An Image Reconsidered

The story, “The Times and the Jews” in our January/February issue is a fascinating, nuanced, and important read. We’re proud of it. It has come to our attention that some readers are not reading the piece, however, because they’re stopped cold by the art, shown here, which got a full page in the magazine. Those readers see the drawing as a caricature of a Jew.

This obviously merits discussion. The first thing to say is, we are sorry that anyone was offended. If we had it to do over, we’d have chosen a different drawing. Since you don’t get second chances in the magazine business, I’ll explain our thinking then and now.

The job of the illustration was to illustrate the point of the subhead: “A vocal segment of American Jewry has long believed that the paper is unfair to Israel. Here’s why—and why they are wrong.” That vocal segment, as Neil Lewis’s article goes on to suggest, is heavily Orthodox. So what we asked for, and got, is a drawing of a man from Orthodox Judaism’s Hasidic branch reading the Times and scowling at it. The image was okayed along the way by multiple editors and art directors, a group that includes Jews and non-Jews, for what it’s worth (though not by the article’s author).

What might have made some difference is a caption, which would have further explained the subhed and made clear that we were illustrating a particular subset of Jews, not all of them. But with or without a caption we should have had second thoughts about this illustration, based on the knowledge that people bring different lenses to images around ethnicity, particularly images done in a cartoon style, and that vicious anti-Semitic images are burned into people’s brains. And also because a page away from a headline, “The Times and the Jews,” it looks like we are illustrating what “Jews” look like, caption or no caption.

Thus in publishing the piece online, we are separating it from the art, so as not to do a disservice to Neil’s excellent piece. And, of course, to avoid offending anybody else. Giving offense was the last thing we wanted to do.

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Mike Hoyt was CJR's executive editor from 2001 to 2013, teaches at Columbia's Journalism School and is the editor of The Big Roundtable, a startup that is a home for narrative writing.