UPDATE An expert tells me this is mostly wrong. (Not the part about covering up child molesting, but the sharp distinction between the Hasidim and the rest of the haredim.) See below.
“Ultra-Orthodox” is now established journalistic usage to refer to Hasidic Judaism, but it’s really quite astonishingly wrong. There are indeed ultra-Orthodox groups, still trying to live according to Sixteenth-Century Middle-European ideas of Jewish law as embodied in the Shulkhan Aruch and its commentaries. But it’s absurd to confuse them with the Hasidim, who carry on the tradition founded two centuries later by the Baal Shem Tov (R. Israel ben Eliezer) as a protest against what he saw as the closed-minded, joyless, oppressive legalism of the Shulkhan Aruch. Hasidism embraces both mystical exploration and ecstatic dancing and chanting: along, often, with copious quantities of alcohol. Thus the dancing-man logo of Chabad, which grows out of the Lubavitch Hasidic tradition.
The true ultra-Orthodox and the Hasidim are easily confused because they’re all trying to dress like Eighteenth-Century Polish bourgeois, wearing black suits and hats and sporting massive beards. (The same is true of the Amish, which led to the extremely funny scene in Witness where the fugitive Amish kid spots a bunch of Hasidim in
Penn Station in New York 30th Street Station in Philadelphia and thinks they must be from his community.) And to a large extent they have joined hands with one another theologically against both Modern Orthodoxy and Conservative and Reform Judaism, and politically with the rest of the reactionary religious fundamentalists from the Pope to Jerry Falwell to various mullahs against the rest of modernity, especially when it comes to keeping women and gays in their place. Agudath Israel claims to speak for both communities, and naturally endorses the obstruction of justice as a religious duty in cases of intra-communal child molestation
Still, calling the Hasidim “ultra-Orthodox” is a little bit like calling Pentacostals “ultra-Catholic” or “ultra-Evangelical.”
With respect to the specific issue raised by the New York Times story, I’d be curious to know whether covering up child molestation is specifically a problem among the Hasidim (and, if so, whether it’s universal or limited to specific Hasidic sects) or whether it extents to the other black-hat groups as well. But you can’t even ask the question unless you understand the distinction.
Footnote Terminology is confusing. Both the Hasidim and the true ultra-Orthodox now refer to themselves as Haredim. The only term that refers specifically to the non-Hasidic black hats is misnagadim, which referred originally to the opposition to Hasidism.
Update A friend who knows much more about this than I do writes in protest. Even in its early phase, he says, Hasidism merely added the mystical impulse to ritualistic legalism. It’s true that the two haredi tendencies used to be at daggers drawn – the in the Eighteenth Century, the Vilna Gaon furiously denounced Hasidism – but they are now more or less compatible. “Haredi” is probably a better label than the pejorative “ultra-Orthodox” – it’s the word the black hats use to describe themselves – but it’s equally applicable to Hasidim and the non-Hasidic Jewish fundamentalists.