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Fair and Balanced

January 7, 2011

The news can not control what people say, but it can control who gets a platform and how information is presented.  Take today’s story in the Daily News about the tragic death of an 82-year-old rabbi in Midwood.  Rabbi Moshe Adler, visiting from Israel, was hit while crossing a street in a crosswalk.  (Whether he was crossing with or against the light is not stated, only that he “crossed quickly.”)  The driver of the car, 27-year-old Yosef Luban, was arrested.  Here’s where I think the Daily News story should end:

Luban, who lives blocks away from the deadly crash, was later arrested and charged with driving without a license.

The guy shouldn’t have been on the road.  Period.  Elderly people get mowed down by perfectly licensed drivers all the time, but there’s a different category of legal responsibility for someone who gets behind the wheel without the state-sanctioned authority to do so.  Game over, right?

Nope.  Here’s how the Daily News ends their story:

Still, Adler’s friends expressed sympathy for Luban.

“I feel terrible for the driver,” Lowy said. “The driver probably didn’t see him and \[Adler\] couldn’t move quickly.

And scene.

Look, I’m not naive enough to think that even the worst drunk driver doesn’t have friends and family who would be distraught should he be thrown in jail.  I can put myself in Luban’s shoes for a moment.  Regardless of what happens to him in a criminal sense, he will have to live with the guilt of killing an esteemed rabbi–and Holocaust survivor no less–visiting his community.

But the minute an unlicensed person makes a choice to get behind the wheel of a car, then the time for editorializing, sympathy or “balance” on the part of the news is over.  This is not the case of an innocent and lawful driver not seeing an old man emerge from between two parked cars and having no chance, even at a safe speed, of avoiding an accident.  In such a scenario I think it would be right for a fleshed-out report on the subject to explore the guilt and feelings of people involved.  But Luban is not an innocent victim who drove down the wrong street at the wrong time.  He had zero legal right to drive a car and that’s where the story should end.

I’m not saying that his friends and family [revised: of all parties] can’t be distraught; that’s an emotional burden they must sort out themselves.  What I’m saying is that the News ought not to quote them on the subject, such that it fuels the “blame-the-victim” mentality that seems to follow reports of such tragedies.

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3 Comments
  1. J. Mork permalink
    January 7, 2011 3:44 pm

    I agree 100% with your main thesis; however, it’s the rabbi’s friend who feels sympathy for the driver in the story. This is an interesting nuance. Car culture is so entrenched that even one of the victim’s friends find themselves sympathizing with the perpetrator.

  2. January 7, 2011 3:47 pm

    Thanks for helping me clarify. I did recognize that it was the rabbi’s friend making the statement, but didn’t express myself clearly when making my larger point. I’m not interested in who has sympathy for the driver – by printing it, the News makes it seem as this accident can be chalked up to “Hey, these things happen. They suck, but they happen.”

  3. J. Mork permalink
    January 7, 2011 3:48 pm

    Agreed.

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