front page of this newspaper was flashed on websites around the world with the dishonest angle being propagated that the 5TJT or I was in favor of or advocating violence at the U.S. Capitol protest. The idea was constantly repeated that since the person in the photo had her arms spread and was smiling, we must be endorsing the wanton, violent, and murderous attack.
I had to decide whether I was going to speak with reporters or just not return their calls or respond to their texts and e-mails. I decided fairly quickly that I did not want them saying that I was unavailable or refused to comment, because I certainly have a lot to say about the matter and how they were determined to spin it.
By the end of the week I gave interviews to two reporters—Shira Hanau of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency and Jeremy Ben Shalom of TheJerusalem Post. At the outset I asked one thing of them, and that was not to misquote me and not to distort what I say so that the story can be more sensational and therefore more attractive to editors and readers.
In the end they both failed. Apparently, they just could not resist being cagey and deceptive about what I said. And they were not the only ones to do that. Both wanted to know what I was thinking when I decided to use that photo and, even more strangely, they wanted to know at what time on that Wednesday afternoon was I thinking it.
The reality is that I do not recall precisely what time the decision was made to lead with this photo. The fact is that whatever time it was, I had no idea that the confrontations with local police were anything different than any other politically oriented protests that we have seen on the news over the last year or so. To me, at the time, it was another breaking news event that warranted coverage, and the news was so fresh at the time that there was no ability to comment on it.
Throughout their questioning, both Ms. Hanau and Mr. Ben Shalom tried repeatedly to nudge me in the direction of rationalizing the craziness that took place as some people broke into and did damage to the Capitol building.
While I made it clear that at no point was there even the slightest hint of an idea that this newspaper, or I, as the publisher and editor, supported what took place in Washington, DC that day, that position was a disappointment to these reporters. They kept on questioning me in a circular fashion, trying in any way possible—they even sounded desperate—to get me to indicate that there was a legitimate place for that type of physical faceoff and confrontation. I reiterated, however, my full and absolute condemnation of violence in any form.
The JTA reporter wrote that President Trump was indeed culpable in part, at least of instigating and encouraging what ended up being a battle at the Capitol. In that context she wanted to know whether I am still comfortable with having voted for Mr. Trump in both 2016 and 2020. I listened, and then said to her again: You see what you are doing? You are trying to maneuver me into somehow taking the side of the rioters and perpetrators even though I have repeatedly condemned them and repudiated their actions several times in this very phone call.
But my condemnation of the violence is not what she and Mr. Ben Shalom of the Jerusalem Post wanted me to confirm, and they would not let up until they could write something that could mislead people to doubt my thought process in running that photo.
Of course, that exercise was extremely disappointing because that is not how the press—in this country, anyway—is supposed to function. Most definitely that is not the way the 5TJT has functioned for over two decades. There are many stories that are brought to our attention in the course of any given year that we simply do not cover, primarily because it reflects poorly on our communities, not just here in the Five Towns but around the world.
There are, unfortunately, other papers that made it their hallmark to highlight stories that displayed Jews—especially Orthodox Jews—in a negative light. Most of those papers, at least here in New York, have had to stop publishing over the last several years because, at the end of the day, Jewish readers do not take kindly to a steady barrage of the type of journalism whose objective is to damage the Jewish image. That has never been the 5TJT brand and it never will be. Collectively, as a community, we have too much at stake.
The photo that appeared in the paper two weeks ago was in no way, shape, or form meant to glorify or even be passive about the outbreak of violence on that day. The U.S. Capitol is a sacred site. There is a great deal of investigation that needs to be done to determine why there was such an ineffective police response, unless it was just not known that this was a possible way that events could have unfolded.
Over the last two weeks, a number of other newspapers and even broadcast outlets have reached out about the story. The problem is that their agenda is sensationalism and scandal and they are bored by the truth and reality.
America needs peace, and Americans must be able to subscribe to different outlooks and philosophies without forgoing dignity and respect. That is the way the country has functioned from the very beginning of the republic. That is what we need to work toward once again.
Larry Gordon is editor-in-chief of the Five Towns Jewish Times.