Within hours of Gawker writer John Cook reporting that an Atlanta Jewish Times op-ed seemed to lay out a scenario by which the Israeli government could assassinate the president of the United States, a host of people took to the Internet to assert their distance from, and furious outrage at, the author, owner/publisher Andrew Adler. Adler’s piece was indeed gasp-inducingly idiotic, the sort of thing that makes you wish certain people weren’t allowed to own computers. But as the subsequent exchange Adler had with Cook instantly reveals, the idea that this yokel represents any broad group is obviously absurd:
A nervous Adler told me over the phone that he wasn’t advocating Obama’s assassination by Mossad agents. “Of course not,” he said.
But do you think Israel should consider it an option? “No.”
But do you believe that Israel is in fact considering the option in its most inner circles? “No. Actually, no. I was hoping to make clear that it’s unspeakable—god forbid this would ever happen. I take it you’re quoting me?”
Yes. “Oh, boy.”
This man can barely speak for himself, let alone anyone else. And now Adler, who to judge from that interview never expected a spotlight outside of his small paper, is being hounded online—and presumably offline too—by angry hordes. I suppose it’s appropriate, in a dotting the “i” way, for the Secret Service to be involved, but the folks who really need to have their motives investigated are the readers, including all of those righteous tweeters sharing their livid reactions to the tossed-off comment of a patently simple man. These people, one presumes, want to be spoken for by more responsible, thoughtful journalists, and yet not enough of them have been interested in actually paying for this expertise. Barely a year goes by without news of yet another Jewish newspaper folding—the most recent of which, in Portland, actually died as the community itself grew. How loudly can I scream this from a rooftop? Journalism is hard and expensive, and communities that don’t pony up adequate resources for this privilege have only themselves to blame when they find unskilled men and women making un-thought-through comments ostensibly in their name.
But Gawker is a different story. Cook—who knows his way around trenchant, often excellent reporting and criticism—had the chance, on a site dedicated to covering the media, to make an important point about the desiccation of communal journalism. Adler is clearly no great thinker and no skilled journalist. Once Cook realized this, he might have dug for a teensy bit more backing before presenting Adler as any sort of communal voice, and indeed, in the tradition of worthwhile media criticism, might have made many of the points I made in the previous paragraph. Instead, Cook wrote a post that may not have been meant as a dog whistle for anti-Semites, but which certainly had that effect. (“Why the American tax payer has to pay billions each year to maintain peace for Israel comes down to one thing,” asserted an average commenter: “Israel’s lobby in the USA and the willingness of many American Jews to put another country’s interests over the one they were born in.”) If some random Muslim writer from a local giveaway in Dearborn called for jihad against the United States, would Cook have highlighted it in this same manner? I’d hope not. That’s the kind of tactic for which far-right lunatics like Pamela Geller are regularly, legitimately denounced. So, why is it acceptable to treat the Jewish community in this shoddy way? To tacitly present Adler as representative of anyone—particularly the day after Barack Obama effortlessly raked in a half a million dollars at a Jewish fundraiser—is so facile that it’s hard not to view it as purposefully malicious.
I have to imagine that isn’t the case. This is, at least in part, because Cook is married to Allison Benedikt, who last year caused a firestorm with an essay about her disillusionment with Israel. Whatever your feelings about that piece—and, by the way, most of the published reactions to it were either moronic or reprehensible—there is no debating that Benedikt was honestly grappling with an important personal and communal conflict. In doing so, she subjected herself to the harsh limelight of an increasingly vicious conversation about the relationship between American Jews and Israel, but because she is a real journalist, she did so with actual knowledge, insight, and measured awareness of the consequences of her argument. With her as one of the best examples, I’d argue that any media writer, and particularly one with the privilege of sharing Benedikt’s breakfast-table, should be able to discern what a genuine journalist is, and what one isn’t—and, given the differences, make the requisite responsible decisions about his or her coverage of this landscape.