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It Sure Looks Like the ADL Overreacted in Smearing the Jewish Family Fleeing Story

adl_squarelogo_blueYesterday, a story about a Jewish family fleeing their county in Pennsylvania went viral, with numerous media outlets (including Mediaite) picking it up from Lancaster Online. The original report stated that in the midst of articles posted by Fox News’ Todd Starnes and Breitbart blaming the cancellation of a school Christmas play on the demands of the parents, the family fled the area due to concerns of harassment, especially in the wake of Pizzagate.

Well, last night, the Anti-Defamation League released a statement calling the report that the family purposely left the area because of the Fox and Breitbart stories “untrue and damaging.” The ADL explained that it had spoken to the family, who told them that they had actually left on a planned winter vacation. At the same time, it pointed out that there was no truth behind stories that the school district canceled an elementary school production over the wishes of the parents.

As one would imagine in this current environment in which there are overriding concerns about fake news, there was an immediate reaction to the ADL statement, with many decrying the original reporting and subsequent virality of the story as a prime example of “fake news.”

Now, in response to the ADL’s statement/refutation of their piece, Lancaster Online added an Editor’s Note addressing the statement while explaining that it stood by its original reporting:

Editor’s Note: This story has been amended to reflect further comments from the parents of a Centerville Elementary School student who removed their child from class over concerns for their and their child’s safety. The parents told the Anti-Defamation League Thursday they were traveling on a previously planned vacation. The family told LNP and LancasterOnline their child was being harassed and blamed for the cancellation of “A Christmas Carol,” and that they were concerned for their and their child’s safety. LNP and LancasterOnline stand by the original reporting on this story.

The paper also revised a portion of the story, noting that the original version claimed the family fled but now adding the ADL’s comments and noting that they had tried to reach out to the family for additional comment with no luck. However, it highlights that the family did tell the ADL that they left for their vacation one day earlier than planned due to the media backlash.

An earlier version of this story stated the family had fled the county over fears for their child’s safety. But the Anti-Defamation League, in a statement posted Thursday, said it had spoken to the family and the family said it was traveling on vacation.

“News reports alleging that a Jewish family has ‘fled’ Lancaster County are untrue and damaging,” said Nancy Baron-Baer, a regional director for the Anti-Defamation League, which works to fight anti-Semitism. “We spoke with the family, who explained that they went on a previously-planned vacation for the holidays. Stories like this can sow fear in the Jewish community and beyond, and it is important to stop the spread of misinformation.”

Reached for comment Friday, Robin Burstein, associate regional director of the Anti-Defamation League told LNP that the family “left one day earlier than they had originally planned, because they were concerned about the backlash of the media that was put out over the weekend, but they did not flee.”

LNP’s story came several days after the news appeared on FOX and Breitbart on Sunday.

No further comment was available from the family Friday.

Now, as you can see, it actually seems like the ADL may have overreacted a bit with their tersely worded statement. They took umbrage with the word “fled,” reached out to the family, discovered they had a vacation already planned and then slammed the reporting made by Lancaster Online and picked up elsewhere.

Yet, as they told the paper, the ADL was told by the family itself that they left early due to the concerns regarding how their situation had been covered by the media. Sure, perhaps you can question the choice of the word “flee,” but it does appear they left the area earlier than they originally wanted to and that it was due to the Fox/Breitbart pieces.

However, the damage is done. This has already been deemed a “fake” story by many, largely based on the ADL statement calling the report “untrue and damaging.” And, by them doing so, it essentially lets Breitbart and Starnes off the hook for their irresponsible actions in connecting dots and placing the blame at individuals’ feet when it came to the cancellation of a Christmas play.

The fact is, the school district itself debunked the reasons given by the conservative outlets, releasing an FAQ detailing that it had given parents the option of holding the play on their own. And it is apparent that harassment took place, both towards the child and the parents. On top of all that, commenters at Breitbart were looking to doxx the family, which is especially frightening in this wake of the whole Pizzagate situation.

Perhaps in an effort to correct the record and make sure something wasn’t overstated, the ADL itself did a disservice to media coverage and how we discern what is fake news or not. By all accounts, the Lancaster Online piece was well-reported and provided a detailed breakdown of what had occurred in the community regarding the circumstances surrounding the entire affair. But, it was all blown apart and labeled fake due to the ADL’s issue with the use of a word.

Therefore, Starnes and Breitbart are given cover by an organization that normally would be in direct opposition to them. (The ADL has recently had confrontations with Breitbart regarding the ADL’s assertion that the conservative outlet is the “premier website of the alt-right.”) All they need to do is point to this statement and claim that this is just another example of the liberal mainstream media overreaching in an effort to push forth a false narrative.

Yes, we should all be vigilant in calling out and identifying fake news. But we also shouldn’t make our vigilance so aggressive that we’re looking to smear largely accurate stories over debates about semantics.

[image via ADL]

Follow Justin Baragona on Twitter: @justinbaragona

This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.

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