Debate Planned for Sabbath Is Postponed

By E.J. Kessler

Published May 16, 2003, issue of May 16, 2003.
  • Print
  • Share Share

The New York Times is rescheduling an “informal debate” to which it invited the Democratic presidential candidates.

In a May 1 letter obtained by the Forward, Times associate editor John Darnton invited the candidates to participate in the daytime event on Saturday, June 21 — in the middle of the Jewish Sabbath. Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman, an observant Jew, would not have been able to participate in the debate as originally scheduled.

But now, the Times told the Forward, it is rescheduling the event.

“Due to scheduling conflicts we have postponed the Democratic candidates’ debate that we had hoped to hold on June 21,” the Times’s director of public relations, Toby Usnik, wrote to the Forward in an e-mail statement on May 9. “We continue to believe that the idea of a debate is a worthwhile public service and so we hope to be able to sponsor one in the future.”

Reached by telephone, Usnik declined further comment. The Times sent out an e-mail letter to at least one campaign with the same wording as the above statement while the Forward was preparing to publish a version of this story on its Web site last Friday. No new date is set in the May 9 letter, which also was obtained by the Forward.

It appears the Times publicized the original date even after ABC News and the South Carolina Democratic Party scheduled a debate of the candidates they held Saturday, May 3 in Columbia, S.C., at 9 p.m. — after the end of the Sabbath — to accommodate Lieberman’s religious observance. It also appears that the Times was attempting to schedule its event for June 21 after New York Times political reporter Adam Nagourney wrote a story about Lieberman’s Sabbath observance and the accommodations it necessitated by his campaign, most notably the late start of the debate in South Carolina.

“The South Carolina Democratic Party actually knows about Shabbat, and The New York Times doesn’t?” a Lieberman supporter, speaking on condition of anonymity, asked incredulously.

Others also faulted the Times’s conduct.

“Without being overly critical, it seems to me that the Times should have been more conscious when they originally set the date,” the campaign manager of Reverend Al Sharpton’s presidential bid, Frank Watkins, told the Forward. “To change it to make sure everyone can participate shouldn’t be a problem. The South Carolina debate accommodated Senator Lieberman. It didn’t interfere with the debate. When things can be done to accommodate candidates, especially their religious needs, those putting on events should do everything to accommodate the candidates, in my judgment.”

The original letter from the Times inviting the candidates to participate said that the debate “will kick off a public forum that day on the ‘Theme of the American Presidency.’”

The candidates’ debate — or “panel,” as the letter calls it — was to be held at New School University in Manhattan before an audience of several hundred and would have been taped for a later broadcast on the Discovery Channel. It was to have entailed “a separate questioning of each candidate by a pair of New York Times Washington-based reporters or editors, not direct exchanges between the candidates.” The candidates were to have been given a chance to make opening and closing statements and to reply to issues raised by other panel members. It would have occurred “in the late morning of the 21st, a Saturday,” lasted about two hours, the letter states, and been open to outside media.

Apart from the question of Lieberman’s participation, the Times’s postponement of the debate would seem to be a good public relations move on the part of the “newspaper of record.” Because the Times operates in a metropolitan area with a Jewish population of two million, about a quarter of which observes the Sabbath, the paper would increase public access were it to reschedule the debate to a non-Sabbath date.

In an e-mail message to the Forward on May 9, Lieberman’s spokesman, Jano Cabrera, wrote, “As we apparently have yet to receive it, we have not had an opportunity to review the details of the invitation.”

Find us on Facebook!
  • "I’ve never bought illegal drugs, but I imagine a small-time drug deal to feel a bit like buying hummus underground in Brooklyn."
  • We try to show things that get less exposed to the public here. We don’t look to document things that are nice or that people would like. We don’t try to show this place as a beautiful place.”
  • A new Gallup poll shows that only 25% of Americans under 35 support the war in #Gaza. Does this statistic worry you?
  • “You will stomp us into the dirt,” is how her mother responded to Anya Ulinich’s new tragicomic graphic novel. Paul Berger has a more open view of ‘Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: Hundreds of protesters marched through lower Manhattan yesterday demanding an end to American support for Israel’s operation in #Gaza.
  • Does #Hamas have to lose for there to be peace? Read the latest analysis by J.J. Goldberg.
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  •'s Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.