It is one of the first rules of journalism. Never write about journalism.
After all, who cares? While journalists are obsessed with every aspect of journalism, we delude ourselves if we think readers care even a whit about the very many things we care very much about.
It’s like Trump constantly referring to the media as ‘enemies of the people.’ Now anyone who knows any history knows how weighted a phrase that is, how no less a murderous madman than Josef Stalin used it as part of his push toward dictatorship, knowing one of the first steps on the road to being a totalitarian is making sure there is no free press, no independent media to keep an eye on those in power, point out when they are doing wrong, inform the citizens of what’s going on so they can make their own decisions, can be aware of things that affect their lives in very real ways.
Journalists know how very dangerous it is to refer to the media as ‘enemies of the people’ because they understand how vital the media is in a free society. The framers of the Constitution made freedom of the press part of the very first amendment for a reason.
But I’m pretty sure none of your reading this has gotten all that agitated about Trump using the term ‘enemies of the people.’ In fact, my guess is I’m probably boring you with my bringing it up. So let me get to my point which is that I intend to break one of the rules of journalism and write about journalism. After all breaking rules and norms seems to be the thing of the leader of our country.
I am writing about journalism because I am really writing about Judaism and how depraved it’s gotten, which has gotten me feeling like a beaten dog.
I’ll try not to get too into the weeds here. Let me just say that I was on the verge of signing a very lucrative contract with a national kosher food producer when at literally the very last minute it was killed, thanks to someone who doesn’t care for the fact that this paper covers all aspects of the Jewish community, respects all segments and denominations and viewpoints within the Jewish world, doesn’t care for the fact that this column can be critical of Jews who deserve criticism, can be critical even of the government of Israel since remember please that the government of Israel,. like all governments, is made up of politicians and that politicians, even Jewish ones, need to be watchdogged and need to be called to account for when they do things wrong.
I believe in a totally free and unafraid press, even in the Jewish community. I believe that Jews deserve not only to hear all points of view but that someone who writes a column like this has the right indeed the responsibility to say what he feels, to tackle tough issues. I am a day school graduate, a yeshiva graduate, a journalism school graduate, a lifelong Chicagoan and involved member of the Jewish world, have interviewed presidents and prime ministers, a wide range of Jews, so yes, I think I’ve earned it.
No, you don’t have to agree with me, indeed the whole point is not that everyone should agree but that we should hear each other, engage each other, respect each other enough to disagree agreeably, recognizing that even if we have very different points of view, we have the common goal of wanting this to be a better Jewish community, the Jewish state to be the best state it can be.
That’s the theory, the reality is very different.
And so because I have the audacity to sometimes criticize Bibi, to sometimes criticize Trump, to sometimes criticize Jews who are more self-righteous than righteous, this person engaged in things Jews are not supposed to engage in — namely sinat chinam, baseless hated of one Jew for another, lashon hara, speaking ill of another Jew, judging another Jew without giving them the benefit of the doubt. This person who wanted to hurt me and did, failed to understand that all Jews are called upon to love each other, care for and about each other, to see that even Jews with whom we disagree are still just as good Jews as they are.
And so this guy spoke ill about me and about the paper, did all he could to convince this national brand about to sign a contract with us not to, a contract that would have brought us a nice piece of revenue, which is vital since we receive funding from no organization, are purposely independent so we can feel totally free to cover this community fairly and objectively and in all its glorious diversity.
What this guy did is so symbolic of what the Jewish world is like these days. Jews feeling not only entitled but indeed noble if they can hurt a Jew who says things, feels things, believes thing they don’t approve of, which means they are things that are dangerous and need to be silenced.
Now I know as a journalist I get much more worked up about the increasing censorship and viciousness that is pervading the Jewish world. Indeed I’ve written about how Israel is increasingly interrogating people either coming into or going out of the country because they have political views that don’t align with that of the government. Jews should be shocked by that but they are not. Indeed, they get angry that I have the audacity to bring it up. How dare I point out something that makes Israel look bad, how dare I question something the government there does.
Sometimes I feel like maybe I should stop living by the journalism creed that it is the job of a journalist to ‘comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.’ Because in today’s Jewish world if you have the audacity to afflict the comfortable, to criticize those in power, you yourself get afflicted. Lose a big contract you spent months working on because you were doing your job.
The Jewish world today is increasingly made up of publications that don’t rock the boat, that don’t criticize, that don’t touch touchy subjects, that give only one perspective, that don’t seek to inform its readers by giving them the whole range of Jewish views on an issue but rather just the one its readers want to hear.
Sometimes I think I am nuts to want to live up to the highest ideals of both journalism and Judaism, to be a writer, to be a publication that truly believes people deserve to hear all sides, that believes that no one is immune from being criticized, that believes the community not only needs information, but needs debate, needs to know that all Jews have something valuable to say and that we will all benefit when we all know as much as we can about each other, hear and listen to each other respectfully, learn about perspectives we don’t agree with.
And understand that no organization is perfect and no politician is perfect and that even though Trump moved the embassy to Jerusalem and you love him for it, that he might also do stuff that you might want to know about and that it is a good thing not a bad thing to hear everything.
Like did you know that Trump recently said that Israel will have to pay a “high price” in peace negotiations with the Palestinians over the move of the embassy? Praising himself for having moved the embassy, he told a rally “And you know what, in the negotiation Israel will have to pay a higher price because they won a very big thing, but I took it off the table,” he said. The Palestinians “could never get past the fact of Jerusalem becoming the capital, but they will get something very good next because it’s their turn next.”
Take that however you want, think of that however you want but isn’t it a good thing to know he said that, that as a deal maker he thinks like that and that the embassy move might not have been a free lunch.
But the thing is right wing publications don’t tell you stuff like that, they only tell you ’the good stuff’ meaning the part of a story they think you can handle, they think you want to hear. Doing that protects them from getting kneecapped like I just was.
And speaking of embassies and Jerusalem did you know that just four months ago Paraguay decided it too would move its embassy to Jerusalem. At the time, Bibi told the president of Paraguay, Horacio Cartes, that the day of the move was “a great day for Israel, a great day for Paraguay, a great day for our friendship.”
He added that Paraguay has done much for the Jewish people, including help Jews escape Nazi Germany, support the creation of the state of Israel, and support Israel in international forums. “We remember our friends. We have no better friends than you. Thank you, Horacio. Thank you, Paraguay.”
Well, a couple weeks ago, Paraguay decided it would be moving its embassy back to Tel Aviv. To which Netanyahu responded by closing the Israeli embassy in Paraguay, just shutting it down, sending Israel’s ambassador home.
Lot there to consider. But Jews don’t like that kind of stuff. We want only ‘good news,’ we don’t want anything that disturbs and anyone who dares to ruffle feathers, bring up uncomfortable stuff so let’s see if we can’t do them some damage, deprive him of a nice juicy contract by badmouthing him.
I have so much more to say but am running out of space so let me just note that if your kid is thinking of going into Jewish journalism do whatever you can to talk him/her out of it. That is if they want to tell it as they see it, for all doing that will get them is being labeled as fake news.
It may seem funny now, not important now, why should you care now but this country depends on an independent and fair and courageous print media. Heaven forbid where we would be without the amazing work being done by the Washington Post and the New York Times.
And the Jewish community which has fewer and fewer independent Jewish newspapers left, will be a much lesser place if there doesn’t continue to be voices that speak up and speak out, doesn’t continue to have places that give all points of view, that let you decide, don’t decide for you, that believe that Judaism is most healthy, most vibrant when all views are given voice, when there are voices around to tell you the things you think you don’t want to hear.