NBC ‘Rock Center‘ did a story on Judy Braun’s book ‘Hush,’ which chronicles Judy’s journey to raise awareness on reporting and discussing sexual abuse in her deeply insular Hasidic community. The book resulted in her being threatened and shunned by her community.
Rabbi Avraham Berkowits was interviewed for the show. But when his views did not fit the story line, NBC deceptively edited his quotes adding grossly misleading voice-overs that implied he believes sex abuse crimes should be handled only by rabbis. This was all a lie.
(Both the You Tube version and the original NBC Rock Center copies of the program were deleted by NBC)
The transcript of the unedited interview shows that Berkowitz said things like in his community “the Rabbis work together hand-in-hand with the authorities,” “deviants must be punished,” “they’ll be caught.”
Yet correspondent Dr. Nancy Snyderman’s voice-over narrative starts: “Last year, the Hasidic community could no longer deny its own problems, a young women came forward to tell police her rabbi, Nechamya Weberman, had sexually abused her for years. It was a rare instance of a Hasid going to outside authorities to report a crime.”
The frame then cuts to Berkowitz, who is seen saying: “The community leaders within are dealing with this.”
Snyderman’s narration continues: “Avraham Berkowitz is a local rabbi in the community and he says people are now acknowledging that sexual abuse is happening and insists that they can handle the problem themselves.”
In the next frame, Berkowitz says, “Whatever these types of crimes are, they have to be eradicated, and in order to eradicate them. We have to do it within the way the community knows how to solve its problems.”
In the actual interview NBC never even asks Berkowits whether he thinks abuse should be reported directly to the police, yet they superimpose his unrelated quotes after narrating that in the case of Weberman it “was a rare instance of a Hasid going to outside authorities to report a crime.”
As the full interview demonstrates, Berkowitz was discussing educational initiatives on abuse prevention, not the reporting of sexual abuse, and makes clear that rabbis should work hand-in-hand with the authorities.
In subsequent email correspondence with Berkowitz, the producer of NBC readily admits that Berkwoitz did not advocate that victims turn to rabbis instead of the police. But NBC edited the interview and added a narrated voice-over to imply that he was referring to handling reporting internally.
After I published an article for the <em “>Times of Israelhighlighting the inaccuracy, and after Berkowitz sent multiple emails to the producer of the show, Robert Buchanan, NBC finally agreed to remove the inaccurate segment from the Rock Center Website admitting in an email that because “some are misinterpreting your … [Rabbi Berkowitz] … comment- we are going to take the story off the web.”
NBC then issued an editor’s note clarifying the rabbi’s comments on sexual abuse: “In the story, he said ‘the community can handle the problem themselves.’ Rabbi Berkowitz says he was referring to the community handling efforts to prevent sexual abuse – not whether to report sexual abuse to police. He says he has always advocated reporting suspected abuse to the appropriate law enforcement agencies…”
Of course the editor’s note and clarification is not enough and conveniently leaves out the misleading voice-over narration. NBC damaged this rabbi’s reputation without taking full responsibility for creating a misperception about his views on reporting sexual abuse to the police.
After I published the story on the Huffington Post, with the full unedited transcripts, the YouTube videos running the segments were removed by NBC, as the following notice illustrates: “This video contains content from NBC Universal, who has blocked it on copyright grounds.”
Any clergy preventing the reporting of sexual abuse ought to be condemned, investigated and spotlighted. But at the same time rabbis, like Berkowitz, who advocate working with the police, openly discussing the problem of sexual abuse and need for education, should be depicted as examples of hope and progress.
The Jewish Press Online Editor’s comment: The NBC website was updated on June 25, 2013 2:08 PM, with the following:
Editor’s note: We want to clarify a quote from Rabbi Avraham Berkowitz that was included in our web story about sexual abuse in the Hasidic community. In our story, we reported that Rabbi Berkowitz insists the community can handle the problem itself…
He said: “Whatever these type of crimes are have to be eradicated. And in order to eradicate them, we have to do it within the way the community knows how to solve its problems. ‘Cause sometimes when you come banging with drums from the outside, the community becomes more insular.”
Rabbi Berkowitz says that when he referred to the community knowing how to solve its problems, he was referring to efforts to prevent sexual abuse – not whether to report sexual abuse to police. He says he has always advocated reporting suspected abuse to the appropriate law enforcement agencies and that “rabbis work together hand in hand with the authorities.” He added that “these deviants must be punished.” We regret any misunderstanding.
Also in the web story, when we were reporting on the conviction of Rabbi Nechemya Weberman for sexual abuse, we included video of a man who is not Weberman. This story also included a picture of Weberman, shown here. We apologize for the error.