From Nashville Scene staff reports
Members of Nashville’s Jewish community have expressed concern over a description of Nashville Scene reporter Willy Stern that was recently distributed to Baptist Hospital employees. The description consists of a catalog of Stern’s distinguishing features. Included on the list are “black wavy hair” and a “large nose.”
Leaders in the local Jewish community say both those phrases are anti-Semitic code language, traditionally used to describe Jews.
Stern has been working for several weeks on an investigation of Baptist Hospital and its president, David Stringfield. The Scene reported last week that a hospital security-guard had apparently followed Stern from his home and had surreptitiously photographed the reporter in the parking lot behind Vandyland, a West End Avenue restaurant.
A copy of the surveillance photo was placed on at least one hospital security guard desk, along with a description of the reporter’s clothing, height, and physical appearance.
Ken Kanter, rabbi at Congregation Micah and chairman of Metro’s Human Relations Commission, said that the hospital’s choice of language “is a cover for saying Willy is Jewish.” What’s more, Kanter said, “Willy doesn’t fit that description. Willy is not someone with black wavy hair, and he doesn’t have a big nose.” Kanter said he has heard complaints from several members of Nashville’s Jewish community who are “disappointed and unhappy over Baptist’s handling of the whole issue.”
Dr. Frank Boehm, chairman of the Community Relations Committee of the Jewish Federation of Nashville and Middle Tennessee, issued a written statement on behalf of the committee condemning both the secret surveillance of Stern and the anti-Semitic overtones of Stern’s description.
“It was improper and inappropriate to have infringed upon Willy Stern’s rights to privacy by having him surreptitiously followed and photographed,” said Boehm, a nationally known physician who also writes on health-care issues in The Tennessean.
“Secondly, the attempt to describe Stern’s physical appearance, in particular the size of his nose, once again demonstrates to many in the Jewish community that there are individuals and organizations that are still quick to stereotypically characterize members of the Jewish faith. This, the committee believes, was not only politically incorrect but insensitive as well.”
Describing someone as having a big nose and black wavy hair “is comparable to saying an individual has a broad nose and big lips or has slanted eyes,” Kanter said. “It’s a historical caricature” and an indirect way of describing someone’s ethnicity, he said.
Kanter added that he finds it “completely inappropriate” for Baptist security to have photographed and apparently followed Stern. “It’s a shame that a nonprofit hospital that claims to try to serve the community would do something inappropriate” like that, Kanter said.
Scene editor Bruce Dobie said the paper has received about 20 calls from local Jews commenting on the anti-Semitic overtones of the description. Baptist Hospital spokesperson Debby Koch, who last week apologized for the incident, said Tuesday that the description of Stern “was not intended to offend anyone or any group” and that the hospital had not received any calls about the anti-Semitism issue.
Dobie said no date has been set for publication of Stern’s story on Baptist. Meanwhile, the Scene is not the only publication looking into activities at the hospital. Visiting Nashville this week is a reporter from The Wall Street Journal. Sources who have been contacted by the Journal say the reporter is also working on a story about Baptist.
Buns of clay
“We’re looking like the bad guy,” coffeehouse owner Bob Bernstein told The Tennessean last week. Bernstein explained that his Bongo Java restaurant had temporarily suspended sales of T-shirts and mugs depicting the famous “nun bun”a cinnamon roll that looks strikingly like Mother Teresaafter receiving a personal letter from Mother Teresa herself.
“We do not raise funds for ourselves,” the letter said. “I have also refused permission for the use of my name, image, or voice to raise funds for us.” Therefore, Mother Teresa said she “will not be able to accept any funds from you earned from sales of merchandise bearing my likeness.”
More likely, she doesn’t need the money. As described in Christopher Hitchens’ new book, Missionary Position, Mother Teresa has collected millions in donations and awards but won’t account for where it all goes.
Among her pals: convicted swindler Charles Keating, who gave her more than $1 million of other people’s money. When prosecutors asked her to send some of it back, they never got an answer.
She did, however, send a letter urging the judge to go easy on her generous friend. Hitchens also describes Teresa’s cozy relations with a couple of dictators and her belief that the “greatest threat to world peace” is abortion.
Put the mugs and T-shirts back on the shelf.
Odds and ends
Tennessean reporters Rochelle Carter and Aissaton Sidime-David are both leaving the paper. Carter is heading for Atlanta to work for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Gwinnett County bureau. Sidime-David will work on the business desk at The Tampa Tribune, reporting on retail, restaurants, and tourism. Neither paper is owned by Gannett, the nation’s largest newspaper chain, which owns The Tennessean.
Both Carter and Sidime-David are African-American women. At a recent meeting of Tennessean managers, it was pointed out that the paper is getting dangerously low in meeting Gannett-ordered goals for hiring women and minorities. The paper is losing two good journalists, but where some editors see people, others see only race and gender.