Revising history, for religion’s sake

You have to look really closely to notice what’s missing from the picture. Did you catch it?

Just kidding — can you believe that? Just airbrushing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Counterterrorism Director Audrey Tomason out of a picture? CNN’s Belief Blog began their story with:

Faith has outweighed fact at Di Tzeitung, a Hasidic newspaper based in Brooklyn, New York.

The rest of the CNN story is great. It explains how the story was picked up:

The news of this broke Friday when Shmarya Rosenberg, 52, posted a quick piece on his blog Failed Messiah.

Rosenberg, of St. Paul, Minnesota, said he wasn’t surprised by the photo doctoring and only posted something about it because “it was a slow news day.”

A former ultra-Orthodox Jew, Rosenberg has been writing about the ultra-Orthodox community – mostly about crime and what he dubbed “strange media” – for seven years. He said the newspapers in that community have become “increasingly strange with their censorship of women’s faces and women’s bodies” over the past few years.

He said readers of the Yiddish-language paper used to see photos of rabbis with their wives and that there was then a time when the women were blurred. Now, they’re just not there.

But then the story goes even deeper. It covers the written statement issued by the newspaper, which said the decision to leave women out of photos is religiously mandated and protected by the U.S. Constitution. Here’s a portion:

“Because of laws of modesty, we are not allowed to publish pictures of women, and we regret if this gives an impression of disparaging women, which is certainly never our intention,” it continued. “We apologize if this was seen as offensive.”

And then it quotes the executive director of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, who says revising history to remove important female leaders is not appropriate. I think that was a good choice, rather than just asking a non-Orthodox Jew feminist.

The various branches of Judaism are explained, as is the practice of debate within each tradition. It even gave the last word to the paper. The statement included the paper’s claim of respect for Clinton. It was a nice, balanced story all around. For those unfamiliar with some of these traditions, it gave a nice lesson and it did so with interesting quotes.

The Washington Post also covered the kerfuffle, with a blog post. Brad Hirschfield also weighed in over at the Post‘s “For God’s Sake” blog in the “On Faith” section, giving a more theological response to the controversy.

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  • ericfromnewyork

    If a newspaper, for religious reasons, does not want to print pictures of women, then they should find a picture that does not have a woman in it. I think it is borderline, but acceptable to crop a picture. But if it is not possible to present an honest photograph, then they should simply write about the events they are describing using only words, graphs, flow charts, and so forth. No newspaper should present a description of events which the editors themselves know is false.
    Modesty and decency do not trump honesty. They are not incompatible. Many newspapers, for instance, sooner would print a picture of police cars and an ambulance, than use a hypothetically available photo of a mangled human body at an accident scene. The picture would present important and honest visual information, but would not violate their standards of decency.

  • ray

    Unbelievable! These guys should not be in the newspaper business if they are so devoid of journalistic integrity. At the very least, once caught falsifying an official White House photo, they should have manned up, apologized to the WH and Clinton, and published the unaltered photo. Instead they went into default whiny mode and flung around knee jerk accusations of antisemitism and blood libel.

  • Jerry

    I wonder if there are other similar publications in other religions who won’t publish images of women under similar circumstances?

  • Ira Rifkin

    While it’s easy to criticize Di Tzitung it’s also beside the point.

    Di Tzitung’s readers live in a different world, one far more insular than the world most of us frequent.

    Its raison d’tre is not to inform so much as it to support a world view and its community’s religious/social standards.

    Think of it as a house organ far removed from the standards of mainstream journalism, just like so many other religious publications.

  • Ira Rifkin


    here’s Di Tzitung’s statement:

    where’s the default whiny mode?

  • Mark Baddeley

    Photoshopping out entirely seems a bit strange given the stated reason of modesty. Surely something like a blur, or an indistinct shadow to indicate that a woman is actually there makes more sense. You can preserve the presence of a woman and her location without transgressing such a strong modesty code and not have to eliminate the presence of the woman entirely.

    I think my problem with #2 is that one doesn’t have to take a naturalistic approach to photographs. Photographs are often staged, with a high degree of symbolism, or selected for the same effect. They aren’t just ‘reality as it was’. If the paper has a clear policy that it is going to modify photos in a certain predictable and consistent way, and its readers know that, it would not necessarily be an example of lack of journalistic integrity.

    Not a fan of the policy, but I think #2′s response seems over the top from a journalism point of view. Seems more like a dislike of the policy itself.

  • Ray Ingles

    Y’know, at the very least a disclaimer that the photo was altered would seem in order. Presenting the photo with no acknowledgement that it was altered seems to be be main journalistic issue. (The policy re: women I – ahem – disagree with, but they have the right to be wrong.)

    Of course, as Di Tzitung noted in their response, the White House made the photos available under the condition that they not be altered, but the paper did apologize for that.

  • ericfromnewyork

    Ray Ingles (#5)is on the right track. We can not argue with their sensibilities about what’s fit to print.
    The paper’s response, however, is disingenous – precisely because it defends their respect for women. That is not the issue.
    I charitably assume these editors love and respect their wives and daughters and mothers – and perhaps even (as they protest) the former US senator from the State of New York.
    If you don’t want your paper to be what you (eccentrically) would consider a girlie magazine, that’s fine with me. Just don’t actively tell lies if you are running what purports to be a newspaper.
    This story raises other questions in my mind, though.
    What if, even in the text, there was a policy of not mentioning women who are in positions of power? Or, what if some, more mainstream, news organizations routinely omitted the fact that some murders and violent persons shout out a particular, recognizable, religious ejaculation just before they commit their atrocities and assaults? Are the standards different for what Ira Rifkin(#4)calls “a house organ” compared to the msm?
    Maybe we should just give up altogether on the idea that journalists have standards (or will, reliably abide by them)and assume a robust policy of “caveat emptor.”

  • ericfromnewyork

    sorry, Ray, I meant (#7)

  • Maureen

    What if it were a religious nudist paper’s policy to photoshop everybody as naked?