Fake news: Is 'Trump's America' really a special danger to Jews?

Recently, presidential press secretary Sarah Sanders was challenged by CNN's Jake Acosta to provide an example of fake news.  A poignant instance would have been NBC's withholding a story in which Julie Swetnick's supporting witness recanted prior statements about rape parties that Brett Kavanaugh allegedly facilitated via spiked punch – an about-face that would have been headline news had an embattled jurist been nominated to the Supreme Court by President Obama.  Given regular press demands for specifics, I think Mrs. Sanders should keep a short list of prominent fake news stories on a note card the next time CNN's Trump-loathing correspondent disputes the all too obvious truth about journalistic malpractice. 

That list should include the widely disseminated Anti-Defamation League study that proclaimed a 57-percent increase in anti-Semitic incidents from 2016 to 2017.  It was left to an anti-Trump law professor, David Bernstein, to fact-check this report, since journalists like the Washington Post's Dana Milbank were eager to spread, uncritically, a storyline that reinforces their anti-Trump prejudice.

As Bernstein notes in his recent Tablet Magazine article, "no sound empirical data exists that shows an increase in anti-Semitism during the Trump administration that would justify" Milbank's claim that Jews are not safe in Donald Trump's America.  This Trump-inspired rise in anti-Semitism was repeated by, among others, NPR and The New York Times, both citing the aforementioned ADL study concerning anti-Semitic incidents.  Bernstein observes, however, that the study itself claims to count not "anti-Semitic incidents," but rather the "reporting" of incidents to the ADL "by the media, law enforcement, and the public."  Thus, as the ADL itself acknowledges, "[s]ome of the increase in documented incidents is not an actual increase but results from 'more people ... reporting incidents to ADL than ever before.'"

Furthermore, the report includes incidents that are not actual examples of anti-Semitism, but rather events where Jews perceived themselves as victims.  Consequently, the ADL's total included 163 fake bomb threats, most of which were perpetrated by a mentally disturbed Jewish youth living in Israel and another by "a black radical seeking to frame his ex-girlfriend."  In other words, neither of these two perpetrators was motivated by anti-Semitism, but their actions undoubtedly added to "perceptions of victimization." 

The sheer volume of reportage about Trump-inspired anti-Semitism doubtless led to additional events being perceived as anti-Semitic when, in fact, they were not.  Bernstein cites a suspected case of cemetery vandalism that was actually the result of poor monument upkeep.  Another case involved a drunken rant by an individual with no anti-Semitic intent.  The cemetery "incident" was later deleted from the ADL's stats.  The latter case was not.

Eye-poppingly, the press and the ADL ignore the fact that the large increase of reported anti-Semitic incidents on college campuses from 2016 to 2017 (108 to 204) is almost totally the result of leftist anti-Israel political activism and not a product of right-wing enthusiasm.  As any sentient observer knows, conservative beliefs (to say nothing of "far-right" ideas) are all but forbidden on America's institutions of "higher education."  Academic anti-Semitism, therefore, can hardly be blamed on Donald Trump.

The coup de grâce of Bernstein's analysis is the fact that actual physical assaults against Jews in the ADL report actually declined precipitously in 2017, from 37 to 19 – a 47-percent decrease!  Nineteen reported incidents in a year equals slightly fewer than six assaults for every one hundred million Americans – a figure that's generally a bit lower than the number of Americans killed by lightning each year.  Despite the fact that the ADL study documents a decrease in the small number of physical assaults in 2017, the ADL's president recently declared to the New York Times that the 57-percent increase in anti-Semitic incidents includes "physical assaults" – as if the number of physical assaults followed suit with the dubious 57 percent figure.  As Bernstein notes, physical assaults constitute the "most objective sort of incident to document," and the large decline in that number surely calls into question the "robustness" (i.e., the accuracy or reliability) of the rest of the data.

Bernstein ends his article by assuring readers he's not a Trump supporter.  Instead, the reason for his objection to reportage surrounding the ADL study is that "the Jewish community's assessment of the dangers of anti-Semitism should be based on documented facts, not ideology, emotion, partisanship, or panic."  President Trump would shorten that list of distorting factors to the phrase "fake news."  I urge Sarah Sanders to add this example to a short list of prominent examples for the enlightenment of Acosta and like-minded 100-percent-negative colleagues.

Richard Kirk is a freelance writer living in Southern California, whose book Moral Illiteracy: "Who's to Say?" is available on Kindle.

Image: Tom Hilton via Flickr.

Recently, presidential press secretary Sarah Sanders was challenged by CNN's Jake Acosta to provide an example of fake news.  A poignant instance would have been NBC's withholding a story in which Julie Swetnick's supporting witness recanted prior statements about rape parties that Brett Kavanaugh allegedly facilitated via spiked punch – an about-face that would have been headline news had an embattled jurist been nominated to the Supreme Court by President Obama.  Given regular press demands for specifics, I think Mrs. Sanders should keep a short list of prominent fake news stories on a note card the next time CNN's Trump-loathing correspondent disputes the all too obvious truth about journalistic malpractice. 

That list should include the widely disseminated Anti-Defamation League study that proclaimed a 57-percent increase in anti-Semitic incidents from 2016 to 2017.  It was left to an anti-Trump law professor, David Bernstein, to fact-check this report, since journalists like the Washington Post's Dana Milbank were eager to spread, uncritically, a storyline that reinforces their anti-Trump prejudice.

As Bernstein notes in his recent Tablet Magazine article, "no sound empirical data exists that shows an increase in anti-Semitism during the Trump administration that would justify" Milbank's claim that Jews are not safe in Donald Trump's America.  This Trump-inspired rise in anti-Semitism was repeated by, among others, NPR and The New York Times, both citing the aforementioned ADL study concerning anti-Semitic incidents.  Bernstein observes, however, that the study itself claims to count not "anti-Semitic incidents," but rather the "reporting" of incidents to the ADL "by the media, law enforcement, and the public."  Thus, as the ADL itself acknowledges, "[s]ome of the increase in documented incidents is not an actual increase but results from 'more people ... reporting incidents to ADL than ever before.'"

Furthermore, the report includes incidents that are not actual examples of anti-Semitism, but rather events where Jews perceived themselves as victims.  Consequently, the ADL's total included 163 fake bomb threats, most of which were perpetrated by a mentally disturbed Jewish youth living in Israel and another by "a black radical seeking to frame his ex-girlfriend."  In other words, neither of these two perpetrators was motivated by anti-Semitism, but their actions undoubtedly added to "perceptions of victimization." 

The sheer volume of reportage about Trump-inspired anti-Semitism doubtless led to additional events being perceived as anti-Semitic when, in fact, they were not.  Bernstein cites a suspected case of cemetery vandalism that was actually the result of poor monument upkeep.  Another case involved a drunken rant by an individual with no anti-Semitic intent.  The cemetery "incident" was later deleted from the ADL's stats.  The latter case was not.

Eye-poppingly, the press and the ADL ignore the fact that the large increase of reported anti-Semitic incidents on college campuses from 2016 to 2017 (108 to 204) is almost totally the result of leftist anti-Israel political activism and not a product of right-wing enthusiasm.  As any sentient observer knows, conservative beliefs (to say nothing of "far-right" ideas) are all but forbidden on America's institutions of "higher education."  Academic anti-Semitism, therefore, can hardly be blamed on Donald Trump.

The coup de grâce of Bernstein's analysis is the fact that actual physical assaults against Jews in the ADL report actually declined precipitously in 2017, from 37 to 19 – a 47-percent decrease!  Nineteen reported incidents in a year equals slightly fewer than six assaults for every one hundred million Americans – a figure that's generally a bit lower than the number of Americans killed by lightning each year.  Despite the fact that the ADL study documents a decrease in the small number of physical assaults in 2017, the ADL's president recently declared to the New York Times that the 57-percent increase in anti-Semitic incidents includes "physical assaults" – as if the number of physical assaults followed suit with the dubious 57 percent figure.  As Bernstein notes, physical assaults constitute the "most objective sort of incident to document," and the large decline in that number surely calls into question the "robustness" (i.e., the accuracy or reliability) of the rest of the data.

Bernstein ends his article by assuring readers he's not a Trump supporter.  Instead, the reason for his objection to reportage surrounding the ADL study is that "the Jewish community's assessment of the dangers of anti-Semitism should be based on documented facts, not ideology, emotion, partisanship, or panic."  President Trump would shorten that list of distorting factors to the phrase "fake news."  I urge Sarah Sanders to add this example to a short list of prominent examples for the enlightenment of Acosta and like-minded 100-percent-negative colleagues.

Richard Kirk is a freelance writer living in Southern California, whose book Moral Illiteracy: "Who's to Say?" is available on Kindle.

Image: Tom Hilton via Flickr.