The waiting rooms of various medical services are some of
the few places of contact between people who are otherwise
separated by outlook and lifestyle. The location not only
provides the physical meeting point but also the forum for
personal openness and a lack of the usual reservation.
This is what happened when I sat next to a secular Jew.
Between my trying to concentrate upon the sefer in my
hand and keeping abreast of the receptionist as to when we
would be called in, I made a mental guess at what his
occupation might be. Three pens jutted out from his shirt
pocket and a leather portfolio crammed with papers through
which he leafed and on which he jotted notes, guided my
conjectures in a certain direction. But I didn't have to
guess much because after a short while, he introduced
himself and presented himself as a newspaperman.
"What do you write about?" I asked.
"I concentrate mainly on personal interviews. This is what
interests readers these days. But an interview is not merely
a two-hour meeting with questions and answers. It is a much
more complex job. First of all, I read up all I can about my
interviewee, question people who are close to him and learn
about the parameters of his activities. Then I accompany him
on his daily schedule for a day or two and study him in
action, both in his sphere of activity and in his home -- in
his slippers, so to speak.
"Only then do I sit myself down by my desk and prepare a
battery of questions for the actual interview, questions
which penetrate deeply into his very essential being and
expose him as he really is. The paper sends along a
photographer to cover the meeting. Afterwards, at home, I
organize all of my material, write it up and deliver it to
my editor. People read the article with great interest and
this provides me with tremendous professional satisfaction.
Sometimes, through my expose, the subject of my write-up
actually discovers sides to his personality that he was not
even aware of . . . "
"How do you choose your subject?"
"Very simple. My basic line is: human interest. Copy.
Material that the public will go for and will sell papers.
People like to glimpse into other people's personal lives,
to read their thoughts and dig into someone else's
personality, his feelings and actions. Curiosity has
tremendous power. I provide what the public is looking for
and satisfy its curiosity. This is the secret of my
"Why, just last week I did a major write-up on one of the
richest women in the country and her extraordinary financial
success. People read avidly, jealously, about the millions
that went through her fingers. They lapped up the details of
her ostentatious lifestyle. And on the other hand, they took
equal interest in her shattered married life and how her
relationship with her children was based on her pocketbook
and the flow therefrom. She spouted platitudes and cliches
and was full of self-adoration. The interview was most
interesting and I received some very positive feedback on my
successful and fascinating article. Even you religious folk
would have enjoyed reading such an article."
"By us," I explained, "praise and tribute play a very
important role. When I highlight a positive act, an
admirable trait and the like, whoever reads about it absorbs
something positive and constructive. It penetrates into his
being and takes root there. We try to give our children
books about great Jewish leaders and scholars, of famous
people with praiseworthy records and fine characters which
set examples for their own lives and establish goals to
emulate. Whoever praises a worthy deed and the person who
did it, cannot help being affected by his proximity to that
person and the good influence it exerts upon him. He, too,
becomes elevated through the contact.
"A considerable portion of our prayers are not actual wishes
and requests, but praise of Hashem. I extol Hashem Who
rescues the poor from his oppressor, Who encourages the
orphan and widow, Whose mercy is showered upon all of His
creations. He supports the stumbling, heals the broken-
hearted, sustains every living thing, is merciful,
trustworthy, true. And when I utter all this I, myself,
improve. I become a better, more compassionate person, just
as it says in Mishlei, `Each according to his
praise,' according to what he praises, in other words, each
person is affected by the very subject he chooses to praise,
and the praises he accords him.
"But you, as a reporter, what do you do? You first choose a
negative role model and shine the limelight upon him. You
gave this woman a spread of several pages in your paper,
described in intricate detail all of her actions and
thoughts, highlighted with depictions of glamour, wealth and
fame. What does this do to your reader? He seeks to emulate
the image you are projecting.
"The desire to imitate will not find expression through
money, but it will carry over to conduct, ideas, lifestyle
and practices which will attempt to mirror the personality
which you so glamorously portrayed, the image you created
for your readers through words and pictures. You, yourself,
admit that the person was a negative example, and you are
deliberately poisoning the souls of your readers and
contaminating their minds."
"Oh, come on, you're exaggerating!" he defended himself.
"It's not all as bad as you describe. People read such a
write-up purely for relaxation and entertainment, nothing
"True," I replied. "You can call it a form of entertainment,
one of the forms of recreation which the media offers to
youth and adults. This entertainment supplies them with role
models, figures from the world of entertainment exposed to
the eyes, ears and minds of its consumers, its readership.
And the actions that they describe set examples for the
readers and viewers to emulate. A subliminal, indirect form
of education which is more powerful and invasive than any
designed and directed educational lesson.
"You are serving the goal of corrupting the youth and your
adult readership when you present a negative role model in
your lurid interviews. The more your subject fires the
imagination and whips up sentiments such as envy, the
greater is its harmful impact."
"So what do you want?" he asked angrily. "That I should tell
boring tales about goody-goodies who lead blind people
across the street and carry packages for old ladies? Who's
going to read such stuff? Perhaps once every two months we
can slip in something of the sort, but if it becomes more
frequent my editor will simply fire me. The paper needs
columnists who increase sales and not who preach ethics.
"A newspaper is not an educational institution. It is geared
to make money. Headlines and write-ups must whet people's
appetites and get them to buy the paper. A paper needs hot
news, scandals, scoops, stuff that'll make good copy and
sell. And if I don't supply it, I'll be kicked out
"You've stated the case very clearly. In order to earn a
living as a journalist, you must provide your readers with
material that will corrupt their souls. This is what your
colleagues do, running to A to tell him what B said about
him. And with the uncomplimentary reaction, they rush back
to A to register his reaction. The verbal boxing match is
derogatory and demeaning, a blackening of one's reputation
and exposure of weaknesses of respective opponents.
"And all this is served up to the sadistic taste of the
reader to pander to the worst in him. This is essentially
what every drug dealer does, or a dairy that mixes silicon
into its milk, or whoever erects an antenna that emits
dangerous radiation near a school, or whoever transports
vacationers on a bus that has not passed safety tests.
"If you go and ask a rabbi what to do, I suppose that he
would tell you that you are better off begging at the
central bus station for alms than poisoning the souls of
your readers, wholesale, for a handsome salary. Every person
with a conscience would tell you that. You have a real
problem on your hands. Think about it, because it's a
problem you must face and solve."