On Friday, I covered the Jewish Daily Forward's "Forward 50," a list of the most influential Jews in America this past year. There are many impressive names on the list -- individuals who span a variety of sectors. As we noted, the roster, which the Forward describes as, "an impressionist picture of the American Jewish story," also includes President Barack Obama.
Now, in my initial coverage I called Obama's selection "a bizarre addition" to the list. After all, he isn't Jewish and there are many who wouldn't necessarily see him as overtly pro-Israel. On Friday afternoon, Forward editor Jane Eisner responded to the Blaze's coverage in a piece entitled, "Why We Added Obama." She wrote:
The old adage that all publicity is good publicity relates to journalism, as well. So I was pleased to see that The Blaze, Glenn Beck’s website, thought enough of our annual Forward 50 project to write about it.
Of course, what interested The Blaze wasn’t the list of 50 American Jews who have shaped the Jewish story in politics, science, culture, the media, religion, advocacy and even sports. No, it was the 51st name on the list — in our parlance, the “Plus One” — that got the attention.
There are a number of elements that jump out of the text here. First and foremost, it was a pleasure to feature the list, seeing as many of the names are both influential and impressive individuals. So, yes, we surely thought enough of the project to feature it. And it should be noted that our original article was by no means negative journalism, rather it was a piece that placed focus upon the most controversial addition to the Forward's roster.
It is Eisner's other comment -- that the Blaze wasn't interested in the "list of 50 American Jews who have shaped the Jewish story in politics, science, culture, the media, religion, advocacy and even sports," that is truly curious. It isn't that we weren't interested; it's that Obama's presence on the list stands out most prominently.
Aside from the clear controversy inherent in Obama's inclusion on the list, this comment is even more odd, because, on Friday afternoon, the Blaze received a pitch from a PR person who seems to work with the Forward. The individual's e-mail described the purpose of the "Forward 50," then pitched the president's presence on the list.
The pitch read, "And as in years past, the Forward has named a gentile for the honorary 51st position on the list. This year, it is President Obama." Following the text, a link to a profile that the Forward setup for Obama was included (the only link to an individual's profile page present in the pitch).
Clearly, Obama's presence was a hook that the Forward knew would be appealing to journalists, which is why this PR representative included it so prominently in his e-mail to us.
Also, it should be noted that it was not initially clear that Obama was a "Plus One," as Eisner has indicated. In fact, when the Blaze first published the story, the president was included in a graphic depiction of the "Forward 50" and, without a notation that he was the 51st, it appeared as though he was the 50th and last (unless you counted each individual) on the list. Here's the graphic as it originally appeared on the Forward's web site:
Then, after the Blaze's coverage, the image suddenly changed and the president was then separated out as a "Plus One." Here's the second image:
While this isn't a big deal, it adds to the confusion. Initially, it seemed Obama was being clumped together with the other Jewish individuals on the list (and yes, as per the second image, you'll see that Anthony Weiner did make his way onto the list). Then, following our coverage, the Forward changed the graphics to more easily depict Obama as the "Plus One." Perhaps the newspaper had been planning to do this beforehand. It's not a "make or break" factor in the story, but it's worth noting.
And in the Forward's defense, non-Jews have been selected before (which we noted in our original coverage). Eisner writes:
My first year as editor, in 2008, we chose Father Paul Ouderkirk, the Catholic priest in Postville, Iowa, who so nobly helped the workers in the Agriprocessors’ kosher meat packing plant that had been the subject of a Forward investigation and the largest immigration raid in American history. Last year, in a “Plus Two”, we highlighted Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky, whose marriage sparked an intense conversation about intermarriage in the American Jewish community.
In the comments section of Eisner's piece, readers debated Obama's inclusion, with people weighing in on both sides of the debate. Of course, Glenn Beck's name was brought up a few times. One commenter, "Brad Lee," wrote, "Anything that Glenn Beck finds bizarre I usually find brilliant." But another, named "billredd" wrote:
Why was Glenn Beck not added to the list? He has done more good for the Jewish community than any other non-Jew I can think of. I have learned so much about the Jewish faith and the struggle of Israel from Glenn than anywhere else and it was all positive and compelling.
I can't agree with the choice of Pres. Obama, while he has not been a major detractor of the Jewish community, I feel he has not really been a staunch advocate either, certainly not like Glenn Beck has. (Obama's comment on going back to the '67 borders, his treatment of Benjamin Netanyahu, and his outspoken support for the Arab Spring which is now becoming a major problem for Jews and Christians in the area)
Regardless of his politics, Glenn Beck has given me a very positive view of Jews and Israel that frankly I did not have before. And I think I speak for thousands of Glenn's non-Jewish listeners. I think the addition of Pres.Obama was purely political and cheap on your part, the facts are not there to substantiate it.
This, of course, is a question best posed to the editor, herself.
Eisner concluded her piece with, "The Blaze called the selection 'bizarre.' I call it brilliant. Let us know what you think." We'll throw the same question out to our readers. Take our poll below and let us know what you think of Obama's inclusion: