As Jews were beaten and killed in the 1991 Crown Heights riots, New York Times columnist and erstwhile executive editor A.M. Rosenthal penned a thundering denunciation of the violence and its cheerleaders.
"Using grievances real or imagined as an excuse for violence will not be tolerated—not by black society or white, not by the press, not by City Hall, not now, not ever," Rosenthal wrote.
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He was wrong. As similar scenes play out across America today, with rioters shooting police officers, innocent bystanders dying, and businesses being destroyed, the news media has adopted a different attitude.
If peaceful armed protesters are voicing frustration with a lockdown, as happened in Democratic darling Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s state of Michigan, they see anarchy. But when smashed windows and mutilated civilians can be contorted into an issue of "racial justice," then fealty to their hard-left ideology trumps any concern for safety or sanity.
The Times now publishes calls for defunding police nationwide. The editorial board on which Rosenthal once sat cannot muster a denunciation free of qualifiers and compromise. In place of clear-eyed condemnations comes the incessant refrain that rioting and looting are lamentable, but the result of legitimate grievance. Those same grievances, they argue, can only be addressed through aggressive federal investigations, the stripping of legal protections for cops and, of course, voting for Democrats.
One Times newsletter writer on Tuesday described President Donald Trump's promise to end the violence as "a harsh crackdown on protesters demanding racial justice" and excused rioting as "often nonviolent, sometimes bloody protests." A Times tech reporter showed more concern with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's unwillingness to use his company to send virtue signals.
The Times is emblematic of the attitude adopted by the press writ large. And it no longer counts prominent dissenters like Rosenthal among its ranks. Instead, the views of editorial writers and news reporters are often indistinguishable.
The Associated Press censors the word "looting." CNN's Chris Cuomo is calling the riots "a minority manifesting a desperate plea to be heard." His colleague Don Lemon offered violent protesters "the benefit of the doubt." Standing in front of a burning police station, MSNBC's Ali Velshi noted that while "fires have been started," protesters in Minneapolis were not "generally unruly."
What did Rosenthal understand that his successors do not? Perhaps it's that he lived through the years in which there were 2,500 murders in New York City alone. Perhaps it was his reporting on the broad-daylight stabbing of Kitty Genovese, a young woman unaided by bystanders who did nothing to stop her death. Perhaps he saw violence not as revolutionary, but as the atavistic horror it is.
"The press," Rosenthal wrote of the Crown Heights riots, "treats it all as some kind of cultural clash between a poverty-ridden people fed up with life and a powerful, prosperous and unfortunately peculiar bunch of stuck-up neighbors."
And there is nobody like Rosenthal left to strike a dissonant note.