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Students force correction in teen publication

The Jewish Standard
December 4, 2000

TEANECK, N.J.—When some eighth-graders in The Moriah School in Englewood looked at their weekly copy of Teen Newsweek, with its snazzy layout, brightly colored illustrations, and a bar graph on the back cover labeled "Days of Rage," they too felt rage-and took action.

Much of the text and photographs in the Oct. 23 eight-page mini-magazine are about the situation in Israel.

In a two-page spread, a man is pictured in the center of a crowd, raising a red, dripping hand and holding a swatch of something long and blood-red. The caption reads: "In the West Bank city of Ramallah, bloodied Palestinian protesters express their rage." The source of the blood in the photograph is not explained-it is most likely the lifeblood of the two Israeli reservists, doomed by their wrong turn, who were tortured and murdered, and whose bodies were mutilated by a mob. Neither the bloodied man, nor anyone else in the photograph, is identified as part of that lynch mob.

On the back-cover graph, "Minors Killed Since 1987," bold red bars represent dead Palestinian children; some bars are topped with short segments of yellow for dead Israeli children. In the background, photograph a child, his face in his hands, cowers as a rifle is pointed at him.

The graph is not put into context or explained; the reader is left with the clear impression that Israelis kill Palestinian children but Palestinians do not respond in kind.

Teens Newsweek is a co-publication of Newsweek and Weekly Reader. Its story was excerpted from one that ran the same day in Newsweek; the photograph also came from Newsweek. In Newsweek, the photograph took up most of two pages; four smaller photos ran down the right side of the spread. The caption read: "In Ramallah, a Palestinian mob killed two Israeli reserve soldiers, then Israel retaliated by bombing a police station. At left, protesters revel in the blood of a policeman...." The caption is inexact-the article does not mention injured police officers-but it does make clear that the men it shows are aggressors, not victims.

According to Dr. Karen Shaw, assistant principal for secular studies at Moriah's junior high school, students reacted to the article as soon as they read it.

"I saw how angry they were when I on bus duty," she said, "and 10 or 12 girls came rushing at me, waving the article, saying look at that chart! They were outraged."

"When I first read it, I was very disturbed," said Rena Kukin, 13, of Teaneck. "I saw the red, and I could tell that something was wrong."

Rena talked to her friend Adeena Schlussel, 13, of Englewood, and Adeena took action. "I would have thought everything Teen Newsweek said was true if I didn't know the facts," said Adeena. "So I went home and told my parents about the article, and they said there was a Camera meeting at Ahavath Torah, so we went."

Representatives of Camera-Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America-happened to be speaking that night at the Englewood synagogue to which Adeena and her family belong. The Boston-based group sent senior research analyst Tamar Sternthal and David Mladinov, their development director. Local volunteers Amy Levinson, Yehuda Blinder, and Ahavath Torah's Rabbi Shmuel Goldin spoke as well. Adeena, who was one of three teenagers at the meeting, talked to Sternthal once the formal part of the program ended.

"I showed her the article, and she asked me if she could keep it so she could research it," Adeena said. "It wasn't inaccurate, but the presentation was wrong." Subsequently, Camera sent out a letter to day schools warning students about the Teen Newsweek article.

Blinder, one of the Camera volunteers, is also a Moriah parent, and at Adeena's instigation he spoke to the Moriah students on Nov. 16, meeting separately with the seventh and eighth grades. He discussed ways of countering media bias-as Moriah's Shawn put it, "He taught a wonderful, wonderful lesson that has applicability way beyond this issue; he taught us very clearly, step by step, how to fight bias by sticking to one or two points, keeping the tone appropriate, toning down the rhetoric, and making sure that you don't fall into the trap of being biased yourself."

One outcome of the sessions with Blinder was the blizzard of e-mail that students sent to Teen Newsweek.

In a telephone interview with The Jewish Standard on Wednesday morning, Charles Piddock, executive editor of Weekly Reader, said, "We got a lot of e-mail from parents and kids about this issue." In fact, he said, so far the magazine has received more than 500 responses, an unusually high number.

Piddock said that although stories on the Middle East always evoke a large number of heated responses, until now almost all have come from Palestinians. This time, he's heard from many Jews. He credits the large Jewish response to Camera.

The response to the article was so strong that Teen Newsweek's editors met with officials from Newsweek on Wednesday afternoon to figure out what to do. Their conclusion, Piddock said in a later interview, was that in the issue of Dec. 11 -- the issue now in pre-production -- "we're going to run the photo again with the explanation that the caption was incomplete and misleading. We're going to tell what happened."

He described how the error made its way into print: "We get stories and pictures from Newsweek, and a lot of the time when we get them here they're not fully explained." "When I saw it printed the next week I knew that it was a screw-up," he continued. "There was not even a scintilla of a desire to twist the news in any way. It would be stupid to do that. If we do something wrong, we'll make up for it. It is not our intention to be biased in any way."

Moriah's associate principal, Rabbi Yisrael Silverman, said that the whole chain of events-the students' quick understanding of Teen Newsweek's bias, Adeena's presence at the Camera meeting and her insistence on finding a speaker to talk to the school, and the e-mail campaign "came from the kids. That's what made it so special. Besides the immediate effects-and our immediate goal it to help Israel-it also helped the kids become more critical readers."

© The Jewish Standard, 2000. May not be reproduced without written permission


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