Editorials are posted and archived on JNonline.us .
griprocessors has become a
dirty word in some parts of the
Jewish community and caused a
deafening silence elsewhere.
The Iowa slaughterhouse has earned
dismal marks from different quarters in
recent years while producing up to 60
percent of all kosher meat in the United
States. That near-monopoly may be part of
the reason that the Orthodox Union (OU)
and other Orthodox agencies dependent
on kosher meat have been either silent or
protective of the Iowa slaughterhouse in
recent months. What other choice do they
and kosher consumers have?
Agriprocessors' owners, the Rubashkin
family of Brooklyn, N.Y., purchased the
closed slaughterhouse in northeastern
Iowa in 1988. In 2000, University of Iowa
journalism professor Stephen Bloom
documented some of the issues confront-
ing Agriprocessors in his aptly titled
Postville: A Clash of Cultures in Heartland
America. While Bloom discussed the divi-
sion between the Lubavitch community
running the plant and the native Iowans
who lived and worked in Postville, federal
and state authorities found serious health,
legal and ethical issues.
Over the last 10 years, Agriprocessors
has paid fines of nearly $700,000 for
health and safety violations. It was the
subject of an undercover investigation
last year by the hardline People for the
Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA),
which accused the company of inhumane
slaughter practices. Several rabbinic inves-
On May 12, Iowa and federal agen-
cies conducted the largest immigration
raid in U.S. history, arresting 389 of
Agriprocessor's 800 Postville workers
as illegal aliens. More than 300 of those
arrested have pled guilty and will be
deported after serving five months in jail.
Since mid-May, Agriprocessors' produc-
tion has been spotty. An Iowa firm that
was hired to supply temporary laborers
pulled its 150 employees out of the plant
after 10 days, citing unsafe working condi-
tions. The result: Nationwide shortages
of kosher meat have occurred and prices
— already pressured by rising fuel costs
— have begun to climb.
Last week, the Des Moines Register
reported that Agriprocessors paid $1.4
million last year to settle a case alleging
that it had fraudulently hidden another
company's assets. That company filed
for bankruptcy in 2003, shortly after its
AFTER CHINA HAS
INTO A PROSPEROUS
WILL MIDDLE CLASS
CHINESE FAMILIES GO
OUT TO PINE ON
was destroyed in an
Also last week, fed-
eral agents arrested
two supervisors at the
Postville plant, charg-
AT QUAINT AMERICAN
ing that they helped
the illegal immigrants
DADS WILL SHOW OFF
obtain fake docu-
ments. It is the first
against anyone other
than unskilled labor-
ers since the May 12
raid and is the first
substantiation of the
workers' charges of
ment and sexual
general manager and start a national
litany, the OU and other Orthodox groups
advertising campaign that claims they
have either defended Agriprocessors or
aren't as bad as the record shows.
been silent. Loshen hara — spreading
Shouldn't we expect more from the
evil gossip — is a terrible sin, but so is
country's largest producer of kosher meat?
deliberately placing the health and trust
And shouldn't we expect more from our
of kosher consumers at risk. In response,
all that Agriprocessors has done is remove supervising agencies, be they rabbis or
public inspectors? ❑
Sholom Rubashkin, the owner's son, as
hen the first 24-hour cable
news channel came on the
air, my boss at the Detroit
News, executive editor Lionel Linder, was
ecstatic. A self-described "news junkie
he was transfixed by the constant flow of
information into his office.
Linder was a brilliant newspaperman
who died much too soon in a car accident.
But I'm afraid he was wrong about the
benefits of cable news. In fact, it has dis-
torted the news values that he and I grew
up with; and the junk it propagates is a big
reason why the media has sunk so low in
Cable news has all that airtime to fill so
trivial events are magnified beyond any
relationship to their actual importance.
Crime, celebrities and car chases go prime
Bad news is made to seem much worse
than it is because of endless repetition
and navel-gazing analysis.
More than that, opinion trumps report-
ing. People with no particular expertise or
July 17 • 2008
perspective, aside from the fact
that they make themselves avail-
able for interviews, spout off on
everything under the sun.
If they happen to be wrong, or
even ridiculous, so what. What
they said will be forgotten by the
time the next news cycle rolls
around and, meanwhile, the time
has been adequately filled.
That's why the loss of Tim
Russert was felt so acutely. He
was always a reporter, a masterful inter-
viewer who knew how to ask tough ques-
tions that could not be dodged. When he
gave an opinion, there .was hard informa-
tion to back it up.
In his place, there is a collection of
blowhards and "commentators" who
couldn't report a story if one ran up and
bit them on the kneecap. But they know
how to speak in a snarl. If that's what jour-
nalism has become, you can keep it.
This is one reason why political divi-
sions have become so bilious. There is
more garbage that washes up
and cable news slobbers over
all of it with glee. It is also
why I am apprehensive about
coverage of the upcoming
Elections are divisive by
nature. We are asked to vote
one way or the other. It is
not multiple choice. When
a weakness is discerned, an
opponent bores in and things
can get nasty. That's how democracy
has worked ever since the Era of Good
Feelings ended in the 1820s.
But it is impossible to try and speak
honestly about race in this country. Just
ask Geraldine Ferraro and Bill Clinton.
Given the current news media orientation,
it is likely, if not probable, that any critical
examination of Sen. Barack Obama's ideas,
associates or background will be waved
off as racism.
My hope is that the campaign will pres-
ent us with a choice between two compet-
ing visions and people will cast their ballots
on that basis. Some, assuredly, will not.
They are determined to make it about race.
Detroit Free Press columnist Rochelle
Riley wrote recently, "anyone who thinks
that this election is about anything other
than, first and foremost, race, is liv-
ing about 20 years ahead of the rest of
America. Everyone else knows what time
An angry electorate, in the midst of a
flagging economy and an unpopular war,
may well choose Obama's emotional appeal.
That's the way the numbers are running
now But if his opponents, or his support-
ers, insist on making the election "first
and foremost" about race, he will lose.
The media pack then will inevitably
conclude it was because the United States
is an irredeemably racist country. And that
would be the most damaging outcome for
George Cantor's e-mail address
is email@example.com .