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How the media have used Trump to milk anti-Semitism for profit

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Following President Trump's election, hundreds of bomb threats to Jewish community centers and schools repeatedly made front page headlines. But where Trump supporters actually involved in these crimes? (AP)

Following the 2017 U.S. elections, mainstream media reported on a "rise," "spike," and "escalation," in anti-Semitic motivated hate-crimes. Hundreds of bomb threats to Jewish community centers and schools repeatedly made front page headlines.

Consider the New York Times. Of the 21 articles about anti-Semitic episodes published online between February and April, all but two explicitly attributed them to Trump-supporters. The editorial board wrote three op-eds that made clear where the newspaper stands on the matter. Their narrative stands on two tendentious claims: First, that there has been a substantial increase in the number of anti-Semitic motivated hate-crimes in America since Trump was elected. Second, that those responsible are Trump-supporters or alt-right bigots and racists, etc., empowered by Trump's divisive rhetoric.

Yet two developments throw this narrative into question.

First, the numbers. Unfortunately, the FBI hate crime numbers for 2016 and the first quarter of 2017 are not yet public. Still, the first seven years of Obama's presidency saw an average of 85 anti-Semitic incidents per month. Based on media reports, the first three months of 2017 have seen an average of 95 per month. This is not the substantial increase you'd come to expect from the substantial increase in coverage now suddenly given to these incidents.

For an average increase of only ten incidents per month under Trump, the discrepancy in reporting seems disproportionate. And the real question is not why this is being reported now, but why the established media paid so little attention to anti-Semitism before Trump. Is it possible that left-wing media outlets are using this issue to push their own political agenda?

What else explains a new recurring segment on the New York Times website called "This Week in Hate," which tracks "hate-crimes and harassment around the country since the election" of Trump?

Although this could be as simple as political bias, Media institutions are also acting now from economic interests. With the proliferation of international 24-hour cable news, global and regional competitors have nurtured their identities through political bias with targeted clientele, thus snagging a faithful commercial niche of like-minded sympathizers. Institutional media now play to the prejudice of their base and report selectively on topics that sell subscriptions. Having not endorsed a Republican for president since 1956, the New York Times clearly attracts a progressive readership as its financial core (Wikipedia lists their editorial page as "liberal"). In other words, the more the New York Times peddles a left-wing mantra, the more loyal the financial support of their base. Indeed, subscription sales have increased more in the last three months of 2016 than all of 2015 in what the Financial Times calls an unprecedented "digital Trump boost." The Times' stock price has surged 30% since the election.

The second development involves the arrests of Juan Thompson and 18-year-old Michael Kadar. The FBI arrested Thompson for repeated threatening calls to eight Jewish Community Centers. Thompson is an outspoken Bernie-Sanders supporter, having worked for the progressive online publication The Intercept. In April, Kadar, an Israeli-American Jew living in Israel with a history of autism and mental illness, was indicted for making 248 violent threats between January and March, the majority to Jewish establishments. Together, these two individuals account for a very large number of the bomb threats against Jewish institutions from the first quarter of 2017.

The fact that the only two known perpetrators of these anti-Semitic hate-crimes have been neither right-wing nor Trump supporters should have been humbling. It should have provoked some journalistic introspection after the fact. Sadly, this has not been the case.

The media have yet to acknowledge the hastiness of their presumptions, nor have they followed developments in the Kadar and Thompson cases with the same vigor with which they followed the bomb threats when they could still afford casual and unwarranted speculation on their Trumpist origins.

Months after the fact, The New York Times online has not even reported on the indictment of Kadar. This should leave a bitter taste in all of our mouths.

Karys Rhea is the International Letter-Writing Associate for The Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA), where she monitors the media and facilitates letter-writing campaigns.

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