Hayley Nagelberg is a 17 year old Jewish activist who hails from New Jersey. Last week, she attended the 64th International Conference of United Synagogue Youth of the Conservative Movement held in Atlanta last week. She was there with 700 teen age members who came from congregations all over North America. Atlanta also happens to be the headquarters location of CNN which is next door to the conference Omni hotel site. On the morning of December 22, 2014, she and a group of USY attendees had a seminar on the Jewish doctrine of “love you neighbor as yourself”. She endeavored to apply this teaching in an encounter that followed with Richard Davis, the long term Executive Vice President of News Standards and Practices at CNN and Etan Horowitz, CNN’s Mobile Editor. Unfortunately, during an exchange with Davis he accused her of being ‘brain dead”. Why? Because spunky Nagelberg had the chutzpah to call Davis to account for their reportage of the November 18, 2014 Har Nof Jerusalem synagogue murders of American Israeli Rabbis Moshe Twersky (???), Calman Levine (???), and Aryeh Kopinsky (???), British Israeli Rabbi Avraham Shmuel Goldberg (???) and Druze first responder Zidan Saif (???) . They were killed by Palestinian cousins Abed Abu Jamal and Ghassan Muhammad Abu Jama in an act of butchery armed with meat cleavers, axes and a gun.
Nagelberg wrote about the encounter with CNN news officials in a Times of Israel blog post, “Today I Was Asked By CNN If I Am Brain Dead”. The trigger for her questions to CNN’s Davis had to do with the cognitive disconnect in their headlines for the Har Nof barbaric attack that many of us caught in the initial CNN news that broke on November 17, 2014. Nagelberg wrote:
The first headline I witnessed from CNN read “Two Palestinians Killed”; the next said “Four Israelis Two Palestinians Killed”; and later, the story would also read that this attack took place in a mosque.
She spoke of her disdain given what Davis told her and colleagues in the Omni conference room:
Davis told me and my peers and staff that it is up to us, and everyone else, as consumers to check other news sources if we think we may want more information. He said, “You can’t be in the news business and also be a babysitter to the people that only read the first paragraph”. I was confused. Isn’t it a news organization’s job to provide the facts? While an educated reader should always check a variety of news sources for different presentations, one should expect a leading news distributor to get the basic story right. And in a day and age where most people only read headlines, or maybe the first few lines or paragraphs if you’re lucky, shouldn’t CNN make sure that all salient and truthful information can be found there?
Davis then doubled down on the lack of journalistic ethics with his cavalier explanation:
Davis’ explanations for the aforementioned, horribly misleading and false headlines boiled down to human error. In an attempt to explain CNN’s headlines, which did not account for the terrorist actions or reasons these people were killed, Davis said that these headlines only surfaced for minutes before being taken down. However, he said, because of the world we live in, someone took a screenshot and circulated those headlines and spread them around the world. This, Davis said, was not CNN’s fault. To expound on how the words “mosque” and “synagogue” could have been swapped, Davis gave an even more infuriating response. Apparently, in the room where the headlines were written, there was some conversation taking place regarding a mosque in Damascus. “Haven’t you ever written something you heard instead of what you meant to write?” he asked.
She and her USY colleagues became increasingly aware that Davis was expressing anti-Israel bias, noting:
Davis explained to those of us who were still listening that we simply have opinions about Israel. And, he went on, when one person has an opinion about anything, a news report may seem wrong to that person. However, to everyone else, it could be perfectly right. I know I was not alone in feeling that his justification of CNN’s misleading reporting was a farce. Moreover, we were distraught about his implication that so many news sources have anti-Israel tendencies because Israel is in the wrong.
Not satisfied with Davis’s answers, Nagelberg approached him about the misleading CNN Har Nof headlines. After proving that she had seen them, this led to Davis’ dismissive comment:
When I managed to satisfy his questions, I wanted to know why CNN, when releasing the headlines at issue, couldn’t call it a terrorist attack. Davis explained that they would never jump to a conclusion that anything is a terrorist attack. “Okay”, I said, fully understanding the weight that the word “terrorist” carries. “But by the time it was known that it was four Israelis and two Palestinians, it was known that there were meat cleavers and stabbings involved. Why couldn’t you call it an ‘attack’?” I continued. His response? “You’ve got to be kidding me? One word? Are you brain dead?”
She concludes with this observation:
How many Israelis must be killed for the facts to be correct? How many innocent Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip, or the West Bank, or within the land of Israel, must be caught up in this web of lies before their stories can be freely shared? How many mornings must I wake up in fear as I reach for my phone to scroll through countless stories, from countless news organizations, trying to get a complete picture of what happened in my homeland while I slept? How many hashtag campaigns, angry teenagers, and nasty emails must you see before you understand that your news is not balanced, is not fair, and is not accurate?
I cannot sit back any longer and watch people like you continue to misreport the truth. In my fantasies, the answer to all of these questions is zero. The time for change is now, and if you are not prepared to be a part of the change, I ask you ‘Are you serious? Are you brain dead?’
We commend Ms. Nagelberg for her pursuit of truth in media reporting. Problem is that Davis at CNN is part of a large contingent of reporters and news editors in the mainstream media who don't think twice about demonizing and derogating Israel and Israelis. Israelis, as she pointed out in her blog post already had CNN's number.:
An Israeli hip hop group (HaDag Nachash) released a song ten years ago called ???? ?????? (Shirat HaStikar). The song’s lyrics include the lines that appeared on bumper stickers throughout Israel, “CNN ????” (CNN Mishaker) – “CNN lies”. I don’t think anyone could have fathomed ten years ago just how true that line would prove to be.
Kol Hakavod (outstanding) Ms. Nagelberg. Brickbats to Mr. Davis at CNN for his callous disregard for truth in reporting.
How refreshing -- and encouraging: a 17-year-old with more common sense and self-respect than many Jews two or three times her age. I'm frequently driven to near-despair when I read the mushy maunderings of some -- actually many -- self-acclaimed Jewish "leaders." Perhaps the percipient Ms. Nagelberg is an augury of better things to come.