The New York Times is the paper of record when it comes to telling lies.  The Times’ denial of Stalin’s crimes in the service of propping up Stalin is arguably the bloodiest international lie of the twentieth century.  In domestic news, this honor belongs to a single crime story: the Times’ coverage of the murder of 28-year old Kitty Genovese in 1964.

How could newspaper reporting on one crime — even horrific as it was — be so important?

The answer may be found in the story the Times made up about Genovese’s murder.  Their tale of 38 witnesses who purportedly did nothing as they watched from windows as a young woman fought off her attacker for thirty minutes before dying shifted responsibility for the crime off Genovese’s black killer and onto her white, middle-class neighbors.  In 1964, in the wake of the JFK assassination, with black neighborhoods threatening to explode with race riots, and crime rates rising throughout the city, the public apathy story was precisely the type of crime story the New York Times wanted to tell.

Whereas the real story, the story of a black predator out seeking another woman to torture and kill, and not only a woman but a white woman, and not only to kill her but to kill her and then rape her dead body, was a story the Times would bury for fifty years.

A.M. Rosenthal made his career with the story he made up about who was “really responsible” for Kitty Genovese’s murder.  He  was so proud of the work he did that he instantaneously enshrined

Times editor A.M. Rosenthal was commiserating with Police Commissioner Michael Joseph Murphy when Murphy suggested that the Genovese crime would fit a story both men wanted to tell about “public apathy towards law enforcement.”

was picked up by other news organizations and quickly spread around the globe.  Genovese’s neighbors in Kew Gardens, Queens, were condemned by politicians and on editorial pages “as far away as Istanbul and Moscow,” according to one Times retrospective.  At home, the tale of the guilty 38 set off mass public soul-searching.  Clergymen denounced Genovese’s neighbors from the pulpit. Sociologists invented theories about “bystander apathy” and set to constructing psychological experiments to test ordinary citizens for “Genovese syndrome.”

The story of 38 neighbors watching and ignoring the cries of a dying woman was entirely untrue, but it served the purposes of Times metropolitan editor (later news editor) A.M. Rosenthal so well that Rosenthal continued to defend it despite revelations debunking his version several times: in the Daily News in 1984, by district attorneys involved in the prosecution, and even in the Times itself in 2004.  

No part of Rosenthal’s story was true: there had never been 38 witnesses.  Only a few people witnessed the first brief attack, among them Robert Mozer, who did not stand silently but opened a window and shouted at Winston Moseley, who then ran away.  Two people did call the police.  Genovese stumbled to the back of her apartment building and entered the foyer, where the second attack occurred in sight of only one witness, a friend of hers who panicked and sought help before calling the police.      


In 1964, Rosenthal was looking for shifting responsibility for the crime away from Genovese’s killer and onto her neighbors   Mostly it was  a boon for journalists and other thinkers, who made it into a personal drama.  And it made Rosenthal’s career. within a few months published book, highlighting his personal

academicians rushed in with studies, clergymen denounced.  the 38 — and by extension their class and race — were denounced.  spawned and industry of studies.

bystander guilt was extremely useful in the time, crime exploding, racial violence especially

and this is where the Times really shone.  less noticed but equally as important roots theory.  fifty years.  most bloody years.

keeping up the original lie was hardly necessary once the movement took off, but the Times being the Times, they clung to it stubbornly, even as it was disproven.  These people disproved it.

The neighbors, who became internationally notorious, were accused of being worse than

this story is not true.  but it doesn’t matter it wasn’t true, because the Times wanted it to be that way.  This is what the editor of the Times said in his book.

In 1964, crime rising.  Nobody knew how much it would.  By 1968, it was a crisis.  Murder shot up 78%, rape, etc.

Times lies still percolate — still people out there wanting to make symbols of the worst horror out of the neighbors — the mirror.  Seeing in the mirror.

But of course these people don’t mean their mirror.  they mean people who live in modest houses looking in their mirrors, while the Times holds up the mirror for them to see.


Rosenthal said this in his book, too.  he said the people in Kew Gardens came to represent asll that was horrible in human rights, and the Times represented the fight for human rights, so he was right and did not have to change anything he wrote.

He rewrote and rewrote that book and kept on lying and excusing himself and blaming the neighbors, even as evidenced olled in that he was wrong.  Finally the Times had to admit that the book wasn’t true, but in try Times spirit they didn’t put it that way — they suggested that there were alternate realities, gently, they let him drift on lying.  The expendable people were the neighbors, and Kitty — the killer and the reporters were too good for this world of facts.

The Times was not interested in crime, they wee interested in social justice.  Social justice for them meant promoting root causes theory.  The Gebovese case gave editor the perfect opportunity to promote it.  It was as if tyne story was delivered to him to promote a theory, and it probably was.

This is how he remembers int in his memoir.  He says they didn’t care.  And they didn’t publish stories about rape, and they didn’t talk about race, though they would have if the crime had fit.

The Times said a lot of disturbing things about crime, but they felt they were fighting a justice cause.  there was no doubt, not in 1964, not decades later, not as people were cut down.

The neighbors were the problem.  First they didn’t care, then they cared too much,.  First they stayed, then they left.

The criminals were never a problem though, and the Times conformed to this for decades.  Made a hero out of her killer, abetted by what they left out of the reporting. — the rape, the sex crimes.  The race hatred.  In 1977 they said , in 1978 they let him say she was racist.  he was hero, misunderstood, she was a racist, she became one of the neighbors, responsible for her own death, like her neighbors.

The killer was a  hero but the neighbors were human rights offenders.  The killer was a victim of human rights offenses, but they were still guilty in 1970.  By then the paper was running ediotirai8als by the kilelr and sociologists were teaching generations of students they they were the real killers, the real human rights violators, while he was misunderstood.

In the universities and newsrooms, the twin theories played out from the crime — roots causes, and bystander theory.

This story designed to shift blame from criminals and onto society.  Sociologists took it up eagerly.  Bystander guilt designed to create guilt among bystanders.

Other side of the coin was root causes theory — which begets critical race theory.

Times story was not even true.    They were looking for such a story.clung to a story that shifts responsibility for the crime away from Genovese’s killer and onto her neighbors,

This account is not true.  The Daily News debunked the Times “bystander” story thirty years ago, and in 2004, even the Times grudgingly reported that it was untrue.  But the theory was true, and the hero was the reporter, and facts would not change this. It’s too important Rosenthal would say until his death.  What he was really saying was that he was too important, that the reporter and the killer were too important.

The lies the Times published in 1964 about Genovese’s murder ushered in the era of blaming society, and simultaneously not blaming criminals, for the existence of crime.  It is impossible to quantify the damage done by projecting blame away from offenders and onto the public, but in the decades that followed, millions of innocent people experienced life-altering and life-ending acts of violence thanks to this fable newsmen spun.


After Times made the lie, academicians eager to repeat it.  But the root causes theory preceded Genoovesae.  Rosenthal waiting for an opportunity to exploit it.

You can see this in his book.  Before Genovese was killed, the Times was already engaging in social engineering regarding crime, focused on race.

Fantasy already shilled by Hollywood — 12 angry men, etc.

It was focused on race, but the next quarter century would take its toll in the black community.

In 1977. the Times went even further.  they published an editorial by the killer.  This didnt happen in a vacuum. In 1977 there were X murders in NYC.  By 1988, there were Y.  The bloody toll of those years can be attributed to a judiciary that acted in philosophical agreement with the Times.  Thousands died, hundreds of thousands crippled, maimed, Millions lived lives defined by fear.  Values of neighborhoods crumbled, not because of white flight, but because of what made whites — and everyone else who could afford to get out, flee.

Still the Times did not waver.

When the story went viral, so did the philosophy.

Times’ coverage of Kitty Genovese’s murder may be its .  Genovese was murdered by a serial rapist-murderer of women, Winston Moseley, in 1964.  The way the Times told the story, however, it was not Moseley but Genovese’s neighbors who were to blame for her death.  The neighbors were to blame, the Times claimed, because they failed to alert police as they listened to Genovese scream and plead for her life.

The story of blaming KG neighbors for her murder represents a moment not just in journalism but in criminal justice, where blaming criminals was subsumed by blaming society.  Offenders and rioters were turned into victims, and real victims — raped women, shopkeepers, innocent bystanders, people trying to flee chaos, were identified by the intrepid reporters as the really guilty ones.

It is difficult to quantify the harm that has been done under this banner.  This theme has spread from journalism to academia, where is flies under the banner of sociology.  Root Causes birthed racial politics which led to radicalized law enforcement, hate crimes laws, but mostly abandonment of people to criminals.

Times’ ur text is book written and rewritten for decades now, with the latest new introduction admitted in a Times review to still fail to get to the point. As it is written, it is as good an example as any of the fetishistic imprint of the mindset.  Not one but four different rewrites and still obsessing over their feelings of being saviors.

If criminals are one subset misrepresented by the Times ur-lie, then journalists are the other: they misapprehend themselves as upholders of justice.  They have not become more accurate thanks to that misrepresentation.  In order to maintain this apprehension, they have needed villains they could win against.  The residents of Kew Gardens have been in their sights for fifty years.

Kew Gardens residents vilified in sociology handbooks.  Worldwide symbols of evil (note example).  Of course movies made about them.  Broadway plays.  Entire arsenal of hatred.  Their guilt has been expanded to an entire class of people — those who fled chaos of city.  First they were blamed for not responding, and since they they have been battered with accusations for responding to crime.

In contrast, Moseley stands for criminals granted special status, from NPR stories to freedom.

And so we’ve had fifty years of unacceptable crime rates denied, blamed on society.  And release of one after another criminal celebrated by the Times.  The special destruction wrought by this story, told to elevate journalists and criminologists above ordinary people and morals that involve punishing criminals, is the real victim.


Blame everyone and don’t blame the offender — a theme that lives on in contemporary movements against bullying.

Ultimately, the Times elevated Winston Moseley and AM Rosenthal above truth and the victim.  In order to do such an audacious thing, such and unlikely morality tale, they needed an excellent and outsized villain.  They found one where they are usually found — in the innocent bystanders who wanted nothing more than to live in safety and peace.


being a reporter does not mean never having to say you’re sorry.  doubly so for editors.



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