Between the Lines: Covering Pizem's case, NY's setting 'Sun'

We can be grateful the Rose murder had journalists and the public asking: 'How could this happen here?'

September 18, 2008 20:47
Between the Lines: Covering Pizem's case, NY's setting 'Sun'

little rose 248.88. (photo credit: Israel Police)


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'Last Thursday, when we sat at the newsroom and watched the reports on the recovery of little Rose's body, several fellow employees walked up to me and asked: 'When you were young, did you believe that a Jew is capable of committing such a crime?' No my friends. When I was young, at the darkest place ever known by humanity, the Auschwitz death camp, I did not believe that a Jew could commit such crimes. I certainly did not believe it when I survived the inferno and arrived in the new Jewish state. Is it possible that our country created a new type of Jew?" Thus wrote veteran Yediot Aharonot journalist Noah Klieger in an opinion column this week about the murder of four-year-old Rose Pizem, whose body was finally discovered by police in the Yarkon River. Klieger's piece was one of the most explicit expressions of the feelings this case has aroused in the public: a sense of shock, dismay and disgust that permeated the media coverage of this horrific crime. Rarely has any strictly criminal case here ever gotten the amount of coverage given this murder, and it's legitimate to now ask whether, as horrible as this incident was, it deserved this level of exposure. Certainly the perverse, near-incestuous nature of the familial relations that served as the backdrop to Rose's death proved too tempting a scenario for our more tabloid media outlets not to exploit to the fullest. Still, the media were surely not unjustified in highlighting the most genuinely disturbing aspect of the case, the gap of several months during which Rose's mysterious disappearance went unreported, even unnoticed, by anyone, save those now implicated in her killing. The larger question raised by the circumstances of the crime - whether a once more intimate Israeli society, in which for better or worse, everybody knew everybody else's business, has now become a significantly colder and more impersonal place, to the point that a child can vanish without initially arousing suspicion - is a legitimate one, deserving of the examination and comment it received. To what degree such concerns are actually relevant to this particular incident, with all its bizarre twists, hyper-dysfunctional family and a setting that spanned two nations, is another matter. And with all due respect to Klieger - who's undeniably had more direct experience with human evil at this level than most of us - I would also take issue with his notion that somehow this heinous deed required a "new type of Jew" created by this nation to have taken place. Rose's accused killer, her grandfather/stepfather Ronnie Ron, hardly seems to these eyes to be a particularly new or unique character, Jewish or otherwise, in this type of all-too-familiar familial abuse scenario - just as her criminally-negligent (at the very least) mother Marie cannot be said to exemplify some inherent unsavory aspect of French-Gentile womanhood. As it happens, the Rose case unfolded concurrently with a story in Florida with which it shares some similarities: the disappearance of a three-year-old girl named Caylee Anthony, and the subsequent suspicions that she fell victim to some sort of foul play committed, or covered up, by her mother. The Caylee Anthony investigation has also been the subject of American press coverage way out of proportion to its actual news value. One difference, though, is that there have been enough of such incidents in the US in recent years that its media no longer use them as a spur for asking if they are a symptom of some broader sickness in the American soul, but by and large just take it for granted that such crimes do happen. In this regard, I guess, we can be grateful that Israel is still the kind of country where something like the Rose murder had journalists and the public asking: "How could this happen here?" When we stop asking, it's really time to worry. IN 1990 journalist Seth Lipsky founded The Forward, a weekly English-language version of the venerable Yiddish newspaper Forverts, with an ambitious plan to eventually turn it into a daily. That idea foundered a decade later when Lipsky's neoconservative politics clashed too sharply with the more liberal views of the paper's primary owners, The Forward Association, and he was forced out of the editor's position. With the help of private investors, including former Jerusalem Post owner Conrad Black, Lipsky went on in 2002 to start up a new daily - The New York Sun. Although intended as a general newspaper, the Sun has always put a heavy emphasis on Jewish-interest-related stories and opinion pieces - in fact, during the time when Black still had control of the Post, the two papers had a content-sharing agreement. The Sun ambitiously aimed at tapping into the elite NYC readership that values the high quality of The New York Times, but is turned off by its liberal editorial outlook, by trying to offer a more conservative-oriented perspective, from a higher journalistic road than the right-wing mass-market tabloid, the New York Post. Yet, while the Sun won plaudits for some of its coverage, especially of the local cultural scene, it struggled financially from the get-go. Although it claims a readership in the tens of thousands, the Sun's paid circulation is said to be only 14,000, a minuscule amount for a daily in the New York press market. It has survived this long thanks primarily to the ideological commitment of its major investors, such as financier Roger Hertog, also a principal backer of Jerusalem's Shalem Center. But apparently their patience and wallets have now worn thin. Earlier this month in a letter to the readers, Lipsky announced that the Sun would likely cease publishing in the next few weeks unless it comes up with new financing on the order of millions of dollars to cover the venture's losses. The paper has its fans, but certainly not enough to sustain a daily. Perhaps it could be reconfigured as a weekly, joining such other New York periodicals as the Forward, Village Voice and New York Observer - a publishing schedule it should have pursued in the first place. Or maybe, since its backers supported it more for ideological than financial reasons, the Sun might be reconstituted officially as a non-profit venture, along the lines of Commentary. In going public with the Sun's troubles in this manner, Lipsky is still clearly hoping to attract a white knight, perhaps another deep-pocketed Jewish businessman whose blood pressure is set boiling each week by the Israel coverage and Obama endorsements of the Times. Unfortunately for the Sun, the timing is not particularly auspicious, what with the current calamities in the financial market. What's more, the dream of creating a genuine conservative challenge to the Times is being fulfilled by the transformations Rupert Murdoch is now carrying out at The Wall Street Journal, making it likely that this Sun will soon flame out.

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