Welcome to a special abbreviated edition of Jane Looking Forward. For those of you who celebrated, I hope you had a lovely and meaningful Shavuot. If you wish to continue reading this weekly newsletter, please subscribe here. And spread the word!
A man walks into a New York restaurant. He hears workers speaking Spanish. He berates them and threatens to call immigration services to report them.
Had this happened a few years ago, it would have been thought of as no more than a nasty encounter, a sign that America’s melting pot is sometimes more like a toxic stew.
But this encounter happened last week, and subject to social media trends in Trump’s America, it became a viral sensation. And, it turns out, a Forward sensation, too.
Our multiple stories about the loud-mouthed man — a Jewish lawyer named Aaron Schlossberg — soared to the top of our digital offerings, garnering more than half a million page views and attracting 441,000 unique visitors. The day the story broke, May 16, was our seventh biggest day of traffic since January 2016.
I asked our digital editors, Dave Goldiner and Jeffrey Boxer, why this random story about an ill-behaving man caught fire, and what — if anything — it means.
It helped that the Forward newsroom has become adept at jumping on stories that seem to catch the public’s imagination — when those stories have a Jewish angle, which this one did. We published nine stories altogether, including the fact that Schlossberg donated to the Trump campaign and has an unfortunate history of publicly cursing at what he calls “foreigners.”
The narrative is also an illustration of the coarsening of our social discourse, and the way that viral video and social media can amplify every discretion. Plus, as Dave offered, people “are mad at Trump and looking for individual stories that express that.”
I’ll admit that I worry about the media’s role in exaggerating these encounters, and in targeting a man who, yes, engages in obnoxious and hateful speech, but may not be breaking any laws. I could cavalierly say that this story was blown out of proportion, but who am I to second guess the demonstrated interest of the public?
Yet there is a silver lining here. Really.
The fact that Schlossberg was so quickly condemned, that strangers came to the defense of the women he was berating, that lawyers debated about whether he should be allowed to continue to practice, that a mariachi band serenaded his office — all of this shows that there seems to be a natural corrective, a kind of public shaming that, I hope, may have a salutary effect.
Maybe someone else who shares those noxious views won’t spout off so quickly for fear of being called out and embarrassed. For all its messiness, the outcry could serve as an old-fashioned reminder that we really ought to treat other people with respect. Wherever they come from.
What else I’ve written. If you haven’t had your fill of royal wedding stories, here’s my remembrance of covering the 1986 ceremony of Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson. Let’s hope the charming, modern marriage of the new Duke and Duchess of Sussex lasts much longer!
What else I’m reading. Like so many of us, I suspect, I thought that many Jews coming to America were forced to change their names when they were processed at Ellis Island. Kirsten Fermaglich, an associate professor at Michigan State University, argues otherwise. In a fascinating piece for The Conversation, she shows how this myth developed, and why it might have been easier to blame government officials that acknowledge the strong pull of Americanization on our ancestors.
Looking forward. This newsletter will take a break next Monday in honor of Memorial Day. But feel free to send your comments and questions to JaneEisnerEIC@forward.com. And don’t forget to spread the word to anyone interested in joining this online community.
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Aaron Schlossberg Goes Viral — Reminds Us About Respect
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.