A photo choice for an online column was condemned by readers this week. A column by contributor Judith Taylor about wealth accumulation and societal divides carried the headline, “COVID-19 has exposed Canada as a country where our shiny well-heeled innovators take our money and fail us.”
The column made mention of pharmaceutical giant Apotex, its wealthy founder, the late Barry Sherman and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s attendance at the funeral for Sherman and wife Honey.
That column reference prompted an editor to pick an accompanying photo that depicted Trudeau and Toronto Mayor John Tory, each wearing a kippah, at the funeral.
The headline “take our money” and photo of elected officials at a Jewish funeral was a “disturbing combination that evokes all the wrong messages,” said Adir Krafman, associate director of communications and analytics at The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs.
“It’s an image of the prime minister at a Jewish funeral but the context in which it’s situated lends validity to the impression that Jews control or are manipulating the government. It’s the myth about a Jewish world conspiracy,” Krafman told me.
News outlets have a special responsibility to guard against portrayals that feed religious or racial stereotypes and put marginalized groups even more at risk. Krafman noted that the Jewish community is the most frequently targeted group. The 2020 Toronto hate crime report cites 63 occurrences against the community, more than other groups. As the most visible members, Orthodox Jews are often a target.
“What concerns me is our collective sensitivity to anti-Semitism is so low … it’s something we have to tackle,” Krafman said.
The photo was replaced and a note added for readers apologizing for the previous selection, recognizing it was offensive.
This incident underscores the caution required when editors comb the archives for an image to illustrate a column or article. Care that must be taken to consider the message the entire editorial package — article, headline and photo — sends to readers.
In this case, it was the wrong message, one that stirred up an anti-Semitic trope about Jews, money and influence. Readers were right to be upset.