It was deeply frustrating, though not surprising, to see The New York Times, in its high-profile coverage this past week of abuse in the ultra-Orthodox community, neglect to credit The Jewish Week — or The Forward — for taking the lead in reporting on these issues for years.
Though the Times pledges to “deal with competitors openly and honestly,” as cited in its policy on ethics in journalism, it has a long record of ignoring the groundbreaking work of The Jewish Week in bringing to light the legal, religious and ethical problems that apply regarding abuse in the ultra-Orthodox community.
“When we first use facts originally reported by another news organization, we attribute them,” the Times policy states. But the facts in this case dispute that claim, and we have numerous examples to prove it.
Anyone who has followed the writings of investigative reporter Hella Winston in The Jewish Week since 2008 knows that the information in the two New York Times stories this past week were built on her thorough body of work and did not originate with the Times.
The Forward has also broken ground on issues of abuse and cover-up in the community, as have blogs like Failed Messiah and UOJ.
In a joint letter to the metro editor and public editor of The Times sent on Monday, Forward Editor Jane Eisner and Jewish Week Editor Gary Rosenblatt noted that “in reviewing our reporting and yours, our collective coverage constitutes the foundation for the two Times stories.
“We believe it is deeply unethical for the Times to portray so much of the story as its own original reporting, with no citation or acknowledgment of the Jewish media — specifically our two publications.”
To be clear, we are gratified to see the Times taking a stand on the double standard that seems to apply to accused molesters in the ultra-Orthodox community in Brooklyn, and giving wide attention to the ongoing concern that victims and their families are intimidated by rabbis and other communal leaders not to prosecute child molesters.
But to willfully ignore Winston’s contribution on issues focused on child sexual abuse in ultra-Orthodox communities is unfair and unbecoming of a journalistic enterprise like the Times. It was she who cultivated reluctant sources over time, slowly building trust in a community where talking to the press is taboo because the risks are high and the retribution personal. And it was The Jewish Week that, despite harsh communal criticism, continued to expose issues that some rabbinical and community leaders would prefer remain in the shadows.
Several organizations advocating for the victims of sexual abuse in the Orthodox community, who themselves have done vital work in highlighting the problem, have acknowledged the importance of reporting on it in the Jewish community. And a report in the Village Voice this week catalogued the numerous stories over the years in The Jewish Week, and other Jewish media, that the Times relied on for its reporting.
Arthur Brisbane, the public editor, or ombudsman, at The Times, is said to be looking into the matter. We hope he pursues it and acknowledges this ethical shortcoming. It would be additionally disheartening to think the paper of record would ignore its own policy, and the facts, when it comes to fairness.