Many of us were grateful that the public editor of The New York Times, Arthur Brisbane, chose to devote his column today on the issue of crediting publications such as ours for the work we do. The case in point concerned The Times’ two-part series on sexual abuse in the ultra-Orthodox community in Brooklyn, and the way communal, religious and political pressure has combined to limit the public’s right to know what exactly is happening to those who commit these awful crimes.
When the series was first published, I wrote to Brisbane, congratulating The Times for its work but suggesting that the reporters violated their own ethical guidelines by not acknowledging stories in The Forward and The Jewish Week that formed the foundation of that work. Gary Rosenblatt, editor of The Jewish Week, signed onto the letter, and wrote about it in his own publication.
It’s rare that an institution as powerful as The Times owns up to its mistakes, and I’m impressed to see the way Brisbane reacted so quickly and authoritatively. That said, I wish his analysis had gone further, to credit The Forward’s work dating back to 2009 and continuing until today. Here’s one example:
In her defense of The Times’ decision not to credit work done by other media outlets, Carolyn Ryan, The Times’s metro editor, said the paper was aware of the lengthy reporting by other media outlets on abuse. However, Ryan said The Times only credits others when it uses “exclusive information” that other journalists “reported first.”
Ryan used this argument to defend The Times’s decision not to give credit to The Jewish Week for reporting weeks before The Times that Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes had inflated the success of his Kol Tzedek hotline, a program that is supposed to encourage confidential reporting of sexual abuse.
But what about The Forward? This newspaper was the first to report the staggering number of arrests that the DA was claiming as a direct result of Kol Tzedek — last November. According to The Times’s Sharon Otterman, in a Q&A interview with readers on May 11, that Forward story was the inspiration for The Times’s two-part series.
If that doesn’t constitute what Ryan describes as “exclusive information that… [other outlets] reported first,” I don’t know what does.
Jane Eisner, a pioneer in journalism, is writer-at-large at the Forward and the 2019 Koeppel Fellow in Journalism at Wesleyan University. For more than a decade, she was editor-in-chief of the Forward, the first woman to hold the position at the influential Jewish national news organization. Under her leadership, the Forward’s digital readership grew significantly, and won numerous regional and national awards for its original journalism, in print and online.