Lies Lead to Murder: The New York Times and the Crown Heights Riots
The riots in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, in the summer of 1991, started after a Hasidic Jewish man accidentally swerved his car onto a sidewalk and fatally injured a black youngster named Gavin Cato. Claiming that the Jews were receiving preferential medical treatment at the scene of the accident, residents of the neighboring black community started to riot. According to the New York Times, "the racial melee erupted after rumors spread among blacks that a private Hasidic ambulance had carried off 3 Hasidic men but had ignored the black child and his severely injured cousin." The same day, as a result of the rioting, a black mob attacked and killed 29-year-old Hasidic scholar named Yankel Rosenbaum.
Regarding Yankel Rosenbaum's murder, William McGowan observes in a 1993 article:
The treatment columnists and editorialists gave Rosenbaum's killing stood in stark contrast with their response to the racially motivated murder of Yusuf Hawkins, a black teenager, in Bensonhurst Brooklyn two years earlier. This double standard was best illustrated by the Times editorial page, which published an editorial entitled "Racism, Accomplice to Murder" six days after Hawkins was killed. It was not until 14 months after Rosenbaum's murder, when suspect Lemrick Nelson was acquitted, that the Times got around to expressing "Shame and Alarm over Anti-Semitic Violence that reflected the pogroms of czarist Russia and Eastern Europe."
McGowan goes on to say that the news coverage "left little doubt" that the basic story of Crown Heights was of black mobs attacking Jews in retaliation for Gavin Cato's death. But, says McGowan, "the focus on allegations of favoritism obscured the raw anti-Semitism that fueled the riots."
At the funeral of Gavin Cato, for example "banners commemorating the accident victim shared space with others that said things like 'Hitler did not do the job' while Al Sharpton caricatured Jews as 'diamond dealers'." In general, says McGowan, the inflammatory statements of Sharpton and the Rev. Herbert Daughtry were downplayed.
One key problem, as McGowan points out, is that in Crown Heights, "reporters analyzed events essentially as a culture clash, a long running feud between two groups equally at fault."
And indeed, the Times repeatedly equated the murder of the Jew Yankel Rosenbaum by blacks with the killing of black Gavin Cato by a Jew, as though one was essentially in retaliation for the other. But there was no such equation, and the riots by the Crown Heights black community were poisonously anti-Semitic at heart.
According to McGowan, the Times editorial policy's agenda explains the paper's misreporting of the Crown Heights riots. That agenda essentially is the way the paper placed a stress on editorial "diversity," or the increasing openness and orientation of newsrooms and editorial boards to ethnic minorities (e.g., Afro-Americans) and their particular concerns.
"The diversity agenda," McGowan writes, "seems to have encouraged the press to follow a preconceived script -- one that turned out to be at odds with the facts and out of touch with the realities of a fractious multiethnic New York."
"Under the rubric of racial and gender 'diversity' a (liberal) uniformity of opinion was being enforced on the press," states a National Review editorial from August 1993.
"Diversity driven reporting," McGowan concludes, "has created a pattern of intellectual dishonesty and double standards that can only poison the well of public trust that true tolerance, as opposed to enforced diversity, requires to flourish."
But the ultimate proof of how badly the Times missed the mark on the Crown Heights story is not journalistic or racial in character, but legal.
On Thursday, April 2, 1998, the City of New York announced a settlement, approved by a United States district judge, of the federal civil rights lawsuit brought by the estate of Yankel Rosenbaum and others against the City of New York and ex-Mayor David Dinkins. As the mayor's office press release states, "[t]hat lawsuit concerned the violent anti-Semitic rioting that occurred for three days in August 1991." The amount of the settlement was $1.1 million.
The press release also quotes the report of Richard Girgenti to ex-Governor Cuomo released in 1993.
The rioting represented the most extensive racial unrest in New York City in over twenty years. It differed from most other disturbances throughout the turbulent 1960s...as the violence was directed at one segment of the population.
The week began with Gavin Cato's tragic death in an automobile accident and the senseless and reprehensible murder of Yankel Rosenbaum on Monday night and continued with intense anti-Semitic violence against the people of Crown Heights throughout that night and over the next several days.
A corollary to the anti-Semitic character of the Crown Heights riots, which the Times did not report, is the story of how an insufficient number of police were ordered into Crown Heights to keep the peace.
In other words, if the Times had not followed its politically correct editorial agenda and actually reported the facts -- if it had not created a false and ultimately harmful equation between black and Jewish behavior, perhaps it would have been clear to Mayor Dinkins and other key staff in the city administration that there was indeed a case of black mob violence against Jews in Crown Heights, and the needed ranks of police would have been sent in.
But however "ethically" the Times may have believed it was reporting the events in Crown Heights, the fact is that the Girgenti report to ex-Governor Cuomo and the federal district court had the last word. In the matter of the Crown Heights riots, rigorous legal standards of evidence and truth ultimately prevailed over the blurred and subjective journalistic ones the Times used. So even if the events did not occur as reported in the country's "newspaper of record," at least the truth finally came out.
When a reporter writes a story, or an editor chooses what to run or what to cut, they tend to work from a template. Academics call these templates frames. Frames represent the inherent assumptions within a story.
In August 1991, Ari Goldman, then the religious affairs reporter for the New York Times, covered the Crown Heights riots story for the paper. In August 2011, now a Columbia U. journalism professor, Goldman published a scathing attack on the Times for its sins in not reporting the Crown Heights riots appropriately or accurately. His criticism appeared in an article in The New York Jewish Week.
Goldman blames the inaccurate reporting on what journalists call the editorial frame the paper adopted to tell the riot story. It was a frame that claimed that there was a clash between Jews and blacks, and that each side was equally guilty of violence. But this is not what Goldman experienced and not what he reported.
He lauds reporters Jimmy Breslin and A.M. Rosenthal for trying to correct the false picture the Times created.
Rosenthal in particular wrote that "it is an anti-Semitic pogrom and the words should not be left unsaid."
Goldman concludes on the same note on which he began -- the journalistic frame.
Fitting stories into frames -- whether about blacks and Jews, liberals or conservatives, Arabs and Israelis, Catholics and Protestants or Muslims and Jews -- is wrong and even dangerous. Life is more complicated than that. And so is journalism.
Unfortunately, Ari Goldman gets it all wrong. He ultimately blames a journalistic technique for the anti-Semitic way the NYT reported the Crown Heights riots in 1991. But this is a whitewash, an ivory-tower evasion. There is deep Jew hatred in the ranks of the New York Times. It started in World War II when they failed to report the facts of the Shoah. The paper's egregious sins repeated themselves in Crown Heights, and CAMERA is constantly citing the paper for anti-Israel bias. Blaming the "frame" is like placing the blame for 9/11 on jet fuel.