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
Speakers: Dan Loeb, Ted Tapper.
Other Attendees: Milton Alter, Alan Tuttle, Bruce Ticker,
D. Simonson, Chair of Federation Board of Trustees
Goldman, President of Federation
Daiches, Federation Chief Operating Officer
Blatstein, Member of Federation Board, President Exponent
- Gary E
Erlbaum, Vice-Chair Federation Board of Trustees, Executive Vice-President
of the Jewish Exponent
S. Tobin, Jewish Exponent Executive Editor
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�. (http://www.jewishphilly.org/content_display.html?ArticleID=124557)
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.��
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
Strengths and Weaknesses of the
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�.
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
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,
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
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
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
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
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
At a minimum, advertisements should be vetted for truth in
- 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
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
Ombudsman for the community, and
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
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.
TED: We propose as a vehicle to improve relations between
the Exponent and the community: an Ombudsman, whose responsibilities would be
- Be the
point of contact for readership complaints and concerns,
letters to the editor in order to ensure fairness in selecting or editing
letters for publication.
time to time address these issues in the pages of the Exponent, and
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:
the community and increase its sense of investment in the Exponent and the
fully inform the Board as to the makeup of current and potential
The survey could be distributed in the pages (and website)
of the Exponent and other Jewish community vehicles, and returned by mail (or
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
The survey would provide demographic information for use in
marketing advertising space in the Exponent.
#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.
A subcommittee could conduct a quarterly review of� the 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
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.
#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.
#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
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
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
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
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
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.