Since I wrote this post last night trying to reconcile the conflicting accounts about that Jewish family in Lancaster County, PA I’ve done a couple ‘Late Updates’ in the post itself. The gist is that the local paper stood by its original story. But since they were unable to get in contact with the family again after the ADL press release, they shifted the emphasis of the piece from ‘fleeing’ the area to taking their child out of the school. Meanwhile, Mark Joseph Stern of Slate got in contact with the ADL and learned, as we suspected, that they had no reason to doubt anything about the harassment detailed in the story. Their entire issue was with the word “fled.” In my mind that still puts the ADL (in this case I believe a regional office of the ADL) in a very bad light, since the clear import of their press release was that the entire story was false.
Now we have a bit more information that I think connects everything together.
The LNP (which publishes on the web as LancasterOnline.om) has yet another update about the community rallying around the family in question. The new piece again describes the harassment the family faced and the climate of threat they perceived. What’s new is that the LNP got in touch with the ADL’s regional associate director, Robin Burstein, to try to clarify the fleeing/not fleeing issue.
He told the paper that the family left the area “one day earlier than they had originally planned, because they were concerned about the backlash of the media that was put out over the weekend, but they did not flee.”
This sounds a bit defensive and more than a bit over-technical about language. I can see where the ADL may have felt some interest in de-dramatizing the situation. But they did so by claiming nothing had happened at all. Even if they communicated that only by omission, that was the clear import of the press release and how almost everyone interpreted it.
In any case, I think we can now get the full picture of what happened – both the underlying facts themselves and the rush of the reporting that followed. It doesn’t put the ADL in a very good light at all.
As I wrote last night, the local paper’s and the ADL’s version of events did read quite differently. But if you read them closely they did not necessarily contradict each other. If we take Burstein’s account at face value (and I see no reason why we shouldn’t), the family left on their vacation a day earlier than planned because they were concerned about the media backlash over the cancellation of the play.
This certainly does make the report of them ‘fleeing’ the region sound a bit dramatic. But again, let’s look at the uncontested facts. 1) National news reports falsely blamed the family for getting the Christmas play canceled 2) The family was harassed. 3) They felt threatened enough to take their child out of the school. 4) They left a day earlier than planned on their holiday vacation because they were spooked by the harassment. When you change your plans to leave town because of religiously tinged harassment, “fleeing” is not an unreasonable description. Overall, the dispute here seems largely semantic. Certainly, it’s easy to see how the local reporter’s initial discussion with the family could have led to their characterization.
Yet the ADL put out a statement that very clearly made everybody think that the story was somehow false. They local paper was dumped on. And social media was off and running last night about this whole story being exposed as “fake news.” All of that ranged from premature to irresponsible to in most of the cases just dishonest.