A reminder that, more often than not, journalists don’t really know what they’re talking about: Passover edition

I write this post from the comfort of a Philadelphia-to-New York BoltBus (on which I have successfully achieved the holy trinity: a working plug, wifi, and empty seats on every side*). That means my short time at Penn has officially drawn to a close – but not before I had the opportunity to enjoy one last article in The Daily Pennsylvanian.

The article in question graced the front cover of today’s paper, and deals with an issue of paramount importance: ‘Passover and Fling to coincide‘**. The DP could have written the headline and called it quits, but someone thought it would be a good idea to go ahead, interview some people, and write a whole article to go along with it.

That someone was wrong.

You see, The Daily Pennsylvanian employs copy-editors. And those copy-editors did a fine job ensuring that the article was typo-free, conformed to the stylebook, and so on. But because The Daily Pennsylvanian is not the New Yorker, those copy-editors are not also expert fact-checkers. To be fair, neither was necessary in this case: any observant Jew would have done nicely.

The article starts out as noncommittally as possible:

Some Jewish students will be facing a conflict of interest during one particular weekend in April.

So far, so good. But the article goes downhill from there:

Jews who live outside of Israel traditionally observe the first and last two days of the holiday, with some exceptions.

Actually, Jews who live outside of Israel traditionally observe all eight days of Passover – days 1, 2, 7, and 8 just have a different status from the middle 4.

During this time, dietary and other restrictions are more stringent than during the middle four days.

Here we have an attempt to correct the mistake of one sentence prior by acknowledging that the middle four days are still Passover – but the author errs in his inclusion of ‘dietary’: what you can eat remains unchanged whether it’s day 5 or day 2.

Restrictions vary according to the observer’s level of orthodoxy, but for some, this means restricted use of electricity, limited monetary spending and prohibited consumption of leavened bread and grain-based alcohol.

I won’t nitpick the severely limited list of not kosher-for-passover products, but I will point out that ‘limited monetary spending’ is a halachic position I am largely unfamiliar with.

I’ll stop here – if you want to make further sport, feel free to read the article yourself – but I thought it served as a worthwhile reminder that (as the post title hints) more often than not, journalists don’t really know what they’re talking about.

This is something I learned while writing for the DP: you do the best you can, but at the end of the day you’re still just trying to piece together ‘the facts’ from a dozen different sources into a single coherent publishable piece. Admittedly, The Daily Pennsylvanian is a student newspaper, but I’ve had similar experiences reading about Judaism in more widely-read and respected publications like the New York Times, and I would imagine I’m not alone. I would also imagine the issue is not confined to the single topic in which I happen to be relatively well-versed. I cringe every time I think about a Nepali coming across Eye of the Treiger – see the ‘Update’ in this post for a better idea of that at which I am getting (copy-editing ftw!).

And while I wrote earlier I would decline to nitpick a list of kosher-for-passover products, forgive me for choosing to close this piece by noting the article’s most egregious oversight:

Certain alcohols, like kosher-for-Passover wines and potato-based vodka, are permitted for the holiday.

The article singles out wine and potato vodka, but not Slivovitz? The author clearly went out of his way to understate the degree of conflict the calendrical overlap represents.


*When defining ‘the holy trinity’, I forgot to take into account ‘craziness of driver’. What comes after ‘trinity’? Whatever, I got 3 out of 4

**Headline cribbed from the print edition


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