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What Happened to Journalism at Slate?

Slate copy editor breaks the first rule of journalism

A copy editor at Slate published an article criticizing Gur Hasids based on a false news report. Citing YourJewishNews.com, Miriam Krule writes that the Gur yeshiva “banned all soy based products because the common foodstuff can lead to an increase in gay sex.”

The story sounds fantastical. That’s because it is false.

YourJewishNews.com is a notorious tabloid news site that has no regard for journalistic integrity. The writer of this article on Gur is “named” Shifra Unger. Her photo is a stock photo of a 30 something woman. Her bio says she is 22 and working at the site since she is 20. There is no Internet footprint left by Shifra Unger in any context other than YourJewishNews.com. She has no university listed in her bio either.

The news site reports unsubstantiated information as news on a regular basis and is regarded by most people who follow the site regularly as a Jewish version of the National Enquirer. Yet, Krule quotes it as a legitimate news site. But Krule wasn’t the only person duped into thinking this story was true. First Sheera Frenkel from Buzzfeed tweeted the story.


Almost immediately (4 minutes later), Jeffrey Goldberg retweeted the link to the story on YourJewishNews.com.


I tweeted at Goldberg. He didn’t reply.


Frenkel later thanked me, sort of, and tweeted that she had never heard of the site before.


Oops! Is this journalism? Is this reporting?

There’s a general rule on the Internet that if something sounds to good to be true, it’s probably not true. Sites like Snopes.com exist because average people have a hard time recognizing bad information. But reputable outlets like Slate, internationally respected journalists like Jeffrey Goldberg, and even Buzzfeed are expected to do minimal vetting of a story before publicizing it as truth.

There was no investigation here. “If it’s on the Internet, it must be true!” Right?

Perhaps it’s because the players in the story are hasids and homosexuality, two very tantalizing topics in the media, that over-excited journalists dispensed with the basic expected standards within their industry. Perhaps real-time tweeting and Facebook sharing have dulled our senses and we no longer care to take the few moments necessary to find out if a story is true. Chances are, a little Googling or a quick phone call will satisfy one’s curiosity.

In this instance, a friend of mine called a friend with family in Gur in Israel and asked them about this story. The source said that this was a recycled story from “ten years ago, when research showed that estrogen-like chemicals in soy may be responsible for early puberty in children (studies which have since been disproved) and [Gur] schools took soy products off their menu. So like a lot of other crazy rumors, there is more than a grain of truth to the story, although its an old one, and the reason behind it is less exotic than the one offered.

The first rule of journalism is to report the truth.

Any of the journalists who thought the story was interesting could have learned that this story was false. It’s not difficult to do journalism appropriately.

So there you have it. In the case of Gur hasids, soy, and gays, there’s nothing to see here except unnecessarily sensationalist and shoddy journalism.

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