Obama visited the Western Wall, a Jewish holy site in Jerusalem, on July 24. As is customary for visitors, he wrote a prayer on a slip of paper and placed it into one of the wall’s cracks.
The following day, Israeli newspaper Maariv published a copy of the prayer, which had been taken from the wall by a yeshiva student. News sources around the world, including the Associated Press, republished the prayer.
Maariv was almost universally criticized by other publications for violating Obama’s privacy and lowering journalistic standards. “[I]t is difficult to defend the voyeurism entailed in publishing Obama’s note,” wrote rival Israeli paper Haaretz. “The public significance is nil. … And it points to the moral laxness of the gatekeepers of the media outlet that made the note public.”
Despite criticizing Maariv, many of those same publications chose to publish Obama’s prayer themselves. “It’s a beguiling and oft misused journalistic crutch that once another media outlet publishes something, it’s then ‘out there’ and open for you to publish it—even if you wouldn’t have in the first place,” wrote Beliefnet’s Steven Waldman, who chose to publish the prayer.
Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch, who oversees the Western Wall, has condemned Maariv and the student, and written a letter of apology to Obama. The student also apologized to Obama, appearing on Israeli television with his face blurred.
Maariv has yet to release an official statement apologizing for or defending its actions. On July 28, four Israeli newspapers printed a comment from an unnamed Maariv spokesman that the Obama campaign approved the note for publication. Maariv later denied that a spokesman had said it, but many still question whether Obama’s campaign was involved.