When Depravity Hits a New Low

Tragedies bring out the best — and worst in people.

When news spread on Friday that a 39-year-old father of seven had been kidnapped, tens of thousands of adults and children put everything aside and began to say Tehillim for a man whose name they had never heard before.

After an anxious, prayer-filled Shabbos, word was received that the worst fears of the community had materialized, and strangers from all walks of life joined together to grieve a family’s devastating loss.

At the polar opposite end of the spectrum of humanity, are the publisher, editors, and reporters of the New York Post. In its coverage of the tragedy, the tabloid broke new ground in the infamous field of gutter journalism.

Only the most depraved of individuals would use anonymous sources to brutally besmirch a victim of a coldblooded murder. Only those who have rid themselves of any vestiges of humanity and have descended into the nethermost levels of malevolence could possibly write and publish the front-page headline that appeared in the rag that claims to be a newspaper.

In their mad pursuit of sensationalism, the Post didn’t even make the feeblest of attempts to ascertain the truth, or maintain even a vague appearance of journalistic fairness and integrity.

In their sadistic rush to pour salt on the fresh wounds of a grieving widow, young orphans and parents who have lost a beloved child, the Post in effect condoned the killing, and became a willing vehicle for anti-Semitic incitement.

The attack against the deceased, Hy”d — complete with the usage of a picture in which he was wearing a shtreimel and the repeated usage of the word “Hasidic,” — was in reality a vitriolic attack against an entire community.

The victim, now in the World of Truth, can’t respond to and refute the attacks on him; that task falls on the living.

We note with gratitude the long list of leading elected officials, and decent men and women from all backgrounds, who have stepped forward to strongly condemn the reprehensible conduct of the Post and the other media outlets that followed their lead.

However what matters aren’t mere words but actions. Only when this despicable tabloid will see a significant decline in readership, when their advertising revenue will drop and when their sources in law enforcement and other governmental offices will stop cooperating, will the Post begin to rethink their nefarious ways.

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The ongoing excoriation of The New York Post is on target and important. But it doesn’t obviate our responsibility to examine ourselves in the mirror and contemplate the lessons we all have to learn from this most dreadful saga.

From childhood, Torah Jews are taught about the gravity of the sins of motzi shem ra and lashon hara. We are aware of the tragic plight of the victims of slander, and of how gossip started by reckless individuals can wreck the lives of innocent people.

We are cognizant of the fact that regardless of the reason some sources choose to remain anonymous. The very fact that the public is unaware of who made the allegations means that there is no real way to hold the sources responsible for the veracity of their claims. We all know that tabloids don’t allow something as petty as the truth to get in the way of a scoop, and that hateful, agenda-driven news blogs regularly pass along blatant falsehoods as facts.

Yet, despite it all, we allow ourselves — consciously or otherwise — to be influenced by what these outlets publish.

Sometimes, the slanderous accusations pass through numerous mouths, and the final recipient is unaware of the identity of the real source. On other occasions, the dubiousness of the source is known, but misguided reasoning such as “when there is smoke there is fire” or “they wouldn’t make up a story entirely” is applied.

In reality, these outlets are experts at distorting facts to an astonishing degree. Good deeds are often portrayed as evil transgressions, while their own treacherous conduct is wrapped in a cloak of self-righteousness. The reputations of decent, upright men are destroyed based on false rumors, while real travesties are praised, even lionized.

Other than express our harshest condemnation, there is little we can do to stop these outlets from continuing in their destructive path, but we can do much more to ensure that their poison doesn’t enter our hearts and minds. This can only be accomplished by avoiding these outlets entirely, and wholly and firmly rejecting the constant flow of slanderous stories they generate.

A version of this editorial was printed in Tuesday’s daily.