Now that journalist Steven Joel Sotloff is gone, it's time to talk about one of the issues that loomed over this tragedy (which was the subject of an earlier post by Dawn).
I thought that CNN was going to finally state the obvious, when its piece on the Sotloff execution by the Islamic State included this subhead: "Who was Sotloff?"
Good question. And the answer is?
Sotloff disappeared while reporting from Syria in August 2013, but his family kept the news secret, fearing harm to him if they went public. Out of public view, the family and government agencies had been trying to gain his release for the past year.
Last week, Sotloff's mother, Shirley Sotloff, released a video pleading with ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi not to kill her son.
"Steven is a journalist who traveled to the Middle East to cover the suffering of Muslims at the hands of tyrants. Steven is a loyal and generous son, brother and grandson," she said. "He is an honorable man and has always tried to help the weak."
That, of course, is not all that she said, as Dawn noted the other day. The family had every reason to fear the worst and for multiple reasons. Let's read on.
Sotloff, 31, grew up in South Florida with his mother, father and younger sister. He majored in journalism at the University of Central Florida. His personal Facebook page lists musicians including the Dave Matthews Band, Phish, Miles Davis and movies including "Lawrence of Arabia" and "The Big Lebowski" as favorites. On his Twitter page, he playfully identifies himself as a "stand-up philosopher from Miami."
He graduated from another college, began taking Arabic classes and subsequently picked up freelance writing work for a number of publications, including Time, Foreign Policy, World Affairs and The Christian Science Monitor. His travels took him to Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey -- among other countries -- and eventually Syria.
It's clear that the press silence about his faith was intentional before he was beheaded, just as many people didn't focus on the Catholic faith of the late James Foley before he was executed. But why leave out the faith factor now?
Now, a blunt editorial in The Forward opens with this headline: "Steven Sotloff Was Jewish -- Silence Surrounding Hostage’s Identity Can Now, Sadly, Be Broken." Here's the top of the piece:
We can now say that Steven Joel Sotloff was Jewish.
We can now say that he was the grandson of Holocaust survivors, that his mother was a preschool teacher at Temple Beth Am in Pinecrest, Florida, a Reform synagogue in South Miami where Sotloff attended day school.
We can now relay to you that “the family has been very much a part of the South Bay Jewish community,” as Jacob Solomon, president and CEO of the Greater Miami Jewish Federation, told us for the record.
We can now say that he was also an Israeli citizen, studied at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzilya and wrote for Israeli publications.
We can now say all this publicly because Sotloff is dead, the second American journalist beheaded by the barbaric Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.
Let me stress, as the editorial then mentions, that the earlier silence on Sotloff's faith was at the request of his family and it was maintained by the press (and, stunningly, in social media) in hopes that this would help protect him.
In other words, when you are in the hands of the Islamic State, it is not a good thing to be a Jew and an Israeli. In other words, in journalistic terms, his faith was tragically relevant.
Of course, The Forward editors made another totally valid point, one that I totally understand and endorse:
Now it is appropriate to break that silence and humanize the innocent victim of an outrageous, unacceptable murder. Sadly, what ISIS did to Sotloff and James Foley before him is no worse than what this rampaging group has done to thousands of others, Muslims and nonbelievers alike. But we are human. We intuitively relate to our own. And Sotloff was one of us.
The other day, Dawn hinted at the language that was removed in an earlier New York Times profile of Sotloff, a piece that briefly -- in the lede -- mentioned he was the grandson of Holocaust survivors. Later in the story, as noted at the amazing archive site NewsDiffs.org, that original story had stated:
Mr. Sotloff’s fascination with the Middle East, roiled by the Arab-Israeli conflict and other tumultuous events, appeared partly rooted in his Jewish upbringing. His mother, Shirley, a preschool teacher at Temple Beth Am, in the Miami suburb of Pinecrest where the family lived, was “passionate about preserving the memory of the Holocaust as both her parents were survivors,” according to a short biography of her published by the temple.
I can understand granting the family's request for that information to be deleted, if that is in fact what happened. However, why -- now -- is the faith element of this tragedy not relevant to editors at CNN, The New York Times, The Washington Post, etc.? Why isn't this part of the basic factual material at the foundation of this tragic story?
Who was Sotloff?
Right question, CNN. That's the right question.