The White House situation room photo may be the most enduring image of the takedown of Osama bin Laden, but that hasn't stopped two Hasidic newspapers from trying to mess with history. News broke late last week that Der Tzeitung, a Brooklyn-based newspaper, had scrubbed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Audrey Tomason, director of counterterrorism, from the photo entirely in keeping with its "sexual modesty" policy. Now a second paper, De Voce, also from Brooklyn and also Hasidic, has been found guilty of the same infraction.
No question, the men at these newspapers are being sexist. Not terribly surprising from a religion that requires its women wear wigs and many to shave their heads upon marriage so as not to risk being attractive to any other man.
But while Americans are arguing over whether it's right that the Hasidim have a woman problem, let's put that one to bed. This isn't about sexism. Their religion has a constitutionally-protected right to treat its women this way, provided the women are willing participants in the religion.
What this is, however, is piss poor journalism. It's not reporting a fact-based story but a story based on the facts that "fit" the Hasidic ideal of what happened. In short -- the ultra-Orthodox who subscribe to these two newspapers prefer a world where women remain second-class citizens, so the fact that Clinton and Tomason are on equal footing with the men in the White House made them uncomfortable.
But instead of being forced to reconcile their thoughts with the facts and deciding to leave the photo out entirely to make it happen, the editors decided instead to MAKE it fit. Like a little kid ripping off the cardboard end of a puzzle piece to jam it in place, they scrubbed away the inconvenient facts. And just like that little kid, who is going to get points marked off on their kindergarten registration evaluation form for pulling that stunt, Der Tzeitung and De Voce lost a lot of points on the trust scale with their antics.
The very basic tenets of journalism call for journalists, no matter their medium, to present the facts. Not doctored facts. Real, complete facts. If it can't be done, any journalism professor worth his or her salt will tell you it's better to skip the story entirely rather than present half truths. Coming from that world before I got into blogging, I can't list how many times I've made the hard choice NOT to write a story because it was hitting too close to home to keep the bias out.
Working in community journalism made it difficult at times to separate the personal and the professional simply because I grew up and worked in the same town. The two intersected. But it was as much for the integrity of the newspaper as my own sense of righteousness that I would switch off on a story with another reporter. I wanted the final product to service the readers, not to service me. That's what the editors at these two Hasidic newspapers have forgotten, that the readers come first.
It may be company policy not to print pictures of women; the readers may be upset if a photo of a woman were to appear in their newspaper. These ARE sexist readers, after all, that's what they want. But when a reader purchases a newspaper, they do so for the truth, not half truths. These newspapers could easily have provided the truth in keeping with their values. They could have simply skipped the picture altogether and gone with something else. A picture of bin Laden, perhaps? A photo of the president alone?
It may not have gotten them the same sales as the other papers boasting a copy of the White House photo, papers that followed the White House photo usage rules to the letter, including both Clinton and Tomason in an unaltered form. But this is where a journalist entity has to decide what's more important: their values or the pursuit of paper sales.
It shouldn't be that hard. Without the first, you're sure to see the second disappear anyway.
What do you think of what the newspapers pulled? Do you look at this as simple sexism or more an issue of integrity?
Image via Pete Souza for Official White House/Flickr