Buried by the Times

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Buried by the Times, a book by Laurel Leff, Associate Professor of journalism at Northeastern University, is a critical account of The New York Times's coverage of Nazi atrocities against Jews that culminated in the Holocaust. The book argues that the news was often buried in the back pages in part due to the view about Judaism of the paper's Jewish publisher, Arthur Hays Sulzberger. It also gives a critical look at the work of Times correspondents in Europe.

Argument[edit]

Placement of news articles[edit]

The placement of news articles in a newspaper is a good indication of the importance given by the newspaper to a story. The Times consistently placed major stories about the Nazi treatment of European Jews on back pages "by the soap and shoe polish ads."[1] Leff found that during the period September 1939 to May 1945 very few stories about Jewish victims made the Times front page. "The story of the Holocaust—meaning articles that focused on the discrimination, deportation, and destruction of the Jews—made the Times front page just 26 times, and only in six of those stories were Jews identified on the front as the primary victims." [2]

Terminology[edit]

Leff points out that the Times often used a more generic term such as refugee or nationality to refer to Nazi victims who were Jewish. In his review, Gal Beckerman writes, "More shocking even than the chronic burying of articles with the word 'Jew' in them is how often that word was rubbed out of articles that specifically dealt with the Jewish condition. It’s almost surreal at times. How could you possibly tell the story of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising without mentioning Jews? But The Times did, describing how '500,000 persons…were herded into less than 7 percent of Warsaw’s buildings,' and how '400,000 persons were deported' to their deaths at Treblinka. As Leff put it, The Times, 'when it ran front-page stories, described refugees seeking shelter, Frenchmen facing confiscation, or civilians dying in German camps, without making clear the refugees, Frenchmen, and civilians were mostly Jews.'" [3]

Role of religion[edit]

Sulzberger was a convinced Reformed Jew which was the basis of his assimilationist approach: Judaism for him was only a religion and that Jews were neither a race nor a people any more than Presbyterians or Methodists were a race. In December 1942 in a memo to New York Times staff he wrote “I have been trying to instruct the people around here on the subject of the word ‘Jews’, i.e., that they are neither a race nor a people, etc.,”[3] Former New York Times journalist Ari Goldman, in his review of the book, writes: "There can be little doubt that Sulzberger’s views about Judaism trickled down to the editors making the decisions about what to put in the newspaper every day." [1]

Staff biases[edit]

Leff examines the stances and performances of the Times's reporting and editorial staff. In the field, "She exposes the disturbing Nazi and Vichy attachments of a few European correspondents."[3] While back in New York, Sulzberger's bias was shared by other Jewish staffers: "Between them and influential Catholics among the crucial night editors, who decided where to place news items, the imperiled Jews of Europe had no advocate in the newsroom." [4]

Conclusion[edit]

Blame for the lack of coverage: Beside the biases and lack of competence of the European correspondents, Leff "points out the problems with journalistic convention of the time, which preferred reprinting government pronouncements to digging for unknown stories. There was also, of course, a disorganized Jewish community and a Roosevelt administration too preoccupied with the war, both not pushing hard enough for front-page coverage. But the bulk of the blame, in Leff’s telling, falls squarely at the feet of The Times's publisher, Sulzberger." [3]

A number of observers have observed how badly informed the American public was about the Nazis' systematic murder of European Jews. [5] [6] [7] Leff points out that the way the Times covered the Holocaust "contributed to the public's ignorance." But in addition to poorly informing the public, "The Times' coverage mattered so much," she writes, “because other bystanders, particularly the American government, American Jewish groups, and the rest of the American press, took cues from the paper. Among major American newspapers, it was unique in the information it received, how it disseminated the news, and to whom.”[8]

Reception[edit]

Most of the reviews were very positive. English historian, David Cesarani reviewing the book in the Jewish Chronicle wrote: "The light which Laurel Leff sheds on US government policy adds to the value of her densely documented and judiciously written study. It is a model of research with serious implications for how the press covers atrocity and genocide in our own times." [4]

Another Holocaust historian, Tim Cole, writing in the Journal of Jewish Studies points out a wider benefit from the study: "Laurel Leff's study of the reporting of the Holocaust in the pages of The New York Times does more than simply fill a gap by offering an in-depth study of America's most significant daily … her book stands as a model for future studies in this sub-field of Holocaust Studies … [and] makes the book of interest not only to those wanting to know what The New York Times reported on the Holocaust. Leff's study offers a broader insight into American Jews in the wartime years, and in particular the relationship between one American Jew and his Jewishness.'" [9]

Columbia University journalism professor (and former New York Times reporter) Ari Goldman commented: "...Laurel Leff, in her excellent book, Buried by The Times, builds a strong and convincing case that The Times was deliberately downplaying a major story because it didn’t want to appear to be championing a Jewish cause. Like her observation about the use of wire stories, much of Leff ’s speculation cannot be verified. But there is much evidence to suggest that the editors were motivated by more than just the news. Leff documents this in great detail both in terms of what The Times published and in terms of the opinions of its publisher at the time, Arthur Hays Sulzberger." [1]

Throughout the book Leff's outrage concerning the behavior of The Times is apparent. Beckerman comments favorably on it: "Beneath every word of Laurel Leff’s extraordinary and thorough new study of The New York Times's coverage of what we now call the Holocaust is this same desire—for the paper to be shocked and outraged beyond its very black-and-white bounds." [3]

However one reviewer criticized her approach. "The tone of Leff's account is one of unremitting outrage. When The Times fails to report any Holocaust-related event, she is outraged. If the paper reports on it, she's outraged that the report isn't on the front page. When a Holocaust story is on the front page, she complains that it isn't high enough on the front page. When there is no editorial on some Holocaust-related subject, she is outraged, and if there is an editorial, she's outraged that it isn't the lead editorial. She is regularly outraged when either reportage or commentary, wherever placed, mentions not Jews alone but other victims as well. When one item made clear that a majority of those killed at a certain locale were Jews, she complains that this was noted "only once" in the story. All of this is so over-the-top as to verge on self-parody."[10]

Finally, former NYT executive editor and Pulitizer Prize winning journalist, Max Frankel used Leff's preliminary research as a reference for his article criticizing the Times's reporting of the Holocaust in its 150th anniversary in 2001. He wrote: "As Laurel Leff, an assistant professor at the Northeastern School of Journalism, has concluded, it was a tragic demonstration of how 'the facts didn't speak for themselves.' She has been the most diligent independent student of The Times's Holocaust coverage and deftly summarized her findings last year in The Harvard International Journal of Press/Politics. 'You could have read the front page of The New York Times in 1939 and 1940," she wrote, "without knowing that millions of Jews were being sent to Poland, imprisoned in ghettos, and dying of disease and starvation by the tens of thousands. You could have read the front page in 1941 without knowing that the Nazis were machine-gunning hundreds of thousands of Jews in the Soviet Union." Frankel called it "the century's bitterest journalistic failure."[11]

Honors and awards[edit]

Related work[edit]

Leff's ongoing work on American responses to the Holocaust continues to draw commentary. Her research paper "Rebuffing Refugee Journalists: The Profession's Failure to Help Jews Persecuted by Nazi Germany" asserting that journalists, unlike physicians and attorneys, failed to establish committees to help Jewish refugees secure positions that would have made them exempt from immigration limits and allowed them to come to the United States, inspired a campaign to get the Newspaper Association of America to acknowledge its predecessor organization in the 1930s "was wrong to turn its back on Jewish refugee journalists fleeing Hitler".[12] [13] The Newspaper Association of America responded by issuing a statement regretting that its predecessor organization did not give a full public airing to the issue at the time and by holding a special session on the topic at its annual meeting.[14]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Goldman, Ari L. (Spring 2005). "In Denial". Columbia Magazine. Retrieved 2013-10-31. 
  2. ^ Leff, Laurel (2005). Buried by the Times: the Holocaust and America's most important newspaper. New York: Cambridge University Press. pp. 2–3. ISBN 978-0-521-81287-0. 
  3. ^ a b c d e Beckerman, Gal (2005-04-15). "Counting the Gray Lady’s Sins". Forward. Retrieved 2013-10-31. 
  4. ^ a b Cesarani, David (2005-06-15). "O, Tempora!". Forward. Retrieved 2013-10-31. 
  5. ^ Charles Stember, ed. (1966). Jews in the Mind of America. 
  6. ^ Wyman, David S. (1984). The Abandonment of the Jews: America and the Holocaust. New York, NY: Pantheon Books. 
  7. ^ Lipstadt, Deborah E. (1986). Beyond Belief: The American Press and the Coming of the Holocaust, 1933-1945. New York: Free Press. ISBN 0-02-919161-0. 
  8. ^ Leff, Laurel (2005). Buried by the Times: the Holocaust and America's most important newspaper. New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-81287-0.  p.358
  9. ^ [Journal of Jewish Studies 2006 Volume: 57 Issue: 2 pp.339-340) Cole]
  10. ^ Novick, Peter (May 1, 2005). "Looking Back in Anger". Washington Post. Retrieved 2012-01-11. 
  11. ^ Frankel
  12. ^ Seelye, Katherine Q. (February 20, 2006). "Accusation From Nazi Era: Journalists Failed the Jews". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-06-26. 
  13. ^ "Journalism Schools Rejected Holocaust Refugees". National Public Radio. February 15, 2006. 
  14. ^ Seelye, Katherine Q. (March 13, 2006). "Newspaper Group Acknowledges a Holocaust Mistake". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-06-26. 

External links[edit]