At Columbia University, The Stenographers Strike Back

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At Columbia University, The Stenographers Strike Back

Columbia University is currently home to one of the highest-profile student protests against the American-backed Israeli genocide in Gaza. On Sunday, elite political America decided they have had enough of the kids driving this debate and began to push back, beginning with the White House and the aid of high-profile journalists eschewing their jobs in favor of stenography.

Stenography is the act of simply writing down the words that other people say. A court stenographer recording everything uttered during a trial is an example of this work being valuable. Journalism is not stenography. If Donald Trump tells me that he is the smartest president ever and I publish that in Splinter bereft of any accompanying context (like, well, he’s clearly not), I’m not doing journalism, I’m just a member of his PR team.

Letting unreliable narrators dictate their coverage is one of the most consistent mainstream media tropes that is so routinely cynical it led NBC’s Chuck Todd to blow a gasket on live TV a month ago. On Sunday, CNN’s Jake Tapper provided a perfect example of this kind of nonsense that far too many mainstream stenographers try to pass off as journalism these days, and in some ways, it’s worse because the claims he was repeating without evidence are generally correct while still being hyperbolic.

On Sunday morning, Tapper shared a message on Twitter from Rabbi Elie Buechler, writing “In response to ‘horrific’ scenes of antisemitic harassment at and around campus, the Orthodox Rabbi at Columbia/Barnard sent a WhatsApp message to more than 290+ Jewish students this morning recommending that they go home until it’s safe again for them on campus.”

Tapper did not provide any evidence of these “horrific” scenes, even when faced with pushback. He did tell one person on Twitter that there was a “fuller story to come,” but he did not post it to Twitter, despite feeling it was important enough to highlight the Rabbi’s claims to start this whole mess.

This is not to cast doubt on what the Rabbi alleged. The student journalists at Columbia Spectator showed Jake Tapper how to do his job and documented antisemitic abuse directed at Jewish Columbia students. Here is just one example of a video they reviewed among many:

As the students were exiting campus from the 116th Street and Amsterdam Avenue gates on Saturday night, there were calls from individuals outside of campus of “Yehudim [Jews], yehudi [Jew], fuck you,” “Stop killing children,” and “Go back to Poland, go back to Belarus,” according to a video reviewed by Spectator.

How dangerous it actually is for Jewish Columbia students right now is not as obvious as Tapper’s stenography made it seem, and Columbia/Barnard Hillel is not following Rabbi Buechler’s calls to leave campus. They released a statement saying the Kraft Center for Jewish Student Life will remain open. Tapper did not publicize that statement on his Twitter, but he did highlight this one from them announcing that the NYPD will be at the Kraft Center through Passover. In Tapper’s attempt to push a narrative he clearly believed was in service of the Kraft Center, he wound up distorting what the Kraft Center has actually been saying through the omission of inconvenient facts which counter the portrayal of Columbia that he spent much of Sunday defending.

If it was just Jake Tapper pulling this stunt, then maybe this column wouldn’t even be worth writing, because “TV news anchor lets a biased actor frame their story for them” is a dog-bites-man story. It’s what drove Chuck Todd to his breaking point on live TV. What elevates this in my book is that multiple high-profile reporters followed Tapper’s lead in retweeting his initial claim without providing any evidence whatsoever, and this came on the same day that Joe Biden’s White House was making similar allegations without providing accompanying evidence.

The New York Times’s chief Trump whisperer Maggie Haberman retweeted it. So did Jake Sherman, former Politico reporter, founder of Punchbowl News and NBC and MSNBC analyst, along with countless others in high profile media positions. The White House released a statement condemning amorphous claims of antisemitism at Columbia, and a lot of politicians followed suit. It is difficult to not see elite political America all pushing the same message at the same time as coordinated on some level.

Like Jake Tapper, I am providing no evidence to support my claim of coordination, but unlike him, I will acknowledge the verifiable information I have on hand and accept that I could easily be wrong, even if deep down I do believe that this is exactly what it looks like.

Again, the claims of antisemitism are not bogus and there is video proof of it, so why aren’t all these politicians and journalists providing it along with their assertions? Why are Jake Tapper and company pushing a “horrific” tale of kids being forced to leave campus that the largest Jewish organization at Columbia disagrees with? Why are America’s stenographers erasing the litany of Jewish kids in these protests when they paint them as wholly antisemitic?

Could it be because if you actually look at all of the images and videos coming out of Columbia, the notion that it is some hellscape for Jews is wrong? Maybe they just don’t want anyone opening the Pandora’s Box of actually witnessing what is happening at Columbia, lest the Jake Tapper’s of the world lose their ability to frame this situation around claims made without supporting evidence.

I am Jewish and have seen and experienced enough antisemitism that I am acutely aware when I see a space where I am not welcome. This is not one of them.

I genuinely cannot understand why when a supposed journalist has evidence of antisemitism, they would not provide it and would rely on unverified claims instead. A big reason why I believe this is all coordinated is because of the lack of evidence provided along with claims that evidence proves to be true. I’ve worked in and around politics long enough to know what it looks like when a new set of talking points come out and that’s what this looks like. It took me about ten seconds to find the video the Columbia Spectator was describing in their story. It is not difficult at all to provide proof for the claims that there is antisemitic abuse happening at Columbia.

So why the hell aren’t these journalists stenographers providing it?

History will remember that America’s elites helped back a genocide and their allies in the media ran cover for it all while mischaracterizing the views of the Jewish organizations they ostensibly are trying to represent (and the litany of Jews who are protesting the genocide as well). No amount of stenography from Jake Tapper and company will ever change the fundamental reality that America’s elites have lost control of a narrative around Gaza that they will never reclaim.

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