Responses to ‘Jewish descent’ column
Ryan Summerlin June 27, 2009
Editor’s note: We received many calls and e-mails from readers disappointed by references to a suspect of house burglaries as being of Jewish descent in a police brief in Wednesday’s paper. The story also included a police description of the suspect’s features that was widely viewed as a caricature.
We apologize to everyone who was offended by this oversight in editing information supplied by the authorities. Managing Editor Matt Zalaznick, who is Jewish, wrote a more detailed column in Thursday’s edition explaining what happened.
Here are some letters to the editor mostly criticizing how we handled the report about the burglaries:
I was astonished to read your article on home break-ins in Edwards.
The alleged victim’s description of the suspect being of “Jewish or Eastern European decent” is about the most stereotyped, racist language I’ve heard outside of one of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s daily anti-Semitic rants. Right down to the “large nose” and pushed-together eyes.
It sounds a lot like one of Joseph Goebbels’ finer works of propaganda.
Shame on the Vail Daily for repeating it, on no less than page 4. Your efforts to be taken as a serious news organization have taken a few steps backward, I’m afraid.
Perhaps the victim is some kind of anthological expert and I am overreacting. Besides, I always thought Jews ran the worldwide economy and controlled the media.
What is one of their ranks doing burglarizing homes in Edwards?
What was that?
What kind of a newspaper are you running? Someone quotes you an ignorant, anti-Semitic slur, and you publish it without a single editor questioning whether you should?
Do you really think it’s OK to say those things as long as there’s no one Jewish within earshot?
Did you think it was a helpful detail that warranted inclusion without remark?
You owe a lot of people a big apology. But more importantly, you need to be much smarter in the future.
A religion, not ethnicity
Regarding the description of the intruder who broke into the home in Miller Ranch:
The description contained the opinion that the intruder may have been “Jewish.”
I would like to remind that person that Jewish is a religious description and not an ethnic description.
Oh! One more thing. I happen to be Jewish and did not know there were any of us in Nebraska. And certainly if there are any, none drive a “blue, beat-up Chevrolet Cavalier.”
Michael Schneider Avon
Shame on you
The following paragraph appeared on page A4 of the Vail Daily on Wednesday. The paragraph was the second paragraph in a story headlined “Break-ins reported at Edwards homes.” The byline read, “Daily staff report.”
“At one home, an unknown number of suspects broke in through a window that was left cracked open by cutting through a screen. One of the residents was home during the burglary and saw a suspect, who was described as a male of Jewish or Eastern European descent, approximately 5-foot-9 and 150 pounds with dark hair, a large nose, pierced ears, a narrow face and eyes that were close together. He was wearing a dark-colored baseball cap.”
When I read the paragraph above earlier this afternoon, I could not believe my eyes, and so I came home to search some more on my computer and found the same story on the Vail Daily Web site, but the story was slightly different. It read:
“The suspect was confronted by a resident in at least one home, the Sheriff’s Office says.”
“The suspect they are looking for is described as male and 5-foot-9 with a slender muscular build, dark hair, pierced ears, a narrow face and eyes that were close together, the Sheriff’s Office says.”
Hmmmm, I thought. What happened to the Jewish-looking guy with the big nose? Had the description of the suspect changed, or had only the stupid, anti-Semitic, intolerant, uninformed and ignorant description been cleansed in order to cover up what appears to have been an egregious error on the part of your newspaper?
Now, here’s what I figured actually happened. And I only give this opinion as a former police beat reporter for a daily newspaper some 40 years ago. But I don’t think the rules have changed.
I think that the brainless racial slur was actually uttered by the victim of the alleged burglary.
I’m not angry with that victim, as they would
never understand the ignorant nature of their description.
But unfortunately, the member of the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office who reported and repeated the description as told by the victim failed to properly use quotation marks as a way to distance himself from what he was having to write in filling out his or her report.
Then, to add to this disgraceful episode, the Sheriff’s Office compounded this absurdity by issuing a press release about the crime, again sans quotation marks, and passed the press release along to the Vail Daily, which printed it as it
was written and as I have reprinted it above in this letter. Did the Vail Daily bother to
have an editor review this story? I certainly hope not, as that reporter should be either summarily fired or immediately smote, to use the biblical terminology.
And if an editor did not review the story I would only ask, Why not? I mean, isn’t that a role of the newspaper, to review and edit press releases that come in from external sources?
I still own a public relations firm, and it would make my job a lot easier if publications just went ahead and printed information we supply about our clients exactly as we write it. What a joy that would be for those of us in our business.
Now, I’m not about to stop reading the Vail Daily, and I’m not ready to boycott your advertisers, and I’m smart enough to understand what really took place here.
But I am going to say shame on you, Vail Daily, for letting this one get by your editors’ eyes, and I’m going to say shame on you, Eagle County Sheriff’s Office, for not being more careful in your reporting, and say a double shame on you to the Vail Daily for trying to cover up the mistake without so much as a footnote in your electronic edition.
As a lifelong Jew, and proud of it, I continue to be amazed that some people actually think that Jews look a certain way. And that they even think that Jews are a race and not a religion. I have met Ethiopian black Jews, Japanese Jews, Irish Jews and on and on. … And none of them, per the bigot’s description, had big noses. Some had flat noses, some had black skin, some had red hair, and some had slanted eyes. And they were all Jews.
Please be more careful in your reporting and your editing, and maybe someday, just someday in the future, this stereotyping of every race and religion will come to a well-needed and well-deserved end.
Jay M. Jaffe Eagle
Thanks for explanation
Matt Zalaznick, thank you for your editorial today apologizing for the use of “Jewish descent” in describing the Edwards robbery suspect.
I am looking at your photo and thinking you do not look Jewish.
We are summer residents of Vail, and our daughter is a full-time resident here. We are a Jewish family with green eyes, fair skin and small noses.
My husband and I were aghast at the original description of the thug with a big nose, beady little eyes and swarthy skin. It reminded me of the anti-Semitic depiction of Fagin in “Oliver Twist.”
We have every reason to be sensitive to discrimination since it has reared its ugly head against our people throughout history.
We appreciate your explanation.
Hope you learned
The Anti-Defamation League echoes the sentiments of the many readers who have contacted you about the use of the phrase “Jewish descent” in describing an individual in your police blotter this week.
We appreciate and recognize the importance of your managing editor’s apology in which he acknowledged that a print deadline is never an excuse for fostering a hateful
Jewish people, like those of any religion, are made up of persons of every race and do not have one certain look.
This particular stereotype has had tragic and genocidal consequences for Jews, and we sincerely hope this newspaper honors its commitment to think more critically and carefully in the future to avoid hateful, harmful generalizations and stereotypes from being printed in the future.
Bruce H. DeBoskey Mountain states regional director Anti-Defamation League, Denver
Not buying it
Matt Zalaznick, I read with interest your editorial that appeared in today’s Vail Daily that addressed your abhorrent and disrespectful description of a suspected criminal as “Jewish or Eastern European.”
Actually, the word “interest” is not accurate – I read with dismay and disappointment the editorial that appeared in today’s Vail Daily.
You successfully and obviously missed the point of the reaction that you received to your ill-chosen words. You try to explain it away by suggesting that it was printed with the consent of at least two editors – as if that makes it OK and gets you off the hook.
Mr. Zalaznick, there is no excuse. You were wrong and insensitive and unprofessional in your choice of words. The use of the terms “white” or “black” are colors. The terms “Middle Eastern” and “Asian” are geographic. The use of the term “Jewish” is descriptive of a religion.
The issue is not how some Jews may categorize themselves but how non-Jews see Jews regardless of that individual’s personal practice. Your theory is as ludicrous and faulty as suggesting that one who is Catholic and does not go to church can no longer be viewed as Catholic. Observance is not the litmus test.
As one who describes himself as being a “Jewish American,” you obviously have become insensitive to that reality. Hitler was not.
Mr. Zalaznick, you further excuse your inexcusable error (even more egregious because you are a Jew) by noting how you use other terms that are no less inappropriate. The fact that you receive no flak for such expressions – and this may surprise you – does not make their usage acceptable.
Insensitivity, profiling and categorizing people inappropriately is not something that becomes OK because you have no push back. I am sorry that you view this as your test of propriety.
My last comment, sir, is that your article initially was designed to help the local authorities apprehend a criminal. Because of your descriptive terms of the suspect as being Jewish or Eastern European looking, the article certainly did not contribute to that cause. What in the hell were people supposed to be looking for?
I guess they should not be looking for a Christian or Muslim East European. Certainly a person from Sicily or Barcelona would not look like the description given.
And since Jews all look alike, I expect that in your mind your descriptive terms really honed in on the identity of the suspect. My son is 6-foot-6 and blond with blue eyes – born in the United States – but his grandparents were Eastern European in origin, and he is very Jewish in background and belief and in action.
I hope that he is not pulled over as a suspect the next time he passes through Eagle County, as you have described him perfectly. Oops – excuse me – the suspect is short, so that will certainly make a difference this time.
In a letter sent to the Eagle County commissioners and Sheriff Joe Hoy, it was suggested that all responsible be enrolled in a sensitivity-training session. You might want to consider participating yourself. If you dare, you may feel free to print this letter.
Joseph E. Breman