Thursday, August 06, 2009

Um, no.

DYS had a decent post over on DovBear about how there is no reliable way in this day and age to determine which rabbis are "qualified" to be known as those uber of the uber, "gedolim" (sages). Of his various good points, one was that many of the gedolim don't keep up with the news of the world, using CNN as an example.

Daganev jumped all over this, first saying that CNN was biased, and then that all news sources are second-hand (at best) information that has been filtered through someone else's POV, suggesting that a major news network is no less accurate than rumored word of mouth news passed on through a rabbinic aide or mucky-muck.

At this point I interjected, saying that the basic point was solid-- there is something wrong when your average schmoe who reads the newspaper or watches the news knows more about what is going on on an international, national, and potentially even local level than leaders who purposefully avoid interacting with the outside world, or (potentially) even with other Jews from communities/background different from their own.

Think about it. The Gerrer rebbe reportedly refuses to meet with anyone that does not keep Shabbos to his satisfaction. Rabbi Elyashiv is 99 years old and spends almost all his time studying Talmud. Rabbi Shteinman did not know how a credit card works. These leaders are incredibly cloistered, partially by choices resulting from their personal beliefs about the corrupting nature of the outside world, and I suspect partially by the movers and shakers in their communities who use their influence over these old men for personal power and gain (see the Slifkin and Kamenetsky cases).

Now, potentially being hyper-focused on your own community can be beneficial, insofar as you have a very personal relationship with them, know their needs and problems, etc. However, to be considered a great leader in this day and age, IMO, it helps to at least have some sense of what's going on outside your zip code.

Daganev kept going:

Why would Yated Ne'eman or HaModia be any different from CNN or FOX or MSNBC? They are all news agencies are they not?

I would expect that gedolim get information first hand from the relevant sources for the relevant situations. If they are gedolim, they should have access to people and information that most people do not.

Here's the problem, Dag. First of all, that's like saying there's no difference between the Tanakh and the Satanic Bible because they're both Bibles.

Off the top of my head, I can think of four main differences: size, access, outlook, and internal vetting.

As a major news corporation with a national and international focus, CNN has hundreds if not thousands of correspondents whose job it is to monitor the airwaves, internet, and maintain private sources to know what is going on in the world under their "beat." Haredi media are comparatively tiny compared to major news corporations. I do not know the particulars of Yated's organizational structure but my impression is their resources are rather limited.

For the access issue, let's look at two examples: the White House and Iran. For the White House, CNN has several correspondents out there almost daily, who attend Press Corps briefings, have regular access to White House staff, have years of journalistic experience, and who are in a position, however personally biased, to more accurately interpret information as they directly receive it. How many resources do you think Yated devotes to White House coverage? To the Knesset?

Ditto for Iran. CNN employs Iranian-American commentators, has Farsi-speaking journalists who monitor Iranian media, etc. When necessary they can speak with experts in Iranian culture, Shia theologians, etc. Going out on a limb, I doubt you'll see any of this in the pages of Yated.

This also goes to outlook. My impression is that Yated, et al, are frankly not that interested in events that occur outside of their circumscribed field of interest. Add to this the issue of outright censoring (proudly) or ignoring events that they feel either show bad lessons, or potentially corrupt their readership, and you basically wind up with media whose primary job is upbeat navel-gazing. Observe:

Meanwhile, a senior editor at the haredi daily Hamodia said that his paper would totally ignore the incident.

"We do not want our children asking questions about that community," said the editor, who was interviewed on condition of anonymity.

"Our philosophy is to stay away from that entire issue," added the editor. "Someone who walks into a perfumer's store comes out smelling good. But someone who walks into a tanner's comes out smelling bad."

Believe me, I'm not a fan of the Crossfire-style "Left/Right screamfest" so endemic to American news these days, but there is at least a token understanding that there are multiple points of view on a subject. Look at most Israeli media and you'll see a similar pattern: Ha'aretz, for all its left-leaning tilt, runs op-eds by right-wingers. Ditto for the Jerusalem Post. Is the debate stilted? Maybe. Manufactured? Perhaps. But at least it's acknowledged and given expression. Where is the debate in the pages of the Yated?

The last point is that as a huge corporation whose interest is in making money, CNN has a vested interest in not alienating its viewers, and therefore has at least some motivation to tell a story honestly, or at least not outrageously skewed. It, like all major news organizations, has a number of internal structures, such as ombudsmen, who monitor the output and (hopefully) take steps to rectify mistakes or issues of bias. In theory at least, CNN can be reproached by the public if it screws something up, and has an interest in fixing it.

Papers like the Yated and Hamodia, TBMK, are pet projects of their patrons, Elyashiv and Alter, respectively, and therefore their primary interests is in spreading their leaders' message to the flock and in selling news consistent with their leaders' opinions and POVs.

Bias exists everywhere. But call a spade a spade. The New York Times, or BBC, or even Fox News, for all their individual failings, are professional organizations whose mission is to cover information occuring all over the world. They are in fact, a little different than a mimeographed fact sheet produced by a lone kook in Montana.

Edit: And he's still going... apparently only "rank and file" people need to have credentials. The "best of the best" don't need to bother with such pesky matters. Oy.


scazon said...

This is (or rather, reasons very similar to this are) why I've stopped responding to Daganev on the two Exodus-related threads going on right now. In fact, it's why I only infrequently comment on people's blogs in the first place.

Friar_Yid said...

Yet I notice this didn't stop DovBear from calling you the resident science/Torah expert. Quite a feather in your spodik.