The New York Times's approach to religion reporting is often a paradox: When covering controversial moral issues, its national reporters will often drink from the well of "Kellerism." That's the GetReligion term created in honor of the paper's former executive editor, Bill Keller, who decreed there are subjects on which there's only one side of the argument worth covering, such abortion and gay rights.
On the other hand, the paper's metro reporters will just as often surprise, as in its sensitive discussion of the KKK-linked founder of an evangelical congregation in New Jersey. There, we learned the Pillar of Fire church of 2017 bore little imprint from the founder who praised the Ku Klux Klan, presented in a way that made the church look good.
Now we come to the Orthodox Jewish faith of Malkah and David Spitalny, who in 2012 resided in a second-floor apartment in the Sea Gate neighborhood of Brooklyn. When Hurricane Sandy hit, their apartment was flooded, their parrot drowned and the couple had to remain there for years afterward due to economic issues.
The paper is gracious in its treatment of the couple, because it turns out The Times has an ulterior motive, albeit a noble one. The headline is sympathetic: "Faith Moors 2 Victims of Hurricane Sandy in Life’s Storms," as is the story:
The violent wind. The relentless rain. The raging sea.
For Malkah Spitalny, the passage of time has done little to dull her vivid memories of Hurricane Sandy, which ravaged the East Coast five years ago this weekend. She and her husband rode out the storm less than 500 feet from the ocean.
“It will never pass, this experience of physically going through it,” Mrs. Spitalny, 65, said this month. “The force was unimaginable. The thunders, the fires -- it was beyond comprehension.”
Then there was the devastation that Mrs. Spitalny and her husband, David, returned to find at their apartment in Sea Gate, Brooklyn, after they sought medical help: the stench of their rancid food, the destruction of their furnishings and the sight of their pet parrot, drowned.
Later on in the article, we learn of the Spitalny's trials, and what helped them cope:
The Spitalnys settled into their new home in the last year, overcoming the latest in a series of difficulties that they have grown accustomed to in their 39 years of marriage. Several of their nine children had learning and emotional disabilities.
“We were being hit by all sides,” Mr. Spitalny said. “We had no one to help us.”
The Spitalnys’ Orthodox Jewish faith has shepherded them through every hardship, they said.
“We believe that everything that happens is ultimately decreed by God, by heaven,” Mr. Spitalny said. “Sometimes things that we go through, there’s a reason we have to go through that, to purify us, to test us, to challenge us.”
Longtime readers of The New York Times will know that the paper has long sponsored a "Neediest Cases Fund," an annual charity push that begins in the late fall and continues through the Christmas season. The paper will publish daily articles -- and sometimes a special section -- to highlight the good works provided by agencies the paper's appeal helps fund.
This is one of those stories. And so I find no fault with The New York Times's presentation of a case where there was a genuine need and a social services agency that stepped in to help.
But, I am left wondering: Why couldn't The Times publish such heart-tugging stories more often during the year, with or without a charitable appeal? And why can't reporters from departments other than the Metro desk author such stories? #JustAsking