The Role Of Respect
ialogue has improved Detroit Jewry's relationship
with the Detroit Free Press since the dark days of
2002 when a full-page ad in the Detroit Jewish
News lambasted the daily newspaper for its
unbalanced view of Palestinian terror against Israel.
That's what an executive of the 173-year-old paper told
200 people in her keynote address at the Jewish Community
Council of Metropolitan Detroit's 2004 annual meeting last
week at the Jewish Community Center in West Bloomfield.
And her take got my attention given the makeup of metro
Detroit. It's home to 96,000 Jews and at least twice as many
residents of Arab descent.
Dialogue almost always results in better
understanding and better coverage, said
Carole Leigh Hutton, Free Press publisher
and editor since January, but with the paper
since 1990 and a journalist for 25 years.
"I so appreciate that we have reached a
place where we have real, thoughtful dia-
logue in this community," Hutton said.
ROBERT A. "You won't always agree with what we do.
You won't always agree with our assessment.
But we both generally can take away some-
thing from that conversation and that makes
us a better community."
I liked her plain talk — and for carving
out the time to venture from Fort Street into
the heartland of Jewish Detroit.
Two years ago, the Free Press was embroiled
in defending the incomplete and misleading
information permeating a March 13, 2002,
summary of Mideast history. For example,
this so-called primer didn't tie Yasser Arafat
or his Palestine Liberation Organization
(PLO) to terrorism.
In a story that ran on April 12, 2002,
"Rage Against 'The Page,"' we reported the Jewish commu-
nity's anger over that one-page overview. The page had been
held since 9-11 so the Freep had ample time to review and
The same day that the piece was published, the Jewish
community responded point by point via the JCCouncil's
Israel Advocacy Network. A week later, a Jewish delegation
met with Publisher Heath Meriwether and several Free Press
editors to object. Within a week, the paper published a "clari-
fication" of four points that Meriwether.admitted were "addi-
tional information that should have been included in the
Throughout the 44-month-long Palestinian intifada, which
has taken more than 975 lives on the Israeli side, the Free
Press has met with Israeli Jews as well as Jewish leaders.
"Over the years," Hutton said, "I feel those conversations
have become less formal — and perhaps more helpful
because of that. You've helped us step out of what we call our
news stance, where we were reacting to simply what was the
latest development and not offering the context of what
brought that development up."
Making Her Case
Hutton was Free Press managing editor for six years before
becoming executive editor in mid-2002. My ears perked up
as she affirmed her paper's commitment to Mideast coverage
that not only reports Israeli reprisals, but also the Palestinian
undercurrents causing them.
It has been just five months since Meriwether retired as
publisher. But his successor said all the right things last week.
Hutton applauds Detroit Jewry's tradition of civic and
community activism and charity. She vows not to let stories
on Gaza be placed with those on Iraq if they even hint of a
cause and effect between U.S. support of Israel and the U.S.
removal of Saddam (though I spotted Iraq and Gaza stories
on facing pages last weekend). She says if the State
Department calls a group "terrorist," her paper will, too.
I echo her hope for a U.S.-brokered peace agreement
between the Palestinians and Israelis despite "worry about our
government's ability to maintain that role at a time when it
has undermined its credibility in the Arab world."
Hutton credited metro Detroit's Jews and Arabs with sensi-
tizing her paper to the implications of photos and headlines.
Mistakes, she said, may be born of haste or ignorance, but
Then And Now
The energy cell behind local Jewish indignation toward the
Free Press'2002 primer was Berl Falbaum, a former newspa-
per reporter who switched to PR and also teaches journalism.
His 2002 petition drive got 960 signatures and support.from
four Jewish organizations.
Falbaum raised the money to buy space in the JN to print
the petition, which challenged the Freep to "indicate it is pre-
pared to be fair and accurate" in its Mideast coverage.
Though the primer wasn't meant to be all encompassing,
Meriwether told the JN, "we try as best we can to give people
the information in a fair and accurate way."
We demand no less today, what with pro-
Palestinian sentiment sweeping so many
European governments and anti-Jewish fer-
vor building around the world.
Falbaum told me on Monday that he felt
Free Press news coverage is now more bal-
anced. He thinks the paper still "is having
trouble deciding on a comprehensive editori-
al policy on the Middle East," but "at least, at
times, the editorial page supports Israel, and
criticizes the PLO and Arab nations, when
I'll buy that.
Hutton ended with a cogent argument for why objectivity
— the ability to process facts without interpretation, and to
cast aside all feelings and prejudices while evaluating informa-
tion — is unrealistic.
Fairness, she said, is a more practical standard. "When we
fail to meet it," she added, "I'll trust you'll let us know. And
we'll learn from that example."
But fairness is subjective. So basic journalistic principles
should always be the litmus test.
Summing up, Hutton said Israelis and Palestinians have
passionate supporters locally. "But I believe when we respect
each other's role, we create the capacity for better understand-
ing," she said.
Keeping credibility with its readers is the hallmark of a
good newspaper. Time will tell what impact Carole Leigh
Hutton will have at the helm of the Detroit Free Press. I was
impressed that she put herself in the glare of the Jewish com-
munal spotlight. Now she needs her front-line editors and
reporters to embrace her desire for continued dialogue with
Jews and Arabs, two of metro Detroit's largest and most
influential ethnic groups.
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