The Jewish Times article (dicussed below) talks about our blog and the perceived media bias against observant Jewry, but also talks about the inherent conflict between journalism and Judaism.
It is difficult to be a good journalist and follow the rules against lashon harah, gossip or evil speech… Journalism schools teach that all information is good and as long as it is presented accurately and in the proper context, what people do with that information is not the journalist’s problem.
This was an appropriate part of the article, because it explains in part why there are so few Orthodox journalists. Since most journalists are therefore on the outside looking in, a substantial part of the distorted portrayal of Torah observance in the news media is the result not of intentional bias, but simple ignorance.
Similarly, after I quoted Greg‘s note about us, someone submitted the following query in the comments section, asking how one balances blogging with the laws against lashon hora, gossip:
How do you balance the stringent laws of lashon hara with the fact that problems in the community don’t get solved until they’re fully in the public eye? The truth is, even the whole anti-spouse-abuse campaign got hammered by people swearing up and down that it was lashon hara.
The simple fact of the matter is that the laws of Lashon Hora continue to apply. There is no journalist’s (or blogger’s) exemption. Nor do I think it is accurate to say that problems don’t get solved until they are made public. That may be true in rare cases, but there are many others where matters are resolved without mentioning names. I do not believe that we have the right, and certainly not the responsibility, to report badly about individuals.
Right now, there is a web site carrying extremely serious allegations about a member of our community, allegations which, if believed, would result in the immediate termination of that individual’s employment — or great damage to the company that employs him. The “evidence” against this person comes entirely from a blog (and another web page created by the blogger), which also contains a series of allegations against various rabbis and others who are “protecting” this individual.
Anyone who knows any of these people knows that the allegations are ludicrous. If the allegations had a hint of truth to them, then (given their nature) the rabbis in question would be first to tell him he must leave his job. The allegations were discredited long ago — but certain people don’t care. They would rather besmirch the innocent based upon “testimony” which changes substantially each time the story is re-told.
The fact is that you don’t need loshon hora to stop spousal abuse. The rabbis are accused of not caring by people who have never bothered to speak to them directly — and, not incidentally, have a huge chip on their shoulders about Judaism. How many times have we heard the canard about Maimonides endorsing wife-beating, despite the abysmal ignorance of the Hebrew language (not to mention Jewish Law) reflected in this pathetic misreading of the words on the page?
Blogging — or newspaper reporting — is no excuse for loshon hora. In another surprising bit of Divine Providence, yesterday the Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundation asked me to publicize the following notice (which they also provided as a PDF for all who want to see it nicely formatted). It’s quite appropriate to this topic.
‘Now the Matter Is Known’
After slaying a brutal Egyptian task master to save the life of a Jewish slave, Moshe Rabbeinu discovered that a report of this deed was spread by the wicked, Dasan and Aviram. Moshe realized that the news could only have been publicized through loshon hora.
His response was one of deep dismay: “Now the matter is known.” Rashi explains that “The matter” which became painfully clear to Moshe is that loshon hora was present in Klal Yisrael, and this explained to Moshe why the Jewish people were condemned to endure a crushing enslavement.
The Chofetz Chaim says that this incident fits into a tragic pattern which links most of the major catastrophies of Jewish history with loshon hora: The loshon hora of the Serpent resulted in man’s explusion from Gan Eden; the loshon hora of the spies resulted in the institution of Tisha B’Av as a day of destruction and mourning; the loshon hora of the Jewish people brought about the destruction of the Second Beis HaMikdash and the length of the present 2,000-year exile.
But this tragic pattern is not a thing of the past. The loshon hora we speak today keeps us in exile*, and keeps the riptide of tragedy crashing up against our people in wave after wave, generation after generation.
Today, we are publicizing the following halacha as a service to Klal Yisrael. In the merit of heeding it, may we be blessed with the strength to turn back the tide.
A negative statement about someone is considered loshon hora even if the information is common knowledge and even if it is printed in a newspaper.*
- Loshon hora, by definition, is a true statement. Even though it is true, it may not be repeated, heard or believed.
- Doubting what you read in the newspaper is not naivete; it is mature, critical thinking, because media is often biased, incomplete and inaccurate.
Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundation
361 Spook Rock Rd. Suffern, NY 10901