For the week ending 18 February 2006 / 20 Shevat 5766

Caricature of a Watchdog

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
Second Thoughts About Freedom of the Press
Become a Supporter Library Library

As European embassies and flags go up in flames in Muslim lands several thoughts come to mind.

Are we witnessing the beginning of the inevitable world-shaking conflict between two major faiths prophesied by the Prophet Yechezkel?

Are we witnessing Divine retribution for the European lands who spurned their loyal Jewish citizens in the past and then welcomed the dissident Muslims?

Are we witnessing another outbreak of fanatical Muslim terror against the Western World under the guise of defending the honor of the prophet?

Or are we merely witnessing the tragic results of the self-styled “Watchdogs of Democracy” barking too loudly by publishing demeaning caricatures of the founder of the Islamic faith?

The press, throughout the world, has long adopted a presumptuous stance as the “fourth estate” protecting the public’s “right to know”. It has therefore assumed the right to violate every principle of lashon hara, exploiting the public’s appetite for gossip, slander and voyeurism in order to sell newspapers. Editors have not been above being subjectively selective in their determination to supply “all the news that’s fit to print” and instead assure that “all the news that fits is printed”.

While cheap tabloids and some of their competitors have sunk to the level of vulgar pornography to sell their wares, almost all newspapers are guilty of brainwashing their readers. This is in no way limited to the controlled press of dictatorial regimes.

This is true even in the USA, a land so dedicated to “freedom of the press.” As students of American history will recall how the Spanish-American War over Cuba more than a century ago was virtually the product of the jingoism of the Hearst press.

And what about Israel?

The media in the Jewish State has always been the unofficial patron of the Left. It has consistently presented a biased view of the Right and the religious community. Some of the caricatures which have appeared in the secular press in Israel reflect the anti-Semitic caricatures of the infamous “Der Stürmer”. Despite protests against such a policy, the media continues to identify any Jew with a religious appearance suspected of wrongdoing as being “ultra-Orthodox”, while omitting any ethnic or sectional description of others.

Perhaps the most blatant expression of media brainwashing in recent years is the de-legitimization of those Jews who faithfully followed their government’s bidding by settling certain areas of Eretz Yisrael, only to later find themselves mercilessly dispossessed. The heartlessness of a “disengagement” which left thousands of Jews stranded, and the utter cruelty of police beating the defenders of Amona, were made acceptable to the general public by years of media propaganda portraying the settlers as extremist parasites endangering the security of the State.

Perhaps the agony being suffered by Europe for overindulgence in freedom of the press will serve as a warning to newspapers everywhere that not all the news is fit to print.

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