| Outlook |

Being a Journalist Means Never Having to Say You’re Sorry

How did they get such a major story so wrong?



"Love means never having to say you’re sorry,” went a popular 1970 aphorism. I’d be hard-pressed to come up with a stupider definition of love. Doesn’t love entail always being prepared to say you are sorry?

But, according to Glenn Greenwald, it does appear that a similar rule now applies to mainstream journalists. Greenwald is one of a small cadre of prominent left-wing journalists — Andrew Sullivan and Matt Taibbi are others — for whom the pursuit of truth continues to be a desideratum. Last November, he left the Intercept, an online publication he founded, when a column on Hunter Biden’s laptop computer was censored by the editors. And he was an ongoing critic of the Trump–Russian collusion story served up by the mainstream media for nearly two years, until the Mueller investigation turned up nothing.

His subject this week was the death of Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick in the wake of the January 6 Capitol Hill riot. On January 8, the New York Times published a “gut-wrenching” story of how Sicknick was bludgeoned to death with a fire extinguisher by the mob.

The only problem with the story was that it was not true, and that should have been evident to any journalist who made even the most perfunctory effort to ascertain the facts.

For one thing, the dead man’s family had repeatedly asked news outlets not to publish the story. Sicknick had called them after the riot was over to assure them that he was fine, which is about as conclusive proof as one can get that his head was not bashed in. His mother stated repeatedly that she believed he died of a stroke.

Yet, as Greenwald puts it, the story was “too valuable to allow any questioning.” One so-called legal expert opined on air that it constituted grounds for a criminal prosecution of the ex-president for incitement to murder. And it made its way into the trial record of Trump’s second impeachment trial. Anyone, such as Greenwald, who pointed out the weakness of the story was dismissed as a “Sicknick Truther,” white supremacist, or supporter of insurrection, often by those posing as journalists.

The factual issue was settled last week when the District of Columbia’s chief medical examiner issued his official verdict on the causes of Sicknick’s death: He died of natural causes from two strokes, the day after the riot. The medical examiner found no external or internal evidence that he had been struck with a blunt instrument.

One might think that the MSM, which did so much to push the story that Sicknick had his skull bashed in, might have done some soul-searching in the wake of those findings. But if you thought so, you obviously do not remember the MSM reaction to the refutation of a much more ballyhooed and long-running story of Trump’s collusion with Russia that proved to be a dud.

At the time, one could have searched in vain for  examples of media self-examination as to how they got such a major story so wrong. New York Times editor Dean Baquet, for example, simply informed the newsroom that the paper would have to find a new narrative to pursue, and seamlessly switched to the 1619 Project and the exploration of America’s systemic racism.

But Greenwald’s conclusion is much more distressing than that the media has long since given up truth as its measuring rod, or even that there is no accountability for shoddy and false reporting. Rather, it is that there are no apologies forthcoming because there is no one to whom to apologize. The Times and other media outlets are providing their audience with what they want:

[T]hese employees of corporate media outlets have been taught... that their primary obligation is to please and flatter the partisan agenda and political sensibilities of their audience even if it means lying or recklessly spreading unproven theories to do it. That is their profit model. And they have trained their audiences to want and expect this, and that is why they never feel compelled to engage in any self-critique or accountability when they get caught doing this: their audiences want to be lied to — they are grateful for it — and would prefer that they not admit they did it so that their partisan interests will not be undermined.

The media, Greenwald ends, treated Sicknick’s tragic death as a convenient means to portray the rioters as savages so primitive and inhuman that they were willing to fatally bash the skull of a helpless person or spray him with deadly gases. “None of this was true, but that did not matter — and still does not to them — because truth has nothing to do with their actual function. If anything, truth is an impediment to it.”


Where Did They Go?

Here in Eretz Yisrael, we are all in the process of re-emerging into the world after over a year of the COVID-19 pandemic. And most of us are still a bit disoriented, blinking as if hit by sunlight upon exiting a dark building.

At the minyan I have favored over the last year — in large part because of the rigorous enforcement of all COVID-related rules — the masks are still on in davening, even though everyone in the minyan has been vaccinated. As a consequence, I’ve begun to daven more frequently elsewhere, where I can pray without feeling suffocated. But even in the latter minyanim, I still find myself uncomfortable if others get too close. And I don’t expect that feeling to go away soon.

I don’t want to exaggerate the degree of the disorientation. The world still looks pretty much the same as that we left behind. I recently asked a friend of mine, who used to daven as a boy with his grandfather in the Gerrer shtibel on the Upper West Side, why most of the mispallelim did not retain their dress from Poland or even their beards. He speculated that the world in which they were raised had been completely destroyed and they did not wish to pretend otherwise.

That is not our situation. The changes are more subtle. I did not, Baruch Hashem, lose any close family or friends during the pandemic, though I’m acutely aware of how many did.

The only regular fixtures in my pre-Covid life who have not reappeared are three collectors who used to appear like clockwork at my Shacharis minyan for at least ten years. They would park some distance away, so as not to be seen as car owners, and then at intervals of about ten seconds, each would enter the shul and make his rounds. Then they would move on to the five or six other minyanim within a two-minute walk.

I always had an urge to learn a bit more about their lives. In particular, I wanted to ask whether they had ever considered another form of parnassah. Or had this been the only option with which they were raised? I was also curious what they did with the rest of their day after their morning rounds were over. But I never sensed that they were interested in a personal relationship with their patrons. And they went about their business with an admirable efficiency, which did not leave time for conversation.

Now, they are gone, and I wish I knew what happened to them. I have an active imagination, and have no trouble conjuring up scenes in which they awakened one day to find all the shuls closed and they and their families left without any sustenance. Nor, I would guess, did they qualify for unemployment insurance.

Who even knows if they are still alive? Why else would they not have returned to their former route? Though they were relatively young and, except for the chubby one, had no obvious risk factors, the neighborhoods in which I assume they lived were particularly hard hit by COVID-19.

It bothers me that I interacted with three fellow Jews thousands of times over a long period and don’t even know their names or where they live so that I can find out if and how they survived the pandemic.

How I hope that they will reappear one day soon so I can tell them how much I missed them.


Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 858. Yonoson Rosenblum may be contacted directly at rosenblum@mishpacha.com

Oops! We could not locate your form.