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Is Noah Feldman The N.Y. Times’ New Jayson Blair?

By Gabriel Sanders

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The Orthodox Union waded into the Noah Feldman debate with guns a-blazin’ today.

With a press release titled, “Noah Feldman as the ‘Jewish Jayson Blair’?” the O.U.’s Institute for Public Affairs charged that both Feldman and The New York Times Magazine, where the Harvard legal scholar’s much-discussed July 22 critique of Modern Orthodoxy appeared, “knew in advance of publication that the essay contained false statements.”

The O.U. called for an apology from the Times and further argued that Feldman should lose his position as a contributing editor to the paper’s Sunday magazine.

The crux of the issue, from the O.U.’s standpoint, is the anecdote with which Feldman opens his piece — that he did not appear in a newsletter photo of his Modern Orthodox high school’s 10-year reunion because he had been at the event with his non-Jewish girlfriend. The O.U., relying on an account that appears in this week’s issue of The Jewish Week, argues that the assertion that Feldman was “deliberately cropped out of a photograph of his day school reunion” is false.

But the issue is not quite so clear cut. Feldman never uses the words “cropped out,” “erased” or “airbrushed” in his article. What he says is the following: “We all crowded into a big group photo…. When the alumni newsletter came around a few months later, I happened to notice the photo. I looked, then looked again. My girlfriend and I were nowhere to be found.”

Technically speaking, nothing here is false. Feldman and his girlfriend were not in the picture. But, as the Jewish Week article makes clear, the reason for this is not that he was deliberately removed, but that the group assembled was too large for one shot and that, in order to capture the whole group, multiple photos were taken.

Here matters grow a little dicey for the Times. The paper knew there’d been no altered pictures. How? Looking for an image with which to illustrate Feldman’s piece, they’d paid the reunion photographer to find the negative. Once it became clear that nothing had been tampered with, his shots were no longer of use.

With no image to illustrate Feldman’s anecdote, the Times did the next best thing: They crafted one. The drawing accompanying the article shows a group of young men davening with one appearing only in silhouette.

Feldman may never have said that he was cropped out of his reunion picture, but it’s tough to come away from his piece thinking otherwise.

So, is the Times guilty of misleading its readers? Yes. Does this rise to the level of a Jayson Blair-style offense? Not by a long shot.


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Comments
Sephardiman Fri. Aug 3, 2007

The point is that Feldman's piece hurt and angered many traditional Jews, like myself, who saw it as ammunition for detractors of our form of Judaism. My wife and I were emailed the story by an active member of the Los Angeles Jewish Secular Humanists who saw Feldman's article as vindication for his decision to leave the more religiously centered upbringing he enjoyed as a child in various Chicago area Batei Knessot. Feldman has also put traditional Jews in a difficult place in the workplace and other areas where they interact with non-Jews, something Rabbi Lamm has alluded to in his response. One has to ask why the "NY Times" would empower him to do so much damage to his own people?

Amsellem Farkas Choi Mon. Aug 6, 2007

Noah Feldman and the New York Times Misled Readers Catch the deception, oh so clever, tailored to mislead with cover: 1. "THE Photo" He said “We all crowded into a big group photo…." Then "...I happened to notice THE photo." But it was not "the" photo. We now know it was there different ones -- that Feldman and the Times knew before publication that the photographer took several group photos, only one of which was used. Here, therefore, is the lie: by saying it was "the" photo -- the same photo -- the only possible way he could have been absent is if he was airbrushed out. His use of the definite particle is the smoking gun, the subtle but clear lie. 2. Intent to Mislead Noah Feldman’s article intentionally misled his readers into thinking that he had been airbrushed. It is noteworthy that when an interviewer that week expressly asked about the “airbrushing”, to Professor Noah Feldman allowed the word to stand without ever correcting him: http://www.jewcy.com/daily_shvitz/questions_for_the_author_of_orthodox_paradox INTERVIEWER: You were surprised when Maimonides —- the yeshiva from which you graduated -— AIRBRUSHED out you and your (non-Jewish) wife from a photo published in the alumni newsletter. Your surprise struck many readers as rather strange, since the community makes no secret of its rejection of intermarriage. It’s a bit as if you’d pulled out a bag of pork rinds, devoured them with relish throughout the evening, and then expressed bewilderment when someone asked you if you'd set them aside until later. What are your critics missing here? FELDMAN: My classmates are great. As it happens, the reunion was lots of fun and we were all warm towards one another, as one would hope. What is troubling about the view you describe—which I never sensed from my classmates—is its implication that somehow modern Orthodox people should be protected from my living my life as I choose. As if choice of life partner were as trivial as a snack. Going to a reunion is a perfectly normal part of life, and choosing not to attend, in order to shield people from my life, would be absurd. People who are comfortable with their own life choices don't get "offended" when others choose differently. [...]




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