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The Evil of Banality

On Andrew Adler’s idiocy, readers’ complicity, and Gawker’s irresponsibility

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Within hours of Gawker writer John Cook reporting that an Atlanta Jewish Times op-ed seemed to lay out a scenario by which the Israeli government could assassinate the president of the United States, a host of people took to the Internet to assert their distance from, and furious outrage at, the author, owner/publisher Andrew Adler. Adler’s piece was indeed gasp-inducingly idiotic, the sort of thing that makes you wish certain people weren’t allowed to own computers. But as the subsequent exchange Adler had with Cook instantly reveals, the idea that this yokel represents any broad group is obviously absurd:

A nervous Adler told me over the phone that he wasn’t advocating Obama’s assassination by Mossad agents. “Of course not,” he said.

But do you think Israel should consider it an option? “No.”

But do you believe that Israel is in fact considering the option in its most inner circles? “No. Actually, no. I was hoping to make clear that it’s unspeakable—god forbid this would ever happen. I take it you’re quoting me?”

Yes. “Oh, boy.”

This man can barely speak for himself, let alone anyone else. And now Adler, who to judge from that interview never expected a spotlight outside of his small paper, is being hounded online—and presumably offline too—by angry hordes. I suppose it’s appropriate, in a dotting the “i” way, for the Secret Service to be involved, but the folks who really need to have their motives investigated are the readers, including all of those righteous tweeters sharing their livid reactions to the tossed-off comment of a patently simple man. These people, one presumes, want to be spoken for by more responsible, thoughtful journalists, and yet not enough of them have been interested in actually paying for this expertise. Barely a year goes by without news of yet another Jewish newspaper folding—the most recent of which, in Portland, actually died as the community itself grew. How loudly can I scream this from a rooftop? Journalism is hard and expensive, and communities that don’t pony up adequate resources for this privilege have only themselves to blame when they find unskilled men and women making un-thought-through comments ostensibly in their name.

But Gawker is a different story. Cook—who knows his way around trenchant, often excellent reporting and criticism—had the chance, on a site dedicated to covering the media, to make an important point about the desiccation of communal journalism. Adler is clearly no great thinker and no skilled journalist. Once Cook realized this, he might have dug for a teensy bit more backing before presenting Adler as any sort of communal voice, and indeed, in the tradition of worthwhile media criticism, might have made many of the points I made in the previous paragraph. Instead, Cook wrote a post that may not have been meant as a dog whistle for anti-Semites, but which certainly had that effect. (“Why the American tax payer has to pay billions each year to maintain peace for Israel comes down to one thing,” asserted an average commenter: “Israel’s lobby in the USA and the willingness of many American Jews to put another country’s interests over the one they were born in.”) If some random Muslim writer from a local giveaway in Dearborn called for jihad against the United States, would Cook have highlighted it in this same manner? I’d hope not. That’s the kind of tactic for which far-right lunatics like Pamela Geller are regularly, legitimately denounced. So, why is it acceptable to treat the Jewish community in this shoddy way? To tacitly present Adler as representative of anyone—particularly the day after Barack Obama effortlessly raked in a half a million dollars at a Jewish fundraiser—is so facile that it’s hard not to view it as purposefully malicious.

I have to imagine that isn’t the case. This is, at least in part, because Cook is married to Allison Benedikt, who last year caused a firestorm with an essay about her disillusionment with Israel. Whatever your feelings about that piece—and, by the way, most of the published reactions to it were either moronic or reprehensible—there is no debating that Benedikt was honestly grappling with an important personal and communal conflict. In doing so, she subjected herself to the harsh limelight of an increasingly vicious conversation about the relationship between American Jews and Israel, but because she is a real journalist, she did so with actual knowledge, insight, and measured awareness of the consequences of her argument. With her as one of the best examples, I’d argue that any media writer, and particularly one with the privilege of sharing Benedikt’s breakfast-table, should be able to discern what a genuine journalist is, and what one isn’t—and, given the differences, make the requisite responsible decisions about his or her coverage of this landscape.

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I don’t think Adler’s poisonous comments about optioning an assassination on an American president as being good for Israel’s interests should be trivialized whether Adler has a little or large readership or whether he’s a “simple man” or a janitor in a drive in movie theater. I find this apologetic piece on Adler’s behalf ridiculously insulting. When somebody makes mad remarks like this he has to take his medicine for what he said and just man up. To write up a ridiculous apologetic is just absurd. This was a stupid article.

Chezzy says:

@Jules: You seem to have missed the point. Nowhere does this article trivialize Adler’s comments. This piece is about Gawker’s irresponsible reporting of it and Gawker commenters’ borderline-antisemitic reactions.

John Cook: “It’s hard to tell whether or not Adler is just some crank.” It’s hard to tell?! Really?! The guy suggested an assassination of our president, for godssakes. How much more cranky does it get.

dubliner says:

This article is a classic case of blaming the messenger.

Bill Pearlman says:

Didn’t realize he was married to that woman.Give her description of how he feels about the JEWS!!!!!!! It explains the agenda.

Kind of like Jules and Phil (Hitler should have finished the job ) Weiss.

The Atlanta Jewish Times, just a few years back, was one of the more important Jewish newspapers in our industry, especially in our region. Like it or not, any such publication is seen as representing the community; in our case where there are relatively few Jews around, it’s even more of a responsibility as non-Jews see us as representative, and we have to approach our work with that awareness. Many times, the secular press has called on us to get background or feedback on issues.

Over the years I’ve had to deal with a few scam “Jewish newspapers”, and one that claimed to speak for the community but threatened reluctant non-Jewish advertisers, all while being closet “messianics.” Non-Jews don’t know, on the surface, who is legit and who really is influential.

Support for reputable independent Jewish news outlets is a struggle; then add that half or so of the papers out there are Federation-owned or controlled, and they generally shy away from any controversy (I remember a huge organizational scandal in the mid-90s where only a dozen papers ran the pieces, only one was a Federation paper).

I have a feeling this whole episode will be a big topic of conversation at the American Jewish Press Association conference this year…

In what universe should the take home from a sectarian newspaper calling for the assassination of the president by a foreign government be the decline of communal journalism? This is patently absurd.

If this article had been written and published by an Arab- or Iranian-American newspaper, not only would the writer likely be in police custody right now, but I can guarantee that it would have gotten waaaaaay more coverage in the mainstream press that would have had no problem transitioning directly into a story on the threat of domestic Muslim terrorism. And you can be sure, Tablet wouldn’t have a piece out about how the real story is the “desiccation of communal journalism.”

Mazahir (@MazMHussain) says:

Really, if some random Muslim from Dearborn published such an article you could expect that fellow would be on a short flight to Guantanamo Bay; simple or not. There are “simple and foolish” people who are doing decades in prison for saying less than what Adler said. This apologia for his actions sorely misses the point.

Excellent posting. Why don’t you expand on it, and include an interview with the poor bastard.

jacob arnon says:

“Adler’s piece was indeed gasp-inducingly idiotic, the sort of thing that makes you wish certain people weren’t allowed to own computers.”

Adler needs to face charges. Calling for the murder of a President is not some trivial kind of musing.

What really offends me is that Adler called on third parties (here the Mossad) to do his dirty deed. This is cowardly.

Adler should at the very least be fired.

However, I remember reading a short story in the late 60’s where some “experimental” imagined the assassination of Jackie Kennedy. I think it was titled “Project for the assassination of…” or something like that.

The author if I recall was roundly condemned.

There are topics that should be out of bounds to writers. Adler and his ilk can not appeal to freedom of speech.

What can possibly be different about poor simple Adler and Timothy McVeigh. Was he so complicated? Newhouse seems to assert that if this was a Muslim writing such a thing we’d never have heard of it. Cook is now an anti-Semite is he? What tripe.

Reading this article, one would never know that speculations about the assassination of the previous president were so commonplace as to actually become the subject of an award-winning British film.

But I suppose it’s perfectly natural for the insular, narrow-minded, economically collapsing and intellectually (let’s face it) unimpressive community of “professional” journalists to treat gasp-inducingly idiotic commentary by their own–and aligned with their own leftist prejudices–as filled with “knowledge, insight, and measured awareness”, while the odd moronic comment by an obvious outsider is, well, “gasp-inducingly idiotic”. After all, Alana Newhouse doesn’t need to worry about the fate of Andrew Adler, whereas the fate of fellow lefty New York Jewish hacks like Alison Benedikt cuts, shall we say, a bit closer to home…

By the way, Andrew Adler appears to have figured out by now that his article distorted reality, defamed Israel and generally made its author look like an idiot. That puts him miles ahead of Alison Benedikt–and, apparently, Alana Newhouse as well.

Dan O. says:

You’re honestly criticizing Cook for not taking the angle you would’ve? I mean, really? And then reading in the reactions of some readers into the intentions of the journalist?

What a joke. I can’t tell if this post is merely a howler (actually, multiple howlers), or a whopper.

Another angle is that Jewish institutions are falling into the hands of religious nuts. Cook didn’t take that angle either.

God forbid someone should just play it straight.

Agree with you very much there Dan, the religious nuts angle is getting a free pass from lazy journalists.

Your focus on communal journalism is misdirected at best. The media has been reporting on the tough relationship between O and the J’s for awhile.
Gawker commentators generally hate across the board on everything.
Surprised Tablet Mag bothered to protest when they have much of their own baggage around their own site.

rebscott says:

According to a JTA article, Adler has now resigned and put the paper up for sale. I feel sorry for his family as they will surely suffer, but Adler himself deserves everything that happens to him. Venal, stupid, arrogant…the list could go on for a page. He has done horrifying damage to the American Jewish community and Israel, as well.

I’d like to think that, as a community, we deserve better journalists and journalism, but today, I am not so sure.


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The Evil of Banality

On Andrew Adler’s idiocy, readers’ complicity, and Gawker’s irresponsibility

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