Sunday, July 03, 2016

Is Better PR Really the Answer?

Josh Nass (Jew in the City)
Joshua Nass seems like a nice guy with great Jewish values. Josh is a young Orthodox Jewish professional who runs a successful public relations firm. He wrote an op-ed in the last issue of Mishpacha Magazine that proposes helping his community - our community - by advocating a public relations push to highlight what’s right about us to counter all the negative news that we read about ourselves in the media. The point being that there is far more that we do right as a community than we do wrong.

I happen to agree with his view of our commuity. There is a lot we do that speaks well of us. Things like Hatzalah, an EMT organization founded and run by Orthodox Jews that has saved countless lives since its founding. Not only Orthodox Jewish lives – not only Jewish lies, but all lives. As an example of that, not long ago here in my Chicago neighborhood of West Rogers Park - an Orthodox Jew saw a non Jewish women in distress and called Hatzalah. They arrived moments after the call to aid her. Which she ended up being very grateful for. This is the kind of Kiddush HaShem we should be talking about. It is something we should tout to the media. But it is something that the media is rarely reports. And there are tons of things like this that go on every day by a variety of Orthodox Jewish service organizations or individual that go unreported. And unheralded.

What he have instead is what seems like a daily litany of misdeeds by Orthodox organizations or Jews. Josh wants to turn that around. Because the picture the world gets is not that of being a light unto the nations that organizations like Hatzalah are. The picture is often that of bearded Orthodox Jewish rabbis doing a perp walk having been arrested for a variety of sins, financial or otherwise.

I agree that we ought to do more to present our good side.  I hope Orthodox Jewish organization take up Josh's generous offer of his PR talents to help publicize all the good that they do. 

That said, in the course of his essay, Josh reveals a degree of naiveté about the nature of journalism. Which I think would be counter intuitive to someone in the PR business. I say this because of the questions he asks journalists he ‘rubs elbows with’: ‘Why do you show only the bad?’ ‘We do so much good.’ Why not show that as well?’ Their answer, he says, is that those stories ‘aren’t pitched to us’. 

I’m sure that’s true. But he has to realize that the job of journalism is more about exposing wrongdoing than it is about reporting the good stuff. Because wrongdoing needs to be addressed and changed . If wrongdoing goes unreported, it increases the probability that it will continue.  And that hurts people. If on the other hand a good deed goes unreported, it still benefited the person or community it was done for. No one is hurt if it goes unreported. It is therefore far more important to report wrongdoing... to expose it so that authorities or the public can put a stop to it.

There is also a famous quote that is applicable here. Dog bites  man, is not news. Man bites dog is news. Meaning that normal behavior is not reported. Only abnormal behavior is. So that when a story features a religious Jew that committed a fraud (for example) - that is a man bites dog story. The Jews that don’t do that represent the norm. 

That should be seen as a tribute to us. The problem is that it doesn’t work that way. If all one sees a constant flow of stories about fraud by Orthodox Jews, people might then generalize and think that Orthodox Judaism sees nothing wrong with fraud! (Which is the main reason I protest it publicly when I see it.)

It should be noted that there are occasional positive stories about Orthodox Jews. For example one may recall the story where an Orthodox rabbi found a substantial amount of money hidden in a desk he bought from a non Jew and immediately called up the seller to return it. Or the story a few years ago about an Orthodox businessman that continued to pay the salaries of all his employees for a full year even after his business was destroyed in a fire.

Another thing that should be noted is that the Orthodox Jewsih community is not the only one that is treated this way in the media. The Catholic Church has certainly had its share of negative reporting (deservedly so) about the massive amount of sexual abuse that so many of its priests are guilty of. But there is practically no reporting at all of the Church’s missionary work with the poorest of the poor in 3rd world countries. 

While it is true that they are promoting their religion to these people, these missionaries dedicate their lives to feed starving people in countries far away from civilization. People that most of us ignore – even though we all know about it. And yet when most people think of the Catholic Church these days, they think of pedophile priests. Not their missionary work. That’s because the media focuses on the pedophile priest and gives little to no coverage of their missionary work.

The real solution to our image issue is not a PR blitz. Although I think better PR would be helpful - the real solution is look in the mirror and see why so many of us end up getting caught doing something wrong. 

It is true that Orthodoxy is not immune to human nature and wrongdoing – just like any other group. We will always have our share of wrongdoers. But I definitely think we can do better to reduce the amount of wrongdoing that takes place among us. Whether it is doing a better job dealing with sex abuse or teaching our people to be honest in all of our dealings. Instead of forever seeking ‘creative ways’ in which to increase the income of our unemployed or underemployed. 

There is a lot we can do and we are not doing it. It least not as much we could nor as fast as we should. If we do not give the media anything to report on, that would go a long way to leaving only the good for the media to focus upon.