Hint: If a comment on your latest article reads “Eat this, Trumplings. Daddy’s family and businesses are riddled through and through by a cabal of actual international Jewish patrons. Amazing reporting, Ben!”, you may have just written an anti-semitic screed.
This week, Politico magazine published a 4,000-word article written by author Ben Schreckinger on the alleged ties between President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. That comment appeared just below the piece.
The contents of the article are not particularly shocking. The mundane, third-degree connections between the President’s associates and Russian nationals are hidden behind a headline alleging something far more ominous though. The article is titled ‘The Happy-Go-Lucky Jewish Group That Connects Trump and Putin’.
Russian connection? Blame the Jews. Already not off to a swell start, but it gets much worse.
The story’s subtitle is “Chabad, a worldwide Jewish movement, is at the center of a web of ties between the Kremlin and 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue”.
This dark sentence is paired with an ominous-looking black silhouette of stereotypical Hasidic Jews holding a conversation.
Those three elements unite to paint a dark picture of a network of secret Jewish power-brokers connecting the leaders of two dueling powers. They are deeply reminiscent of some of the most damaging anti-semitic texts.
The tale which Schreckinger weaves of a group of rabbis connecting foreign leaders is deeply emblematic of the so-called “Protocols of the Elders of Zion”, a set of documents forged by the Russian czarist secret police to convince the masses that a group of Rabbis were working to secretly take over the world.
I don’t believe Schreckinger or his editors are anti-Semites. I don’t believe Schreckinger was attempting to write something to feed antisemitic narratives. The rest of the article, although it’s less than perfect, is not nearly as sensationalist as its title, photo, and subtitle.
But that doesn’t make this much less disturbing. It’s distressing to realize that a group of editors unmotivated by bias can still so easily repeat the mistakes of the past. It’s downright disheartening to see that the false narrative of the “back-room Jew controlling the globe” might never fully be extinguished, even from the popular press.
Even if the article had gone far to dissuade readers from this narrative (which it didn’t), we live in a world of headline readers. Nobody reads to the end anymore, and loaded headlines can do damage.
For a subset of readers, this story will provide external validation of their anti-semitic fantasies. It may be a misread, but it is a misread fueled intentionally by a reader-hungry publication.
Journalists should be fully empowered to investigate and unveil illicit connections between brokers of power. This is a core strength of our free press.
In doing so though, they should remember that we are not far removed from a time in which press-fueled anti-Semitism led to the death of millions of peoples. The stakes are too high to allow the same mistakes to go unchallenged.
Update (9:02 PM): Politico has amended the sub-headline and photograph and issued this statement.
A statement from Politico Mag editor Blake Hounshell: “This was a strong piece of original reporting and editing. To avoid any misinterpretation and distraction from the work itself, we have updated the accompanying photograph and sub headline.”