Reporter on 1991 Crown Heights riots coverage: ‘I saw journalism go terribly wrong’

The Jewish Week
Ari Goldman was a New York Times religion writer assigned to file memos for the “rewrite” desk about what he saw and heard while covering the riots that broke out on the streets of Crown Heights the night of Aug. 19, 1991. “When I picked up the paper, the article I read was not the story I had reported,” he says. “In all my reporting during the riots I never saw – or heard of – any violence by Jews against blacks. But the Times was dedicated to this version of events: blacks and Jews clashing amid racial tensions.” He continues:

I was outraged but I held my tongue. I was a loyal Times employee and deferred to my editors. I figured that other reporters on the streets were witnessing parts of the story I was not seeing.

But then I reached my breaking point. On Aug. 21, as I stood in a group of chasidic men in front of the Lubavitch headquarters, a group of demonstrators were coming down Eastern Parkway. “Heil Hitler,” they chanted. “Death to the Jews.”

Police in riot gear stood nearby but did nothing.

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  • John Prewett

    MSN and government been downplaying/ignoring [as much as possible] black on white crime since the sixties.

  • Anonymous

    Isn’t it about time that honest journalists began “afflicting the comfortable” among their own ranks? How about “speaking truth” to REAL power for a change?

  • David Cay Johnston

    Ari, you should have spoken up. There is no contradiction between being a loyal employee and pointing to error in the report.

    That said, this kind of fabrication is a problem many of us have experienced during flash points, as when the LATimes, after the Tehran hostage-taking, ignored non-Iranians breaking through police lines in Beverly Hills to attack peaceful Iranians and Iranian-Americans. The attackers then ran back into the crowd, while the victims were arrested, but the story was not reported that way.

    All coverage of tumult will have flaws, but it need not suffer from false equivalency or fabrication.

  • Anonymous

    An extraordinary inside view and pointed condemnation of “framing” that distorts reality to keep the facts from getting in the way of a good story. Tell it Ari!