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Not ‘The Dearborn Independent’

August 10, 2009 – 1:45 pm8 Comments

dearborn2Gary Mallin, sub-editor at The Age, gives an inside perspective on reporting about Jews.

A couple of observations: when someone who is a Jew (and to a lesser extent a Moslem, for that matter) makes the news, his religion is invariably mentioned in news reports. Further, the newsmaker’s mode of dress is usually added as a corollary.

Take, for example, the reports surrounding the arrest of public officials and rabbis in New Jersey, last month. The Australian, in part, reported thus: ”On display yesterday were handcuffed politicians and rabbis in traditional garb who were led into a federal building to be charged, and then transported by bus to court.”

On August 5, The Age reported that one of the Melbourne terrorist suspects appeared in court in “sockless sandals”.

I am incredulous. What are sockless sandals? Are they manifest of someone who is Moslem, someone who is from the Middle East, a poor person, a surfie bum, a terrorist or some new fashion? Which? Perhaps the report, without the benefit of moving images, was trying to paint a picture for the reader, but in doing so it began sketching stereotypes.

And what are rabbis in traditional garb? Maybe traditional garb is now yarmulke and handcuffs. Really, does anyone, inside or outside the Jewish community, know what a rabbi’s traditional garb is? And does it matter?

Most rabbis I know wear a sober dark suit and tie. So, does this mean, by extension, Melbourne’s thousands of businessmen, most of whom wear a suit and tie, are rabbis? I think not. Is everyone with a long, grey beard a Jew? I think not. Is every bald man a skinhead? I think not.

Idiosyncratically, the media likes to mention Jews and Moslems whenever they can in news reports. It is rare that the faith of others is mentioned. (Those bestial Catholic priests and their abuse of childen is an exception.) But when was the last time you read a report where the religion of a Buddhist or a Hindu, for example, was made a prominent part of the story? In most cases it is irrelevant, a bad guy is a bad guy, no matter what faith they follow. We always seem to know that someone is Jewish, but not what his Christian denomination is.

Be that as it may, there are times when mentioning a person’s faith is relevant. The stories about Richard Pratt’s last few days and life would have seemed to have been missing an important fact, if his Jewishness were not mentioned. Can you image the hue and cry in the Jewish community if this were the case?

Activists in the Melbourne Jewish community seem to rail against The Age on occasions when Judaism or Israel is reported upon. Unfair, biased, anti-Semitic are the main accusations flung in The Age‘s direction.

In my association with The Age since the late 1980s, I have not seen an practical evidence of any of these accusations. Sure, The Age gets a few things wrong every now and then and reports what is perceived to be “the other side” too often and occasionally makes a howler (the Backman issue), but, contrary to what some in the Jewish community might believe, Age staff do not sit around daily and ask, what anti-Semitic, anti-Israel articles can we publish today?

The Age is not The Dearborn Independent of the Henry Ford era. Far from it.

Gary Mallin is a sub-editor at The Age.

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