The New Journalism?
09/11/98
Associate Editor
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Not long ago, we were treated to the spectacle of the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent demeaning its editorial page in a shameful appeasement of Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America. They heard critical howls from journalists across America; perhaps most vociferous was a Forward columnist. But even the Exponent never asked a Jewish leader to be a reporter covering himself.That’s what the Forward did last week. Under a big black two-deck, four-column headline at the top of the front page (Sept. 4) came a news story “By Yosef Abramowitz, Special Correspondent.” The story was about a parley of Jewish leaders meeting in Moscow. Eight paragraphs down, on the jump page, Abramowitz ’fesses up: “Your correspondent was here as a journalist as well as in his capacity as president of the Union of Councils,” a Russian Jewry advocacy group. You can’t be journalist and president. Not at the same time. Not in a front-page story as serious as the impending collapse of Russia. Not when the Union of Councils and other American-based Jewish organizations dealing with Russia need to be scrutinized for where they’ve been and where they’re going.The Forward is guilty not only of journalistic three-card monte, but of flat-out hypocrisy: It is a paper that regularly throws hissy fits about the relationship of other Jewish newspapers to Jewish organizations, even as it turns a blind eye to its own organizational and financial entanglements — topped off by this shameless beaut: having a Jewish leader cover himself. We called the Forward for an explanation, and they forwarded the call to Abramowitz: He said the article was the Forward’s idea. “I didn’t approach them, they approached me. I said it’s a conflict of interest. I can’t do it. We thought about using a pseudonym but I was uncomfortable with that. ... I went out of my way not to quote any of my staff in the [former Soviet Union]. I didn’t quote anyone who has a relationship to me organizationally. I didn’t cover myself but an issue I had expertise in as a lay leader. Lifestyles (Summer), a secular Jewish glossy, offered an item damning the unfairness of Orthodox influence in Israel with the proof that “70 percent of Israel’s 5 million Jews are secular” so pity the poor put-upon Israeli. Yet, The New York Times reported a counter-claim in a recent article, that only 20 percent of Israelis define themselves as non-observant, which means 80 percent are somewhat observant. So how can 70 percent be secular? Which is it? The New Yorker’s Talk of the Town (Sept. 7) tells us of Rabbi Irwin Kula’s bonding ritual with his 6-year-old daughter: watching professional wrestling, perhaps the most vulgar and violent show on the tube, as compelling as a car crash. The Kulas watch, hoping to see a bad guy (there are no more good guys in wrestling, according to recent articles in Time and Newsweek), a wrestler whose style, says The New Yorker, is “light on intelligible speech but heavy on menacing barks.” The reporter tells us the rabbi’s daughter can even mimic this wrestler’s “victory stomp. Strange, even sad? No, because the wrestler is Jewish and in the present climate of dumbing Judaism down, Jewish ethnic pride — in anything, obviously — trumps all other Jewish values.Now it is one thing to get a laugh or a kick out of a wrestler named Goldberg. But Rabbi Kula is president of CLAL-the Center for Learning and Leadership, a think-tank “that ponders the meaning of Jewishness.” So ponder: “Before Goldberg,” Kula explains, “Jews wrestled only with their identity. They wrestled with God. What this says is: ‘Look at us! We’re not over-verbalized! We’re not weak or wimpy! We’re the heavyweight champ!’ ”In other words, after 14 world champions in boxing matches that are not fixed, after thousands of Jews earn medals of honor fighting in two World Wars, after the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, the Sobibor revolt, the Irgun, the Six-Day War, and the rescue at Entebbe, what kind of lost pilgrim suggests that Jews look to fixed wrestling matches for proof that Jews aren’t wimpy?If Jerry Springer and his punch-drunk guests were Jewish, would we see articles urging Jewish pride in that? Would rabbis explain to reporters about the holiness of dumb and dumber talk shows? Isn’t there anything so absolutely goofy that for it to trigger Jewish pride renders us goofy by extension? And where’s the glory in Jews not being “over-verbalized” The New Yorker seemed to understand more than the rabbi did. “Isn’t this just pro wrestling?” asks The New Yorker. It’s never ‘just’ anything” says CLAL’s president.Just maybe we’ll see some critical articles about Judaism becoming like “Seinfeld,” a good show about nothing. At a recent gathering of Israeli journalists and their Palestinian counterparts, The Jerusalem Report’s Yossi Klein Halevi writes of an Arab reporter who was pleased to dialogue with Israelis who spoke frankly: The Arab said, “I have left-wing Israeli friends who buy the whole Palestinian agenda. Finally I said to one of them, ‘Come on, doesn’t your side have a case, too?’ ”There was give and take on both sides. Halevi writes, “the conference worked because we were journalists, a ‘separate republic’ as Israeli anchorman Chaim Yavin said, whose profession demands an ability to listen and to be open to other people’s experiences.”But right after the conference, the Palestinian Journalists Association issued a threat to blacklist any Palestinian reporter having more than professional contact with Israel. And its sister guild, the Arab Journalists Union, with media members in 16 countries, also asked its members to cut off contact with Israeli reporters.So much for a separate peace in the “separate republic” of journalists.

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03/06/2012 - 22:02

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