JTA Bows to Reality: Damage Control or Rudimentary Integrity?

By Stephen Steinlight on February 1, 2011

Time alone will tell whether a one-word revision the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) made to the title of its feature on the reaction of Jewish Establishment organizations to the president's State of the Union Address heralds a long overdue, stubbornly resisted recognition of the changed political realities among American Jews or whether it's merely a transient, one-off reaction to getting hammered in a "gotcha" moment. The same day JTA's article appeared, I fired off a strongly worded blog exposing its jerry-rigged underpinnings, challenging its misrepresentation of attitudes within the American Jewish community, attacking its journalistic integrity, and likening it to "Pravda" as a disseminator of official lies. That parallel hit a raw nerve, and a representative of JTA contacted me. Following a lengthy e-mail exchange during which I demolished their rationales, before the day was over JTA changed the feature's title from "Obama misses some Jewish priorities: poverty, abortion rights, Israel" to "Obama misses some Jewish establishment priorities: poverty, abortion rights, Israel".

If the addition of the radically reductive modifier "establishment" reflects honest introspection and intellection rather than damage control, it marks an important victory for accuracy in reporting, an uncommon triumph in contemporary American print media, where even the nation's "newspapers of record" – especially the New York Times and Washington Post -- are so infused with partisan interests and ideological predilections it's difficult to distinguish their skewed news coverage from their one-sided editorials. That JTA is an admittedly small parochial press agency doesn't negate the significance of its having corrected an ideologically-rooted error in reaction to one reader's outrage.

JTA's change of title – its correcting an ideologically convenient falsehood – matters in light of its historically unbalanced, reflexive political correctness. It's not an exaggeration to say if the truth can prevail here, it can anywhere. Typically, JTA's meager notion of fairness takes the form of publishing occasional letters to the editor from opponents of Establishment opinion. I submit them often but am published only occasionally. When I am, other readers invariably endorse my views on the more informal "comment line," but few write letters. Whenever a JTA piece addresses immigration, even tangentially, I feel a categorical imperative to write. My role is reminding ordinary Jews that not everyone toes JTA's public policy line, that some are prepared to voice the views held by the great majority despite predictable vilification.

Apart from letters, JTA rarely publishes me. Though I'm quoted in pieces on immigration authored in-house, indeed sometimes at length, JTA is careful to quarantine me. I'm the sole voice permitted to speak in favor of U.S. sovereignty, border controls, interior enforcement of immigration law, lower immigration, in opposition to amnesty. I can't recall a single occasion when JTA has quoted or even cited an ally. To foster the illusion I represent minority opinion in the community and to drown out my voice, the most prevalent strategy is to quote me along with a veritable chorus of representatives of Establishment organizations, some of whom vilify me while the rest oppose everything I say, making the same arguments and employing identical rhetoric. The imbalance is so extreme and the repetitive arguments so superfluous it's almost as bad as things used to be when one testified before the Democratic-controlled House Judiciary Committee.

There's one consolation in being quarantined and isolated: knowing it reflects the insecurity of our opponents, not their confidence. The authors and editors at JTA – and other publications that trumpet the standard open-borders line – know we're dangerous because we have much the best concrete arguments and the most compelling data, while they do battle with quivers largely devoid of convincing ideas. Once they've gone through their bag of tricks – the assertion that all Americans are immigrants, that we who oppose them are bigots and nativists, misquoting Leviticus 19:33-34 one more time, and telling a few sob stories about illegal aliens – they have nothing to add. Of course they have other arguments, but the real motive forces that drive them are too foreign, post-American, or narrowly sectarian to share with the American people.

The revised title I succeeded in persuading JTA to adopt represents a genuine victory. In a stark break with tradition, JTA published an important feature about the Jewish community and national politics that did not promulgate the myth that the public policy positions advocated by the Jewish Establishment are conterminous with those held by a majority of ordinary American Jews, or that the Establishment's views can be conflated with them, or that the Jewish Establishment has a mandate to speak on behalf of Americans who are Jews. As JTA's new title makes abundantly clear, "Jewish priorities" are not the same as "Jewish establishment priorities." Given JTA's historical leadership in disseminating that Big Lie, this change potentially represents real progress.

If eternal vigilance is the price of freedom, the same is true of honest press coverage. I've committed myself to the continuous monitoring of JTA's treatment of immigration, as well as that of other publications of the Jewish Establishment. I encourage others, Americans of all religious backgrounds, to do the same. Join me in keeping a sharp eye on JTA, and I urge you to do the same with the pro-amnesty, pro-open-borders publications produced by your own religious denominations.