What is it about the folks at NBC News who seem to think that they can routinely selectively and deceptively edit what people say in order to misconstrue their words and meaning?
A few weeks ago, a web-only Rock Center video was published at NBCNews.com that deceptively edited an Hasidic Rabbi to give the appearance that he was trying to cover up or hide sexual abuse within his community (video follows with transcribed highlights and commentary):
In the segment, snippets of a lengthy discussion Rabbi Avraham Berkowitz had with NBC's Dr. Nancy Snyderman were mixed with off-camera voiceovers of Snyderman largely unrelated to their actual conversation.
Eliyahu Federman, whose work on sexual abuse awareness, gender equality, and police-community relations has been published in numerous publications, first exposed NBC News's chicanery Wednesday.
Here's the transcript of the segment in question:
DR. NANCY SNYDERMAN (OFF-CAMERA) But last year, the Hasidic community could no longer deny its own problems. A young women came forward to tell police her Rabbi, Nechamya Weberman, had sexually abused her for years. It was a rare instance of a Hasid going to outside authorities to report a crime.
AVRAHAM BERKOWITZ: The community leaders within are dealing with this.
SNYDERMAN (OFF-CAMERA): Avraham Berkowitz is a local Rabbi in the community and he says people are now acknowledging sexual abuse is happening and insists they can handle the problem themselves.
BERKOWITZ: Whatever these types of crimes are have to be eradicated, and in order to eradicate them, we have to do it within the way the community knows how to solve its problems. Because sometimes when you come banging with drums from the outside, the community becomes more insular.
SNYDERMAN (OFF-CAMERA): Nechamya Weberman was ultimately convicted of sexual abuse, and sentenced to 50 years in prison.
Kind of gives you the appearance that Berkowitz wants such crimes to be handled exclusively within the community so that they can be covered up.
But nothing is further from the truth.
As Federman reported, Berkowitz - with Snyderman's approval - made an audio recording of their interview. Here's what Berkowitz and Snyderman actually discussed with what NBC News used in bold (transcript created by Federman, emphasis added in italics):
Snyderman: There are, there have been crimes and the Weberman case has shined a very unflattering light on the community.
Berkowitz: So I spoke about violent, public violent crimes of murder and rape very low, very little. When you talk about sexual abuse of children it's something that's being exposed. It's a silent crime and there are deviants in every society and it's not just in our community but as you see in the Catholic Church ......
Snyderman: And are you able to look at your community with a critical eye and say, "This is not okay"?
Berkowitz: So, absolutely. First of all we absolutely have to look at it with a critical view, the question is what do we, do we have to have this conversation in public, how do we resolve, that's a question within the Chasidic world, how do they grapple with these dark, dark problems and how do they solve it. So if it's talking about pushing it under the rug, no way...
In our community, for example, when it comes it's a much more open and public debate. We are one of the largest Chasidic communities in Brooklyn, the Rabbis work together hand in hand with the authorities, and the children are now taught that if someone is doing something inappropriate to you, you have the ABC's. And I was so pleased with my six year old daughter tells me, "Daddy, the 'D' of the ABC's, do tell. Someone does something inappropriate I'm gonna tell."
Notice that Berkowitz told Snyderman "the Rabbis work together hand in hand with the authorities." That's certainly not the image one gets from what NBC News presented.
Snyderman: We have images of a young girl who was molested being heckled by adult men as she was going to court and even so disturbing to see a young girl who had suffered being made the villain.
Berkowitz: I'm very disturbed by those images. But again, there, we have to remember one thing. Whatever these types of crimes are have to be eradicated and in order to eradicate them they have to do it within the way the community knows how to solve its problems because sometimes when you come banging with drums from the outside the community becomes more insular. So the community needs to face this, the community leaders within are dealing with this, but sometimes what they say to the outside seems as if they're covering up for it. But I must say again these deviants must be punished and they now know because of the awareness that's happening they now know that they cannot continue to commit these crimes.
They know that they'll be caught and our children are also taught because of like I told you, you say that we are separated... they are now taught what is considered inappropriate ...And I must say as a parent it's the number one thing that I worry about in our camps, in our schools, what are you teaching your staff, our teachers to make sure that our children are protected. And I'm very pleased that the new programs that the Chasidic schools are teaching within our, with their sensitivities, to teach our children about the differences.
Substantially different than what NBC News presented.
Contrary to what Rock Center presented, Berkowitz by no means said "they can handle the problem themselves."
For its part, NBCNews.com has removed the video of this segment and issued an update:
Editor’s note: We want to clarify a quote from Rabbi Avraham Berkowitz that was included in our web story about sexual abuse in the Hasidic community. In our story, we reported that Rabbi Berkowitz insists the community can handle the problem itself...
He said: “Whatever these type of crimes are have to be eradicated. And in order to eradicate them, we have to do it within the way the community knows how to solve its problems. 'Cause sometimes when you come banging with drums from the outside, the community becomes more insular.”
Rabbi Berkowitz says that when he referred to the community knowing how to solve its problems, he was referring to efforts to prevent sexual abuse – not whether to report sexual abuse to police. He says he has always advocated reporting suspected abuse to the appropriate law enforcement agencies and that “rabbis work together hand in hand with the authorities.” He added that “these deviants must be punished.” We regret any misunderstanding.
Also in the web story, when we were reporting on the conviction of Rabbi Nechemya Weberman for sexual abuse, we included video of a man who is not Weberman. This story also included a picture of Weberman, shown here. We apologize for the error.
Is that good enough? Not according to Federman:
Of course this clarification is not enough and conveniently leaves out the misleading voice-over narration. NBC damaged this rabbi's reputation without taking full responsibility for creating a misperception about his views on reporting sexual abuse to the police.
Whether NBC's deceptive editing stems from a political bias, stereotypes about Hasidic Jews, or an attempt to make material more salacious to attract more viewers, NBC should seek to restore its journalistic integrity by conducting an internal review to explain how and why these things happened.
Indeed. But there's a bigger issue: NBC News and its affiliate MSNBC continue to do this.
On June 20, MSNBC selectively edited a Congressman to make it appear he said food stamp recipients are all rapists, pedophiles, and murderers.
And that's just the beginning:
Is this kind of almost routine deceit from NBC News ever going to stop?
Are the heads of NBC ever going to step in and put an end to this?
Or is this the kind of "news coverage" people should just expect from NBC News?