Josh Gajer at Columbia, a former ’06 and mashgiach (religious supervisor) at the Pavilion, pointed out that “in the world of kosher supervision, this guy doesn’t have exactly a sterling reputation for high standards.” Numerous weblogs and local Orthodox practitioners concurred. One blog called Apikorsus, which is concerned with the intimacies of kashrut, stated that “there are probably legitimate reasons not to trust Tablet-K. Rabbi Saffra, who runs the organization, has a habit of jumping to certify products that others won't.” A significant number of others doubt the rigor of his work with Cabot.
First of all, some context: the quoted post (which you can read here) is actually about why I do eat Tablet-K cheeses. More importantly, as those of you who read this blog regularly know, I do not deal extensively with the "intimacies [intricacies?] of kashrut," nor do I represent myself as an authority on such matters.
There are legitimate and illegitimate ways for a journalist to make use of weblogs. Non-anonymous blogs by professional journalists, academics, etc. can be quoted as expert commentary on various subjects, although it is always preferable to contact the blogger and give him or her a chance to put the quotation into context. Non-anonymous blogs have about the status of "man-on-the street" interviews. In the context of this article, it might have made sense to quote Orthodox Dartmouth students, but a quotation from an anonymous nobody from God-knows where (e.g. Yours Truly) is of little value. It is particularly irresponsible to rely on such a source when a person's reputation is at stake.
Of course, I also bear some responsiblity for putting unsubstantiated, potentially harmful information in the public domain. The original version of the above quote included a specific allegation against Rabbi Saffra, which I removed because it was an unsupported rumor, clearly lashon hara (gossip) and possibly motsi shem ra (slander). I now realize that what I did write is almost as bad. I ought to have written, "there may be legitimate reasons not to trust Tabet-K," period.
One of the purposes of a university newspaper is for students to learn responsible journalistic practices, which they often do by making mistakes. I am clearly still learning responsible blogging practices, so I am sympathetic. At some point, however, we all have to take responsiblity for our actions.
I am e-mailing Jared Westheim with a link to this post, to give him a chance to respond if he sees fit to do so.