Dishonest Reporting: How The Aish HaTorah Funded Media Watchdog Honest Reporting Distorts News
Honest Reporting wants you to believe that ultra-Orthodox children did not stone a dog in Jerusalem on the orders of haredi rabbis, who believed the dog to be a reincarnation of a secular lawyer they despised. To do so, Honest Reporting distorts the truth.
First, Honest Reporting's post on the dog stoning in its entirety. My comments start below Honest reporting's post, after the red disclaimer showing Honest Reporting's post has ended.
Sleeping Dogs Don’t Lie – But the Press Does
UPDATE: Hours after publishing this critique, the BBC published a separate followup reflecting Maariv’s apology, while the Daily Telegraph removed the story from its website.
We wait for AFP and YNet News to correct the record as well.
UPDATE 2: The BBC’s response is simply unacceptable. Find out why here on our Backspin blog and take further action.
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A truly bizarre story appeared in the Israeli press in the past few weeks. According to YNet News:
A Jerusalem rabbinical court recently sentenced a wandering dog to death by stoning. The cruel sentence stemmed from the suspicion that the hound was the reincarnation of a famous secular lawyer, who insulted the court’s judges 20 years ago.
However, it turns out that the outlandish story is precisely that – a story. Israeli newspaper Ma’ariv published an apology (translated from Hebrew below) in its June 15 edition after it was revealed that the only accurate detail was a dog running loose in a court building causing something of a commotion:
On the 3rd of June 2011 we published a story titled “Mea Shearim: Rabbinnical court orders the stoning of a dog”. The story reported a police complaint filed by the Association for Animal Rights (Tza’ar Ba’alei Chaim) against the Jerusalem Rabbinnical Court for Financial Affairs. The story also featured the total denial of the Chief Justice of the court, Yehoshua Levin, of the complaint. The Rabbi said, among other things: “There is no basis for the abuse of an animal, neither from the Halacha nor by common sense”. According to him, employees of the municipality have collected the dog from the court. The title of the story didn’t fully present the entire story, and we apologize for the anguish caused to the court and its members.
Shame on the Israeli press for publishing the story in the first place, which could be chalked down to internal Israeli issues between secular and ultra-Orthodox sectors of the population.
Indeed, the Israeli press like any free media in the developed world is more than capable of tabloid-style journalism, displaying political bias and making mistakes. The Israeli press, however, has a responsibility beyond that to its own domestic audience.
So many of the stories that you see in the international media are not exclusives broken by the New York Times, CNN or The Guardian. They come straight from the pages of the Hebrew press. And foreign journalists don’t even need to read Hebrew thanks to the proliferation of Israeli news sites in English, such as Ha’aretz, YNet News and the Jerusalem Post.
Perhaps the Daily Telegraph, Time, AFP and the BBC can be forgiven for running a story that was newsworthy simply due to its highly unusual nature. Making #1 on the BBC’s Most Shared list is testament to the interest that it generated.
But it doesn’t change the fact that even during relatively “quiet” periods in Israel and particularly when the main news stories are coming from neighboring countries such as Syria, some media are still compelled to publish stories that are not only negative but actually demeaning to Israel or the Jewish religion.
In any case, international media outlets should do the professional thing and follow the Israeli press in publishing corrections.
Time has published the following update:
According to Hebrew news sources, the story originally published in the Behadrei Haredim newspaper may not have been based on factual reporting. The court denies the sentence was ever handed down, claiming the only action taken against the dog was in calling animal control officials to remove the dog.
The Daily Telegraph, AFP and the BBC have yet to follow suit.
~~~~ end Honest Reporting's post~~~~~
If you read Honest Reporting's post carefully, you'll note it attributes the allegedly false story to Ma'ariv.
But Ma'ariv is not the source of the story – Behadrei Haredim, the ultra-Orthodox news site, is. You can see that in Time Magazine's retraction, in which it cites Behadrei Haredim as it's source for the original and allegedly false story.
Indeed, my original post on this, Haredim Stone Dog In Reincarnation Payback?, dated June 6, mentions that I originally saw the story a few days before on Behadrei Haredim.
Yet Honest Reporting does not attribute the story to this ultra-Orthodox website because doing so would shift the blame for reproducing it to ultra-Orthodox Jews rather than non-Jewish media.
Honest Reporting's original financial backer was Aish HaTorah, the ultra-Orthodox kiruv (missionary) yeshiva based in Jerusalem, and many of its original activists came from Aish.
But Honest Reporting's dishonesty does not stop there.
It mentions that it is waiting for Ynet, the large Israeli news website, to retract its story.
Honest Reporting's post is dated June 20. On June 16, Ynet ran its story – the story Honest Reporting wants it to retract based on Ma'ariv's June 15 retraction.
But here is what Ynet's story says:
…The head of the court, Rabbi Avraham Dov Levin, denied that the judges had called for the dog's stoning. But one of the court's managers confirmed the report to Yedioth Ahronoth.
"It was ordered by the rabbis because of the grief he had caused the court," he said. "They didn't issue an official ruling, but ordered the children outside to throw stones at him in order to drive him away. They didn't think of it as cruelty to animals, but as an appropriate way to 'get back at' the spirit which entered the poor dog.”…
So Ynet has confirmation from inside the rabbinical court. The stoning was ordered by these ultra-Orthodox rabbis, and then the head of the rabbinic court lied to cover it up. And Honest Reporting fails to mention this important fact.
Indeed, Honest Reporting quotes another part of that Ynet story and links to it, while it does not quote, cite or link to Ynet's confirmation of the stoning.
As the story of the rabbis and the doggie death sentence was reproduced worldwide, it made Orthodox Jews of all stripes (pun intended, for those familiar with where this story took place) and Israelis look very bad.
In fact, it could easily be argued that this one story did more damage to Jews, Judaism and Israel than almost any other in recent history.
So Honest Reporting and activists from ultra-Orthodoxy, Orthodoxy and the Israeli right put tremendous pressure on news organizations to retract their stories, and Honest Reporting misrepresented the truth.
These media organizations were deluged with emails. Mainstream Jewish organizations, taking Honest Reporting's spin at face value, pressured for retractions. Jews, enraged that papers would print such an obviously 'false' story, badgered papers and their advertisers. Pro-ritual slaughter advocates pouted that the story would only give more strength to those trying to ban shechita, Jewish religious slaughter.
And the 'fabricated' 'antisemitic' story was either amended or removed. Jewish publications, including the JTA and the Jewish Chronicle, ran stories calling the dog story a hoax.
Then the only first line non-haredi news source left standing, Ynet caved in as well, removing its story that contained the confirmation. But it did not apologize for or retract its report, which is significant. Indeed, I searched Ynet's site for a retraction or apolgy using several different seach methods but found nothing.
If Ynet's confirmation was really a reporter's lie, that reporter should be fired. But Honest Reporting's failure to quote that confirmation or directly attack it should tell you the confirmation is most likely true. The reporter, Akiva Novick, has at least one newer story published by Ynet, which is an indication he was not fired or suspended.
And that is how Honest Reporting and its band of often unintentional co-conspirators suppressed the truth.
Yes, haredi rabbis did order that dog stoned and, yes, the head of that rabbinic court did lie about it. Yes a haredi publication was the first to report the stoning and, yes, Ynet did confirm it.
But Israel, Jews and Judaism have now been protected from the truth. We can choose to continue on with blinders on our eyes. And we have Honest Reporting to thank for it.