Holiday Greetings?

  • November 16, 2015

Their intentions were good. In September, a Chicago TV station ushered in Yom Kippur, the most sacred day of the Jewish year, with a brief news story about the holiday.

There was just one problem. The story was illustrated with a stunningly inappropriate graphic—the Nazi Star of David on the striped material worn by prisoners of concentration camps.

A storm of anger and derision blew up immediately on social media, galvanizing the station, WGN, to apologize: “We are extremely embarrassed, and we deeply apologize to our viewers and the Jewish community for this mistake.”

But the question remains—how could this image have gotten on the air without anyone recognizing what it was and how hurtful it would be to many Jews?

While the station investigates what happened and works to keep it from happening again, ADL’s Chicago office has been educating station staff on the history of anti-Semitism and the offensive nature of certain Holocaust imagery. The first to receive the training were 12 members of upper management, including WGN President and General Manager Greg Easterly, the news room manager, the director of human resources and producers.

Included in the two-hour training was survivor testimony and images of Nazi propaganda taken from Echoes and Reflections, a multimedia program about the Holocaust created by ADL, the USC Shoah Foundation and Yad Vashem. Additionally, staff learned about micro-aggressions: unconscious biases stemming from ignorance that surface in hurtful stereotypes.

“I saw a number of ah-ha moments,” said Jessica Gall, Education Project Director at ADL’s Chicago office, who led the training. “Throughout the presentation I was impressed with the staff’s willingness to learn about how symbols and images can be hurtful. They clearly came away with a greater understanding of why this image caused so much pain.”

“It really opened the eyes of a lot of our staff,” Mr. Easterly said. “Some of it may have been generational, but we had a chance to go back, and, through the training, look at some things historically and put them in perspective.”

Two additional trainings, for the entire production staff, are planned for after Thanksgiving.

The first training has already made a difference. “We’re taking materials from the sessions and doing orientation packets so that when we have new employees coming into the building, we’re giving them a foundation they probably wouldn’t have had,” Mr. Easterly said.

And there was another big takeaway. “I think sometimes we get caught up in the day-to-day pressures of deadlines, and turning out a lot of content on a short timetable, and we need to realize that what we do has such an impact,” Mr. Easterly adds. “We need to take a deep breath, watch, and then think about how our audience is going to perceive what we’re showing them.”