Ignorance, Not Anti-Semitism, Blamed for TV Station's Offensive Jewish Symbol

During the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur — the holiest day of the year in Judaism, during which Jews atone for their sins and ask forgiveness from those they’ve hurt in the past year — it was Chicago television station WGN that was seeking forgiveness from the Jewish community.

During its News at Nine broadcast Tuesday night, Tribune Media’s flagship station aired a piece about the high holiday with a graphic displaying the Jewish Star of David. However, the image that appeared over the shoulder of substitute news anchor Tom Negovan was of the yellow Star of David with the word “Jude” (German for “Jew”) that the Nazis forced Jews to stitch onto their clothing.

All Jews over the age of six were required to stich the symbol on their clothes beginning in September 1941, and those who were imprisoned in Nazi death camps had the symbol stitched onto their prison uniforms, which consisted of blue and white vertical stripes, as depicted on the WGN graphic.

According to WGN, which issued a formal apology Wednesday, the graphic that was used was a stock image, and its choice was completely inadvertent.

“Last night we ran a story to recognize Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement. Regrettably, we failed to recognize that the artwork we chose to accompany the story contained an offensive symbol. This was an unfortunate mistake,” said the statement from general manager Greg Easterly and news director Jennifer Lyons.

“Ignorance is not an excuse. We are extremely embarrassed and we deeply apologize to our viewers and to the Jewish community for this mistake.”

According to reports, Lyons was watching the newscast at home when she saw what she described as the “horrible error” and called the newsroom immediately. The station apologized on the air minutes later and the next day issued the formal apology above.

The station said it is investigating how this situation occurred, reviewing its in-house policies and making changes to avoid such mistakes from happening in the future.

The station’s newsroom, based on the staff bios on its website, appears fairly diverse. The incident seems to be more an act of ignorance and presumably not hatred. Rightly so, however, WGN said ignorance is no excuse for what happened, and it raises the question of how and why things like this happen in the first place.

It is possible that the individual or individuals in the graphics department were asked for an image of a Jewish Star, and that the image they selected was the first one that popped up, and no one was aware of what this specific star represented. With the rush to put together a newscast, coupled with younger-skewing junior newsroom employees and an educational system in which a general world history course would only briefly touch on that detail of World War II, it is not surprising that such an unfortunate incident occurred.

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