Prepared remarks by ExponentWatch to the Jewish Publishing Group and the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia
Philadelphia, PA, February 9, 2005.

21st & Arch Street. 5-6pm, Room 301

Exponent Watch:

Speakers: Dan Loeb, Ted Tapper.

Other Attendees: Milton Alter, Alan Tuttle, Bruce Ticker, Adena Potok


  • Beryl D. Simonson, Chair of Federation Board of Trustees
  • Harold Goldman, President of Federation
  • Sol Daiches, Federation Chief Operating Officer
  • Bart Blatstein, Member of Federation Board, President Exponent
  • Gary E Erlbaum, Vice-Chair Federation Board of Trustees, Executive Vice-President of the Jewish Exponent
  • Jonathan S. Tobin, Jewish Exponent Executive Editor
  • David A. Alper, Vice-President and General Manager of the Jewish Exponent.


DAN: Thank Beryl Simonson and Harold Goldman for setting up meeting and everyone for attending.

We hope to share our opinions on the how the Jewish Exponent can become more representative of the diversity of the opinions within the Philadelphia Jewish community.

Our comments are meant to be constructive.

Although the Exponent has included some diversity of opinion, we believe there is room for improvement.

Please consider our suggestions and get back to us soon so we can continue this dialog.


TED: To quote the mission statement: Federation "strives to connect all members of our community," and �build an inspired, caring and connected community�. (

And as Mr. Simonson and Dr Goldman wrote (on Oct 28) Federation policy is to �to be scrupulously careful in our neutrality, so that we do not influence or sway the lively political discussions going on within the Jewish community.�

We share that view.

The Jewish Exponent is the voice of the Federation, and we feel it should represent all directions of Jewish thought in our area.

The Exponent should represent all parts of the Jewish community.

Strengths and Weaknesses of the Jewish Exponent


The �Torah Portion� column is a fine example of inclusion. Religious leaders from synagogues across the religious spectrum are invited to reflect on the Parsha Hashavua.

Many fine newspapers such as The International Herald Tribune consistently offer competing editorials on the same subject on their editorial page. The Jewish Exponent is to be commended when it does the same. For example, on Oct. 14 when the Exponent printed side by side pro-Bush and pro-Kerry op/eds. by Israeli authors.)

Applying these practices consistently would provide the sort of diversity we seek.


We are happy to see a balanced exchange of opinions. Editorials should be balanced by opposing opinions. We seek to avoid one-sided polemics.We seek a second side for balance.

Choices Facing Jews

DAN: For example, on October 28 (5 days before the election) there was a debate at Gratz College entitled �Choices Facing Jews�.

  • Jonathan Tobin represented the Republican position and
  • J. J. Goldman (editor of the Forward) represented the Democratic position

We feel it is unusual for any editor to appear at a debate other than as an official moderator. We feel it is especially unusual for a newspaper wholly owned by a 501(c)3 organization such as the Federation.

There is nothing wrong with an editor having a particular point of view. However, in the interest of balance, equal space should be afforded to people with opposing viewpoints.

The fact that the Editor of the Exponent takes the role of �point person� for a particular viewpoint makes the need for ensuring such balance that much more important, in the interest of making the Exponent the voice of the entire Philadelphia Jewish community.


Do Journalists Take Sides? (Sep 23, p. 33)

On Sep. 23, in his editorial �Do Journalists Take Sides� Mr. Tobin criticized journalists for being opinionated. However, we feel it is inevitable that journalists will be influenced by their opinions when they write. This has the potential to make for powerful editorial writing. We only ask that it be backed by facts and balanced by opposing opinions.

We are not asking for anyone�s voice to be stifled, but we are asking for our voice, the Jewish Exponent, to not be appropriated by any cause.

Jonathan Tobin�s conservative pieces are not balanced by enough liberal pieces. The �What They Are Saying� page is a great idea, but the selection of opinions is decidedly conservative.

�A Monument to Failure� (Sep 16, p. 51)

TED: We would like to emphasize the importance of separating fact from opinion, both in news stories and even in editorials. Political discussion based on a common set of facts is most fruitful; differences in values are illuminated and one comes to an informed conclusion where both sides can appreciate the viewpoint of the other side. Productive discussion is difficult when opinions are presented as facts.


An example of the difficulty involved here can be seen in.�A Monument to Failure� which appeared on Sep. 16. Mr. Tobin writes: �what, if anything, would he [Dennis Ross] do differently if he got another chance to play the game? Given that he [Dennis Ross] is an informal foreign-policy adviser to Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, this is not an idle question. Many in the know assume Ross will be brought back to the State Department if Kerry wins the election. �

That Mr. Ross would be key in a Democratic administration is presented as a near fact by the use of the term �many in the know�: an anonymous assertion implying that anyone with another viewpoint is not �in the know� when in fact Mel Levine and Martin Indyk were setting the middle-east agenda in the Kerry campaign.


DAN: Opinions and Editorials should be kept separate from News content.

Reporters should strive to present news in as factual and even handed way as possible.

On Oct. 7 and 14, supposedly News articles described respectively the speech by Mayor Koch at Temple Beth Hillel Beth El, and a video being sent out by the National Jewish Democratic Council. The two messages, one pro-Bush and one pro-Kerry, both had certain arguments behind them, and chose to make their messages attractive by portraying their message in vaudvile manner. It is instructive to contrast how the two messages were described in the pages of the Jewish Exponent.

Regarding Koch�s speech: �Parties Battle for Local Jewish Votes� (Oct. 7, p. 1) gives the most space and is very favorable to Bush. The article gives no impression that anyone on hand disputed Koch�s �But Bush is better for Israel� rhetoric. The article failed to characterize Koch�s personal attacks on the Democrats in the audience during Q&A.

Compare this to �� While Bubbie Bashes Bush,�(Oct 14, p. 10) which emphasizes the offense taken by the RJC while failing to point to the informational content of the video.


Again, we are asking for a balance in the presentation of issues and events.


A more recent example would be the coverage on January 6 of a group of 21 Philadelphia area Rabbis who met with Senator Arlen Specter to urge him to challenge Alberto Gonzales�s record on torture. While other Jewish newspapers gave this event prominent coverage, our own paper (despite the local angle) relegated the event to the closing lines of a pro-Specter piece. The group of Rabbis was mischaracterized as �left-wing� and their cordial meeting was described only as the �extraction� of vague demands.


TED: Before moving on to our suggestions, we would like to say a few words about advertising.

We recognize that Advertisements are an important source of revenue and should not be excluded because of their political orientation. We do not object to political advertising per say, but to misleading political advertisements.

At a minimum, advertisements should be vetted for truth in advertising.

  • For example, the ad where Giuliani (Sep 16) expresses his support for Bush is fine. Giuliani clearly did support Bush. However, the inside back cover ad paid for by the RJC about a week before Election Day featured Sen. Lieberman in an early post 9/11 praise of Pres. Bush, implying that he supported Bush in the 2004 presidential race, while the exact opposite was true; he was a staunch Kerry supporter.


Plan for Continued Excellence

Once again, we want to emphasize that we here not to present you with a series of complaints, rather we want to include with our concerns some constructive proposals to make the Exponent a stronger, more representative, and more widely read newspaper. The proposals that follow are a mix of general ideas along with some specific steps we believe would lead to that goal.

DAN: We are truly aiming for a welcoming atmosphere from the pages of the Exponent. We do this simply as concerned members of the Philadelphia Jewish community. It is our opinion that the Federation would like the majority of the Jewish population in our community to look forward to Thursdays when the Exponent comes out, and to engaging its pages eagerly. At this moment in time regrettably, that is not the case for us.

Therefore, we are putting a few suggestions on the table for serious consideration:

  • An Ombudsman for the community, and
  • a Journalism panel of colleagues for the editorial staff.

Why not make this the kind of newspaper that echoes the dynamic nature of the Talmud whose every page resonates with knowledgeable and respectful debate.

At the most, we can learn from one another.

At the least, we can listen.

We understand that these proposals are the beginning of a dialogue, not a finished product. We present them in the hopes that we can continue the dialogue together, and work to further strengthen the main voice of the Philadelphia Jewish community.


Proposal #1: Ombudsman

TED: We propose as a vehicle to improve relations between the Exponent and the community: an Ombudsman, whose responsibilities would be to:

  • Be the point of contact for readership complaints and concerns,
  • Monitor letters to the editor in order to ensure fairness in selecting or editing letters for publication.
  • From time to time address these issues in the pages of the Exponent, and
  • Report to a Journalism Quality Board,

Proposal #2: Surveys of readership satisfaction and demographics organized by the ombudsman.

We believe the value of such a process would be twofold:

  • Engage the community and increase its sense of investment in the Exponent and the Federation
  • More fully inform the Board as to the makeup of current and potential readership


The survey could be distributed in the pages (and website) of the Exponent and other Jewish community vehicles, and returned by mail (or email).

The survey would ask readers to rate the amount (too much, too little, just right) and quality of the coverage of various geographical regions, branches of Judaism, various US and Israeli political movements. The survey would include some free response sections to encourage more detailed answers.

The survey would provide demographic information for use in marketing advertising space in the Exponent.


Proposal #3: Journalism Quality Board

DAN: In addition to the Ombudsman, a Journalism Quality Board could be constituted of respected and knowledgeable members of the Jewish community representing the various religious, geographical and political tendencies which make our community so vibrant.[1]


A subcommittee could conduct a quarterly review ofthe writing of the previous three months. They would look for possible bias (especially right/left) in the news, op/ed, letters to the editor, and advertisement policy, looking in part for the tenor of articles straying from full representation�. They would also note factual errors, and the general level of journalistic quality. Subcommittee findings would be reported to the full board.

The ombudsman would report complaints to the full board.

The leadership of the Exponent would contribute their viewpoint.

The full board would discuss these findings at least once per year and make recommendations to the Exponent and Federation.


The Federation would use its judgment to determine which recommendations would be mandated for implementation and which would be left to discretion of the Exponent.

These recommendations would be published in the Exponent.

Proposal #4: Guest Editorials

TED: We would like to encourage the use of guest editorials to provide balance.

With the prospect of probable publication in a guest editorial, the Exponent would benefit from a more polished final product from potential writers. Editorial length would allow more serious exploration of issues than a simple letter to the editor.

Before elections, candidates should be invited to write about their positions regarding Israel and the Jewish community. (e.g. Kerry�s article in the Forward).In fact, as you wrote in the editorial �Partisans and Principles� (Oct 14, p. 40) �it�s our job to allow the various candidates to make their cases to the community.�

The Israeli ministry of foreign affairs summarizes Israeli editorials of a wide spectrum of political viewpoints. This would be great material for the Exponent.


Proposal #5: Increased Emphasis on Letters to the Editor

More letters to the editor should be published, representing more viewpoints. The number of letters to the editors fell sharply after the typeface was enlarged.

Letters to the Editor and Editorials should be matched with a similar number of opposing pieces.


DAN: Thank you for allowing us this time to make our suggestions. We appreciate your consideration, and welcome any questions you might have.


Appendix A: Federation official position (Letters to the Editor 10/28) �Federation and �Exponent�: Not Partisan in the Election� by Goldman & Simonson

� As a nonprofit organization, the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia does not take partisan political positions; Federation�s ethical guidelines prohibit, from doing so, since that could affect its 501(c)3 status.

Lately, Federation and the Exponent have taken some heat for certain ads that have appeared in the paper. People have called, incensed that we would run political advertising � especially political advertising they do not agree with.

We think that discourse and public debate is healthy � and that partisanship is good because it acts as a barometer for the health of our political system. At the same time, readers have to know that neither Federation nor the Exponent supports or endorses candidates.

As the Exponent�s editorials have repeatedly stated, we try to be scrupulously careful in our neutrality, so that we do not influence or sway the lively political discussions going on within the Jewish community.

Still, we know that some of the chatter has circulated the false rumor that Federation does take political positions.

That simply is not true.

One of the basic principles of our democracy is the ability to air public differences of opinion, and for each citizen to use and honor the responsibility of exercising their individual vote.

Appendix B: Partisans and Principles (Editorial, p. 40, Oct 14)

Nevertheless, we will not go down that path. The Jewish Exponent does not endorse candidates. As the sole weekly newspaper of the Jewish community of Greater Philadelphia, we try to give voice to the views of the entire community. Jews are Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, among other things. To pretend that either one party or the other is the only acceptable path for a Jew would do a disservice not only to the two major parties, but also to the interests of the community, as we have friends and foes on both sides of the aisle.

Republicans and Democrats are actively seeking to court American Jews. No matter where you stand on the election, the fact that the candidates are competing to position themselves as being the most open to Jewish concerns and the most devoted to the alliance between Israel and the United States is all to the good.

This week, we present opinion-page articles that advocate for each of the major-party candidates on the question of support for Israel. In the coming weeks, we will have more such pieces. As is the case with our own news coverage, the goal is to be scrupulously fair to all sides. Our role as the voice of the Jewish community is not to tell our independent-minded readers how to vote; rather, it�s our job to allow the various candidates to make their cases to the community � and let you make up your own mind.

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