Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

23 Kislev 5761 - December 20, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








Produced and housed by
Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment
Each According to His Praise

by Yochonon Dovid

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 professional success.

"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 more."

"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 pronto!"

"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."

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