This week, the Torah tells us how Gd informs Abraham that Sarah – at the old age of 90 – will give birth to a son. Abraham himself is 100 years old. Sarah overhears Gd tell Abraham that she will bear a child and she laughs, saying, “After I have withered, will I (now) have smooth skin? And my husband is old!” In the very next verse, Gd says to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, saying, ‘Is it really true that I will give birth, even though I am old?'” No, I did not write that incorrectly. When Gd repeats the incident to Abraham, Gd changes Sarah’s words. She said, “Abraham is old,” but G-d tells Abraham that she said that she is too old! Gd lied!?
The Talmud teaches us that Gd changes Sarah’s words to keep peace between Abraham and Sarah. Abraham would not have wanted his wife to call him old!
This week, we watched another member of the media lose his job because of something he said.
In an interview on Fox, Juan Williams of NPR and Fox said:
“I’m not a bigot. You know the kind of books I’ve written about the civil rights movement in this country. But when I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous.”
(It is important to note that Williams went on to say that America is not at war with Islam and anyone who attacks a Muslim or attempts to deny Muslims their rights is a “nut.”)
Just recently, CNN fired Rick Sanchez for implying that Jews control the media. Before that, Helen Thomas “retired” after telling Jews to “get the hell out of Palestine” and go back “home” to Eastern Europe. In addition, Octavia Nasr, a senior Middle East editor at CNN, was fired after writing in a post on Twitter that she was “sad to hear of the passing of Sayyed Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah…. One ofHezbollah’s giants I respect a lot.” Hezbollah is a terrorist group. And Fadallah was a supporter of suicide attacks against Israel. He was placed on a terrorist blacklist by the US.
There is no question that all the reporters mentioned above have said or wrote things that express personal bias. Is this something that should lead to their termination?
NPR CEO, Vivian Schiller stated that Williams is entitled to his opinions. As a new analyst, Williams was paid by NPR to give his opinions on various issues. At the same time, Schiller insisted that NPR journalism must be objective so that the “public can make their own decision about…issues.” Schiller stated that NPR’s code of ethics requires that staffers “cannot say things in other public forums that they could not say on NPR’s airwaves.” Schiller also stated that “news analysts may not take personal public positions on controversial issues; doing so undermines their credibility as analysts…”
There is no question in my mind that the hate spewed by Helen Thomas and the absurd statements by Rick Sanchez undermined their credibility. They both deserved to lose their jobs for using their position to spread lies. Nasr expressed her opinion on Twitter. Unfortunately for her, her opinion showed the world that she respected a terrorist. Certainly, this was not a wise professional move.
The case of Juan Williams is, in my opinion, different. He shouldn’t have said what he said. However, when you look at his words in context of everything else he said – Williams was differentiating between the uneasy feelings that many Americans feel and the acts of hatred that are directed at the Muslim-American community. He condemns this hatred. In addition, he makes it clear that his fear is what he feels. It is not fact. He does not praise his fear. He simply states it. Is it wrong for a news analyst to state his feelings?
In addition to all of this, according to NPR’s CEO, Williams’ words violated the company’s policy that its reporters present fair, unbiased, accurate, complete and honest reports. However, one simply needs to look at NPR’s reporting on Israel to see that many NPR reporters do not adhere to company policy. So, why was Juan Williams fired while other reporters who expressed their bias were able to keep their jobs?
Returning to the Talmud, we read about the great rabbis Hillel and Shammai who often had arguments about Jewish law. One of these arguments was over whether one should tell a bride on her wedding day that she is beautiful even if this is not true. Shammai asserted that it would be wrong to lie. If she was not pretty, you don’t tell her she is pretty. Hillel held that a bride is always beautiful on her wedding day. Fortunately for all of us, Hillel won the dispute. Judaism demands that we are honest – but, at the same time, reminds us that there are times when honest comments can be unnecessarily hurtful and bring about discord.
Fair or not, Juan Williams was fired for speaking honestly about his feelings.
His colleagues at NPR might be leaving out extremely important facts and, in turn, doing NPR listeners an injustice by not giving them the whole picture – but to the best of my knowledge, they have not come out with statements that express their own discomfort with Israel. They keep their personal feelings hidden behind their “reporting”. Obviously, those of us in the pro-Israel world do not listen to NPR or we do not bother to share our frustration strongly enough with the powers that be and work to change the way NPR reports on Israel. This is our fault.
CAIR – the powerful American-Muslim “civil rights” group with documented links to Hamas did what they do best – they took action and put out a press release soon after Williams’ comments were made demanding that NPR take action. And NPR did just that, firing Williams, doing what they could to keep the peace.
In essence, Williams told the bride she was ugly on national television. Compared to some of his recently fired colleagues, Williams’ words were not hateful lies – but they were brutally honest – too honest for many. And, it is clear that in today’s world, whether we like it or not, the ancient wisdom of Rabbi Hillel still applies – no matter what, tell a bride that she is beautiful.