Knowledge is Power

Often the first thing we hear about something is what we remember about it. Journalists internalize this lesson in their concept of the lede, the first paragraph of a news report that summarizes the most important elements of the story. To “bury the lede” is to leave out a key aspect from that initial passage.

News organizations have an incentive to be the first to report a story since we are likely to get our information from sources that have their pulse on what’s happening. Any website can just regurgitate stories that have already been broken by some other newspaper or TV station.

The downside in the rush to be first is that this can sometimes make it harder to be right. This week the New York Times reported that the White House was going to designate Judaism a nationality in order to fight the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement on college campuses. Many reacted angrily that the administration’s executive order, designed to fight anti-Semitism, would itself lead to anti-Jewish sentiment. After all, the Nazis also designated Jews a nationality, and then stripped them of their German citizenship.

It turns out that when people actually read the executive order, we learned it did not in fact designate Jews a nationality. Instead it followed the policy of previous Republican and Democratic administrations who determined that Jews were protected against discrimination despite the fact that the relevant legislation does not name religion as a prohibited form of discrimination. What appears to be new in the order is that some forms of anti-Israel activity can now be considered anti-Semitic.

Even though reporters pointed out that the New York Times article on the executive order was misleading, the story still echoed out into the media landscape. I continued to hear reports on the radio that the White House was designating Judaism a nationality.

The same tension between breaking a story and getting it right was at play this week with the attack on the kosher deli in Jersey City. Authorities were cautious about assigning motive to the attack, although the mayor of city came out calling it a hate crime. It now appears that the perpetrators had some connection to the Black Hebrew Israelites, some of whom have expressed hatred against Jews.

Emma Green, in the Atlantic, connects these incidents by noting that we in the Jewish community are on high alert for anti-Semitism. We are not sure what is around the corner. Who will attack us next? Radical leftists? White Supremacists? Elected officials? We are justifiably scared and on edge, but we should always be careful to truly understand what is going on before we react, because, as the cliché goes, knowledge is power, and we can use all the power we can get.

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