For the past nine months, the New York Times has been on a crusade to criticize and undermine the yeshiva community. Story after story contained falsehoods, inaccuracies and half-truths and lacked basic context. Even groups such as the JCRC and Anti-Defamation league called out the Times for their obsession with yeshivas and yeshiva parents. But the Times persisted, hiding behind an underserved presumption of objectivity and legal protections that make it nearly impossible to make a newspaper pay for its journalistic sins.
Those days will soon be over for the paper of record. An email that Times reporter Brian Rosenthal sent to the State Education Department makes it clear that he knew that the “facts” he reported about yeshivas were false.
On December 29, the Times published a front page story “How Hasidic Schools Reaped a Windfall of Special Education Funding” written by Rosenthal. The article made incendiary claims about the percentage of students in Brooklyn yeshivas receiving special education services. Despite yeshiva after yeshiva notifying the Times before the article was published that its figures were off, the Times reported them as fact.
One yeshiva, which was singled out in the article as having 59% of its students receiving services, went so far as to hire a lawyer to let the Times know it was about to print falsehoods about them because the fact was that less than 20% of students receives such services. A New York Times lawyer wrote back to defend its story, saying that “there is no explanation for why the City and State – which could provide independent and authoritative data – were wrong and should be disbelieved.”
The problem for the Times is that there WAS an explanation for why the data it was relying on should be disbelieved. In fact, it was Brian Rosenthal himself who provided that explanation.
PEARLS has obtained an email that Rosenthal sent to the State Education Department about problems with the data about the number of yeshiva students receiving special education services that it had sent him.
Rosenthal wrote that for several schools the State data claimed that “the number of students that they have classified as special ed is higher than their overall enrollment.”
That’s right, to support its claim that yeshivas have a high percentage of students receiving services the Times relied on data that it knew had to be false because the number of students it claimed were receiving special services was greater than the number of students enrolled in the school!
That didn’t stop Rosenthal or the Times from printing its erroneous claims about yeshivas. Their journalistic integrity was as corrupted as the data they relied on.
Rabbi Moshe Dovid Niederman, a member of PEARLS executive board, told YWN that “this proves what we and the Orthodox community have been saying all along. The Times wasn’t objectively reporting facts about yeshivas but was pushing its anti-yeshiva narrative. Now that they have been exposed, they should do the only decent thing they can do: issue a public apology to yeshivas and the yeshiva community.”
Attorney Avi Schick told YWN that “the Times likes to put others under the spotlight but now its own conduct will be under scrutiny. It is normally very difficult to establish that a journalist acted with actual malice. But the revelation of this email demonstrates that Rosenthal knew the data he was relying on wasn’t accurate. That is the kind of thing that can give a lawsuit legs and allow it it get to the discovery phase where the Times would have to disclose its own internal communications.”
Education experts consulted by YWN explained that the State data likely contained cumulative rather than annual figures for schools. In other words, it included students who had received services in prior years but who had already graduated or had left the school.
The New York Times likes to conduct investigations. We suggest they undertake a thorough and transparent investigation of their coverage of the Orthodox community in New York.
YWN Editorial Board
(YWN World Headquarters – NYC)