Are the Media Discriminating Against Rabbi Shmuley Because of His GOP Run for Congress?

Back in February, The Blaze first told you about Orthodox Rabbi Shmuley Boteach’s potential run for New Jersey’s 9th congressional district. Now, the prominent faith leader, who is known for his book about sex, a television show and his spiritual advisement to the late Michael Jackson, has made his run official. But since announcing his candidacy earlier this year, the Republican, who is typically revered in American media as a top Jewish leader, seems to be experiencing somewhat of a fall from grace — at least when it comes to mainstream media accolades.

Newsweek is the primary outlet that has seemed to sour somewhat on Shmuley. Rather than falling in the top 11 in the magazine’s annual “America’s Top 50 Rabbis” list, the political hopeful dropped all the way down to 30. While there are certainly a myriad of issues that may have contributed to this decline in purported prominence, the stark change in ranking is certainly noteworthy.

“Boteach has always ranked near the top of the Newsweek list,” reports Big Journalism’s John Sexton. “In 2007 and 2008 he was #9 on the list. In 2009 he went to #7 and then peaked at #6 in 2010. He was #11 on the 2011 list, still quite respectable. And then, this year, he suddenly slid all the way down to #30.”

Sexton makes the point that a run for Congress should have made Boteach more — not less — influential and questions whether the rabbi’s political affiliation had anything at all to do with his diminished ranking. It’s interesting to note that Newsweek did, indeed, mention Boteach’s run for office, his political affiliation and a number of negative allegations surrounding his character in his 2012 profile last month:

Known for his bestselling books on parenting and sex, Boteach “threw his yarmulke in the ring” to run for a congressional seat in New Jersey to “bring Jewish values into the political discourse” and won the Republican nomination. He has said he’ll consider legislation “to re-create an American Sabbath so parents have an incentive to take their kids to a park rather than teaching them to find satisfaction in the impulse purchase.” There is ample Boteach bashing among fellow clergy because of what’s perceived as his unremitting self-promotion, and his political candidacy has not been helped by a report in The Forward that said an “examination of public records reveals that the charity Boteach heads spends a significant portion of its revenues on payments to Boteach and his family.”

Interestingly, the rabbi’s 2011 profile, though it mentioned negative sentiment embraced by his fellow faith leaders, was much more positive in tone:

Though many of his fellow clergy deride his tireless self-advertisement, they also tip their hats to Boteach for hammering home the notion that the tenets of Judaism are relevant – and essential – for Americans of any faith. His prolific output of books (18), essays and lectures is unmatched, and book titles such asKosher Adultery: Seduce and Sin with Your Spouse and The Broken American Male and How to Fix Himhave resonated with mainstream audiences. Few rabbis have had his Oprah platform even once, (he was a regular) and it’s doubtful any others can claim to have counseled Michael Jackson. Boteach has 6,000-plus Facebook fans and counting.

The Jewish Forward piece that is mentioned in the 2012 profile is potentially newsworthy and, to a degree, it is understandable why Newsweek inserted the information in the profile (the outlet is frequently referred to as left-of-center). News is news and potential financial mismanagement allegations, if they hold merit, are worth mentioning. However, this theme seemed to dominate the profile, while the rabbi’s other activities simply weren’t discussed.

Considering the overall tone of the 2012 piece versus the 2011 profile, though, it’s also worth questioning how much of the rabbi’s placement has been predicated upon his political affiliation. While the Forward continues to stand by its story about the Boteach’s finances, Sexton has his own doubts about both Newsweek and the Forward’s treatment of the congressional candidate:

The circumstance that clearly mattered most in the case was that Rabbi Shmuley had chosen to run as a Republican.

Note that the [Forward] piece also points readers to the worst possible conclusion by suggesting that the charity spends money on Boteach’s “family.” In fact, the only recipients from Boteach’s family are the rabbi himself, and his wife, who is an employee of the charity. The Forward chose to spin these salaries as if they were suspicious, possibly corrupt payments to outside relatives.

In the end, there’s no way to know whether discrimination is at the heart of Boteach’s decreased popularity in Newsweek’s annual spread. Perhaps the faith leader truly has lost some influence over the past year, but considering the stark drop, such a prospect — especially following a congressional run that could make him the first rabbi ever elected to Congress — certainly raises eyebrows.

(H/T: Big Journalism)