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Reporting the news versus guarding our safety

Last week I saw a clip of Megyn Kelly TODAY where she asked the NBC reporter who was covering the Matt Lauer sexual misconduct scandal if she thought she was covering this story about her friend and colleague the same way she had handled other similar stories. The reporter, Stephanie Gosk, said she had wondered more than once about that herself and decided she was indeed giving it the same thorough coverage as she had other stories she had reported on the subject.

 

I was asked a similar question this week. Was I covering a local Jewish story that had come to light on Dec. 2 the same way other media in town were covering it. The answer is absolutely not. I had the added problem of figuring out how this newspaper keeps you informed while keeping us safe.

Here’s the issue. I like to surf Facebook in my spare time. I do it for fun and I get great information that sometimes turns into stories. This time I stumbled across a story published, and I assume broadcast, by 41 Action News — KSHB TV. The headline was “Court documents: Missouri man threatened to bomb several Jewish sites.” This was news to me. The reports stated that Congregation Beth Shalom, Congregation Kol Ami and the JCC all received bomb threats. The first thing I learned on my own was that two phone calls were received through the Jewish Community Campus phone system, but they were not directed toward the Jewish Community Center. 

Chronicle publisher Steve Rose and I knew that we had to publish a story and we had to investigate because this information was out in the public domain, even Israeli news outlets had picked up the story. Together we decided we can’t pretend it didn’t happen, but we also didn’t want to make a big deal about it because we are sensitive to the concerns that too much information can jeopardize the safety of those who spend time in our Jewish communal buildings.

I know from previous conversations with a variety of Jewish communal officials that they really don’t want to announce to the world when they receive threats. There are many reasons for that. The main reason is most of the threats are not credible. I have been assured repeatedly that law enforcement officials take these threats very seriously until the investigation proves they are not real threats.

Our Jewish communal officials are concerned about frightening people and in turn what that does to their membership numbers and participation in events and activities. Then there is also the risk of copycat threats.

I suspect it is for these reasons, and more, that officials were hesitant to speak to me on the record about these threats. In fact, I didn’t even hear from several of the people I attempted to contact. But by the end of the day, and I assume after a few conversations with each other, I did get some comments.

Here’s what Congregation Beth Shalom’s President Richard Simon replied via email, and it’s a statement I wholeheartedly agree with.

“We are very proud of our law enforcement community for their vigilance to thwart all of these threats, and bringing them to justice.”

Jewish Community Security Director Chuck Green reiterated what I have been told many times in the past few years, that the community security team works “diligently every day to ensure the safety of those who use the Jewish Community Campus and other Jewish facilities around town.”

We live in a world today where haters think it’s OK to spew hate. That’s what happened in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August. It happened to the Jewish community here in April 2014. It happened here to the Indian community in 2017 and continues to happen to the Muslim community all over the country. I am saddened and sickened by all of it. And I’m afraid this won’t be the last time we’re faced with the decision, what can we report, what should we report?