Media Watch – The New York Times Magazine: A Conversation Among Us Jews

The New York Times Magazine, the New York Times’ Sunday slick-page offering, is easily one of the higher-quality publications in America, with in-depth treatments of cutting-edge issues in medicine, science, foreign policy, politics and our sociological landscape.  But as with much of America’s elite media, there is a disproportionate representation of the Jewish community, its interests and organizations.  This is best illustrated by focusing not on a single story, but an entire recent issue:

From start to finish, the August 12, 2007 issue is revealing.  Two of eight letters to the editor come from Laura Winkler Stein of New Jersey and Marc Rosenblatt of Brooklyn — a comparatively low number compared to past letters pages, some of which have featured two letters from writers both named “Cohen,” for instance.

In the “Questions For” feature at the beginning of the magazine by Deborah Solomon, actor Jonah Hill of the new Superbad movie, tells Ms. Solomon, “I’m a nice Jewish boy.”  His bar mitvah, he relates, was “amazing” and “magical” and carried the theme “Jonah Goes Platinum.”

Prominent neocon William Safire delivers his by-now familiar “On Language” column, which critiques the intricacies of the English language.

In “The Ethicist” feature, we hear from “ethics expert” Randy Cohen, a former comedy writer, who finds it relevant to work in a reference to American slavery in his answer to a question from an American upset about Singaporean justice.  Cohen in the past has enjoyed lecturing readers about the evils of “racism,” though I have not yet seen him address the ethics of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.

The cover piece, on marriage counseling, is penned by one Laurie Abraham, and writer Joshua Yaffa gives an interesting article on the clarity of road signs.  In what even many Jews might chuckle at for approaching parody, Paul Greenberg tells us about Alaskan salmon fishing.

The magazine’s last-page feature, “Lives”, gives us a cozy tale by Joel Schwartzberg about moving back home at age 37.  It’s heavy on his Jewish identity and warm anecdotes of the Jewish family.

“So what?” you might say.  Jews are smart folks and good writers.  It’s no surprise they’d are disproportionately represented, especially in a New York City paper.  How many whites from Iowa read The New York Times Magazine, much less write letters to its editor?

Yet it matters, on at least two levels.  On one, it’s a simple sign of cultural displacement.  The Saturday Evening Post, with its own reflection of white majority mores, has long been replaced.  The loss of this voice, this presence, is itself significant, in the same way that many Jews find an abandoned synagogue in Poland to be significant.  Yes — you see there? Our people used to be here.  And now we are not.  The difference is that Jews ask themselves, “and shouldn’t we return?”  Whites have not, in the main, stopped to even ponder their own displacement, much less consider its implications or focus their minds on coming back.

So it’s worth pointing out that The New York Times Magazine, a part of the nation’s “newspaper of record”, has today become a virtual closed conversation among Jews on Jewish interests.  The thoughts, feelings, desires and dislikes of the American majority have been “disappeared”, which is perhaps worse than mocked or pilloried.

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On another level, predominant media influence matters because media influences policy.  How shall we approach illegal immigration, foreign policy?  The preferences of major Jewish organizations on these issues are well-known, and not coincidentally, have, for the most part, been enacted.  Yet the Jewish preferences are often not those of white Americans, as can be seen from numerous public opinion surveys.  Mass illegal immigration is not the preference of American whites.  Our policy toward Israel and the Middle East also cries out for re-examination if the United States is to extricate itself from the current morass.  So again, it matters.

The predominant influence of Jewish interests in the media simply does not represent the interests of the American majority.  Facing this reality is a necessary first step.

Christopher Donovan is the pen name of an attorney and former journalist.