Gossip As A Gauge Of A Religion's Commitment To Reality
Every religion (and every moral system) of which I am aware condemns
gossip. None do it in as minute detail as Judaism.
It has generally been taken for granted by elevated individuals that
gossip is bad.
In 2007, Dennis Prager passionately
opposed outing the names of the DC madam's clients. Why ruin their lives
over something so trivial?
Gossip undoubtedly destroys friendships, marriages, business partnerships
and sometimes causes people to kill themselves and others, but much of
the time, the damage that is blamed on gossip more rightly belongs on
people who have acted badly. Such people often blame gossip for holding
them accountable for their behavior.
If a man cheats on his wife, sometimes it is wrong to gossip about it
and sometimes it is right. It depends on the circumstance. Sometimes it
would be better for the wife to be informed and sometimes it would not.
Gossip is as bad as water. Sometimes water can save a life and sometimes
water can kill.
As Dennis Prager says, ethics are both situational and absolute. The
context determines the moral absolute. Sometimes it is right to lie ("Where
are you hiding the Jews?") and right to kill (such as the Nazis during
World War II).
There's no escape from making moral judgments and deciding when to speak
and when to keep silent, when to act and when to hold back.
ABC News, August
"If we listen we can learn what people find offensive or what
people find acceptable, what they don't find acceptable," says Dr. Sarah
Wert, a research psychologist. "So to that extent, it's a way to learn
how to be a better social actor."
...The accuracy of the gossip may not matter as much as how often you
engage in it. "Gossip humanizes people," Froelich said. "And when people
on the street can be like, 'oh, she's rich, she's beautiful, she's famous,
she seems to have everything, but oh wait, her fiancé cheated on her
too, hmmm …'"
Orthodox rabbi and historian Dr.
Marc B. Shapiro said in a 2008 lecture for Torah in Motion on "The
Lives of the Gedolim":
"If you read my
blogs, you'll see that I am a relentless exposer of the fraudulence
not just in the chareidi world but in the Modern Orthodox world. It
all needs to be exposed. But that doesn't mean that every simple person
needs to know... As Rav Kook says, if they come into our world and try
to affect us with their fraudulent stories, it needs to be exposed.
But if they want to live by these bubbemeisers (old wives tales),
that's a way of life. I'm like Rabbi Slifkin in this regard. Only if
it threatens to interfere in the wider community.
"It's hard to know what lashon
hara (gossip) is. You don't really know what lashon
hara is. I have read many letters of gedolim and they are full
of negative comments about other rabbis, which you would say is lashon
hara. As anyone knows, they badmouth them all the time. If you
asked the rav, he would say it is not lashon hara. The Torah
says you have to expose chanafim (hypocrites, flatterers).
("The admonition to expose hypocrites is stated in Yoma
86b where it is derived from [the legal category of] Chillul
HaShem," emails Marc in reply to my question.)
"We are supposed to expose hypocrisy. I would say that if you
asked all these rabbonim who say terrible things about other ones and
were great talmidei chachamim, if you asked them, they would say it
is not lashon hara, but he's a fraud and I have to expose him.
It could be that he's not a fraud and that it's just a personal dispute.
"I don't think it's lashon hara to talk about a dispute
that the whole world knew about and it was in all the newspapers...
If a certain rav did a bad thing. There's a rav, not a gadol of the
first calibre but of the second calibre, but he had a child out of wedlock
when he was about 17 and in yeshiva. About 20 years ago, one of the
Israeli newspapers exposed him and published the birth certificate.
I think that's a terrible breach of privacy. He made a mistake when
he was young. I don't think it's anyone's business. I would never expose
something like that. If I knew about it, I would probably choose not
to write about him because how could you write about him and not talk
"If there was a case like this where he abandoned the girl and
wanted nothing to do with them and then he became a big scholar, a Talmud
Chacham, a posek, I don't think that's lashon hara. This would
be an example of exposing the hypocrites."
"I try to balance Jewish values with secular values. As a secular
historian, you go into a grave and dig up the body if you need to. They
dug up Zachary Taylor's body to see if he was poisoned. I would have
no problem as a secular historian if I was writing about a figure like
Einstein, but among gedolim, I do not do that. I can honestly say that
I've never had to make that choice with Rabbi Yaakov Jechiel Weinberg.
I would rather not write about somebody than have to cover something
like that up... Certain great rabbinic figures, I would treat differently
than other figures. If that is not in correspondence with historical
[analysis], what are they going to do? Take my tenure away? Life is
not only about historical craft."
York Times: Have You Heard? Gossip Turns Out to Serve a Purpose
Given this protective group function, gossiping too little may be at
least as risky as gossiping too much, some psychologists say. After
all, scuttlebutt is the most highly valued social currency there is.
While humor and story telling can warm any occasion, a good scoop spreads
through a room like an illicit and irresistible drug, passed along in
nods and crooked smiles, in discreet walks out to the balcony, the corridor,
the powder room.
Knowing that your boss is cheating on his wife, or that a sister-in-law
has a drinking problem or a rival has benefited from a secret trust
fund may be enormously important, and in many cases change a person's
behavior for the better.
"We all know people who are not calibrated to the social world at all,
who if they participated in gossip sessions would learn a whole lot
of stuff they need to know and can't learn anywhere else, like how reliable
people are, how trustworthy," said Sarah Wert, a psychologist at Yale.
"Not participating in gossip at some level can be unhealthy, and abnormal."
Unless you acknowledge the powerful good that gossip can give, you are
not confronting the issue. Almost all religious texts I've read about
gossip, including the best (such as by Rabbi
Joseph Telushkin), give short shrift to the moral necessity of much
gossip (which protects the innocent from predators). By so doing, religion
ignores reality and impedes progress towards a better world.
The primary reason gossip has a bad name (in secular or religious life)
is that the benefits of gossip are diffused among many people (though
they are better informed, they have little incentive to speak up for the
value of gossip) while the price of gossip is concentrated on individual
subjects who have a huge incentive to tamp it down.
Let me give an example. Let's suppose a rabbi is so physically affectionate
(not that he's a predator) that he makes some people he hugs uncomfortable.
Gossip about this hugging rabbi protects those who would not like to
hugged by the rabbi.
The rabbi could take this gossip as a form of reproof and reform his
ways, but his most likely reaction would be to feel angry and protest
vigorously that he's done nothing wrong, and that this gossip is evil
because it humiliates him unnecessarily.
From the 8/96 issue of Psychology Today:
The English word "gossip" originated as "godsibb,"
meaning "a person related to one in God," or a godparent.
Until the 1800s, "gossip" denoted friendship. Today gossip
is defined by the dictionary as "chatty talk; the reporting of
sensational or intimate information."
"If people aren't talking about other people, it's a signal that
something is wrong - that we feel socially alienated or indifferent,"
says Ralph Rosnow, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at Temple University
and coauthor of Rumor and Gossip: The Social Psychology of Hearsay.
"For a real understanding of our social environment, gossip is
essential," agrees Jack Levin, Ph.D., professor of sociology and
criminology at Boston's Northeastern University and coauthor of Gossip:
The Inside Scoop. "It's primary function is to help us make social
comparisons. For example, if we read bad news about celebrities in the
tabloids, or get into the gruesome details of our neighbor's misery
over a cup of coffee, our own problems begin to pale in comparison."
Many people may gain from being gossiped about. Targets of gossip are
made more human, more easy to identify with.
Gossip is a way for people to let you know, without confrontation,
the limits on personal behavior. "If you move into a community
and your neighbor tells you how the previous homeowner never disposed
of his garbage properly, his gossip is letting you in on something else.
"Gossip shepherds the herd. It says: these are the boundaries
and you're crossing them. You're not abiding by the rules and you'd
better get back in step," says Rosnow.
"If you want to know about the kind of insurance coverage your
employer offers, look in the company handbook," says Levin. "But
if you want to know who to avoid, who the boss loves or loathes, who
to go to when you need help, what it really takes to get a promotion
or raise, and how much you can safely slack off, you're better off paying
attention to the company grapevine."
Gossip tells you who's in. If you're worth being talked about, you're
in. If you've got valuable information, you're in.
Kids' gossip is more innocent and cruel than that of adults. "Cruel
comments, but effective ones," says Levin, "because the target
learns some important information. Namely, that he is not invisible
to the rest of the world. The result? This vital piece of information
[badly dressed, a cheater or whatever] helps him see he needs to change
his offensive behavior."
Women gossip more than men. Women talk about people in their lives
while men engage in "shop talk," which revolves around work,
sports stars, politicians
"Gossip is similar to a Rorschach test," says Levin. "If
you look at the nature of someone's gossip, you can find out what concerns
"We found that people who gossip the most rank highest on the
anxiety scale," says Rosnow. "Not only do they disclose more,
but the anxious are on the receiving end of gossip more often and are
more likely than those less anxious to consider information crucial."
Dr. Gary Allen Fine says "we gossip about people we care about.
We don't bother talking about people who don't matter to us."
Most of the time, the gossip spread between two people about a third
absent friend is neutral news: a pregnancy, a promotion. But betraying
a confidence, spreading sensitive information like an adulterous affair,
can end a friendship.
When Dr. Rosnow asked subjects who they "liked," he found
gossipees - the people being talked about - were usually not the most
popular, essentially because they're different and don't conform. But
the people engaging in gossip weren't particularly popular either because
of their untrustworthiness.
Gossip is always about people, involving either fact or supposition.
Rumors may or may not involve people but are always speculative. Rosnow
says rumors deal with people's anxieties. There are two types: wish
rumors that we hope are true, and dread rumors that we pray are false.
"Rumors are an echo of ourselves," says Dr. Jean-Noel Kapferer.
"They reveal the desires, fears, and obsessions of a society."
In an essay in the New Republic, Nicholas Lemann writes: "Gossip
is an appurtenance of a striving, socially unified society. It's worth
watching as a barometer of our aspirations. As the middle classes obtain
for themselves the glamrous, turbulent lives of the rich and famous,
there is real danger that gossip as we know it could whither away. We
could return to the status quo, ante-Society in which nobody's personal
life was considered to be nationally riveting.
"The truth is, the proper time to become alarmed about the role
of gossip in American Society is when there starts to be less of it."
© Associated Newspapers Ltd., 31 July 1998, This Is London:
Old-fashioned gossip is not only about dishing the dirt - it is essential
to survival, according to an academic study today. Any employer who
wants a happy and efficient company should let office gossip continue
rather than try to stamp it out, the report claimed.
It revealed that the need to gossip and spread rumours is an instinct
modern humans have kept since the Stone Age.
In those days it was vital to swap information on where the food was
and to let others know who was the chief hunter, and so on. Today it
is not that much different says Nigel Nicholson, professor of organisational
behaviour at London Business School. "People create rumours when
they are uncertain and need to create certainty to fill a vacuum,"
he added. "They gossip to create a social network and put themselves
in that circle and give themselves an advantage by being in with the
"Gossiping - which goes back to the Stone Age and beyond - is
good for you. It makes you more psychologically positive. "A good
boss should not try to quash rumours and gossip with memos and e-mail,
he should get involved in it. I call it management-by-wandering-about.
Go out there and communicate properly. He should know what people talk
The report, published by the influential journal Harvard Business Review,
urges employers to communicate by talking instead of on computers or
Without the traditional gossip network - from neighbours chatting over
the garden fence to political spin doctors - society could crumble.
"Any social system needs gossip to remain intact," he added.
Gregory Rodriquez writes in The Los Angeles Times July 2, 2007
A few years ago, two British researchers concluded that celebrity-watching
— if it doesn't become an all-out obsession — can be a healthy part
of adolescent development and bonding. A survey of English schoolchildren
revealed that "celebrity attachments" serve as "pseudo-friends" who
become the subject of gossip and discussion among their real friends.
The kids' fascination with celebs not only helps them bond with classmates
but to become more autonomous from their parents. Meantime, those children
who do develop unhealthy fixations on the lives of stars were likely
to be lonely and lacking strong bonds with family and friends.
I suspect that the same elements driving adolescent fandom in Britain
— bonding, socialization — also explain why so many grown-ups like to
keep up on Brangelina and Britney. Sure, the handful of fanatics who
literally worship Michael Jackson or Madonna are maladjusted, but there
are millions of others for whom celebrity gossip serves a useful function,
especially in societies no longer characterized by tightknit communities.
Study after study has tracked our eroding commitment to community,
as more Americans spend time with their computers, or at work, instead
of in bowling leagues or with their loved ones. Following the trials
and tribulations of the rich and famous can be a way for us to connect
to others and even to make sense of our lives. No, I don't mean that
we actually think that Angelina Jolie is our friend, but that the chatter
she inspires can sometimes link us to strangers.
Think of how sports talk breaks the ice between men. As a male who
doesn't much care for sports, I envy the kind of bonding that sports
lovers share. Celebrity gossip may be more associated with women, but
it crosses gender lines more readily than sports. And it provides the
juicy stories and personal dilemmas that people love to chat about and
Whispering about the lives of others always has served as a finely
tuned social warning system that helps people avoid the inevitable pitfalls
of life. Did you hear who she hooked up with? Can you believe he did
that? How could they have fallen for the Nigerian e-mail scam? Plenty
of not-so-idle gossip warns us about bad guys, the consequences of certain
types of behavior and iffy practices of all types.
If you watched the extraordinarily boring Larry King interview with
Paris Hilton, you realize that Paris herself isn't anywhere near as
interesting as what we all think about her. That's the point. The long
arm of electronic media has allowed us to include an ever-expanding
world of complete strangers in our social circle. And just as we would
a neighbor or classmate, we judge and dissect her life as a means to
justify our own, reinforce our life choices, sort out and share our
opinions with others.
"She's an idiot." "I feel sorry for her." "She got what she deserved."
However we talk about Paris, it says a lot more about us than it does
Paris mania feeds an admittedly flimsy form of community, but don't
blame her, the media or the unwashed masses for that. Everyone from
Tocqueville to Wim Wenders has commented upon the dangers of anomie
in American life. Over the last half a century, patterns of suburbanization
have intensified that sense of alienation and rootlessness. Since the
1970s, a growing disenchantment with politics has further loosened our
links to community. We don't like the political process because we feel
that we have no effect on it, and we suspect that it's dominated by
narrow, powerful forces that don't have our best interests at heart.
Morality of Gossip
Luke writes in 1998: When I first came to Judaism, I took on the value
that gossip was a sin. It was destructive and unethical. Then, from late
1995 onwards, I resumed my career as a journalist. Part of my job is to
deal in gossip. I read Rabbi
Joseph Telushkin's book on gossip (Words
That Wound, Words That Heal) and found it initially impressive.
Now I've developed a reputation as a professional gossip. That it is
what I do for a living. I've now also revised my views on the morality
of gossip. I now think of gossip as like any other activity, morally neutral.
The morality of gossip depends entirely on its content and context. I
now no longer think of gossip as overwhelmingly destructive.
I'm reading a book entitled "Good Gossip." It is one of many
academic works over the past few years in praise of gossip, pointing out
the good that gossip does, such as bonding, community, developing, enforcing
and subverting norms, challenging power, overturning institutions. I no
longer agree with the comment that idiots talk about people, and the wise
about ideas. Why are ideas more important than people? Sometimes they
are and sometimes they are not. Context is king.
Ethel writes: "My experience with gossip was work-related. I took
a college course on management of human resources. To my great shock,
there was a section defining the grapevine as a legitimate communication
source. It changed my whole POV concerning gossip. It's so rational too.
So it's really important to accept gossip and then manage it personally
so it doesn't effect one's own good judgement. One's personal observations
should be primary when decision-making is needed."
Gossip serves an additional role that is still significant
today, but was very important to our ancestors. Gossip develops the values,
significance, judgmental capacity, and group concensus -- or chasm --
of the gossipers.
I agree with Luke's words, "...the good that gossip does, such as
bonding, community, developing, enforcing and subverting norms..."
Ancestors were ravaged by disease, infirmity, and the elements, to an
extent that we find hard to imagine. If a member of the group were suspected
of being, what we now call, less lucid .... then drawing that person into
gossip could test that person's judgment.
Puzzles are central to mythology ; ditto for gossip. I wonder if any languages
have one word for our two concepts: myth and gossip.
There's that guy on the radio, who's arguing for the importance of Values
in our schools. Lots of settings determine values ---
-- Eye-to-eye explanation from parent to child
-- Formal explanation by religious institutions
-- Formal teaching by schools.
Some people have the audacity to claim that *actual practice* is at least
half as significant as *formal explanation* in these three settings.
Now, let's consider ----- gossip: Children's values are shaped as much
by vicarious participation in gossip, as they are shaped by some of the
settings mentioned above.
Among teenagers exploring the realm of less-restricted behavior, gossip
is not so much about confirming 'valid' information about THEM 'over there.'
Instead, gossip forges and shephards the behavior of oneself and one's
closest peers. It does so for
better or worse.
In summary, here's another puzzle: As a whole, gossip is bad. Yet not
only is some gossip good, some is essential.
From The New Republic, William Powers writes 6/9/97:
...undergirding all tabloid journalism is a rigid code of right and
wrong, in which people are held to very particular standards of behavior.
In this system, which may be the closest thing we have today to a universal
populist ethos, all the ancient social norms are honored: thou shalt
not kill, rape, steal, lie and so forth. But in the tabloids' reckoning
of the world, which is calculated to mirror that of the supermarket
masses, two sins in particular--pride and hypocrisy-- have special importance.
This is why the JonBenet Ramsey case, which in the tabloid storyline
is really about two parents who exploited their daughter's beauty to
feed their own pride, is the premier tabloid story of the day. Many
children are murdered each year, but this is not just a murder story,
it's a morality play about a "tiny beauty" and her wicked stage parents.
"Away from the bright lights," the Star reported, "she just wanted to
be a normal kid." This is probably pretty much the way most Americans
see the story, too.
And to the tabloids, the O.J. Simpson story, which preceded JonBenet
in the number-one spot, was not a parable about race, as the mainstream
media suggested. It was about a celebrity who thought he was above the
law. (And this is certainly the way a lot of people saw the O.J. case.)
Nothing raises tabloid fury more than the spectacle of a celebrity getting
away with something, or getting above himself. In the pages of the National
Enquirer, drug abuse, infidelity and myriad other wrongs are often forgiven,
but if you are caught pretending to be something you're not--caught
being too big for your britches--they'll flay you. Far from mindlessly
adoring celebrities in the way the New York glossies and many newspapers
do, the tabloids cover movie stars and other famous people with one
eye narrowed, ever-vigilant for phoniness, grossness or some species
of immoral behavior. Violators are swiftly, gleefully cut down. It is
ruthless and ugly and cruel, but it is arguably more honest than the
way the proper press covers these things. Who do you think has a truer
sense of Roseanne--the average tabloid reader or the reader of John
Lahr's New Yorker valentine? When Magic Johnson was revealed to be infected
with the HIV virus, who did a more brutally honest job of covering the
story of his promiscuous lifestyle--the tabs or the Times?
From 12/27/2000 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
But the battle against gossip has been a long and mostly unsuccessful
one, partly because it's such a fixture of human communication, according
to Dan Santoro, an associate professor of sociology at the University
of Pittsburgh -- Johnstown.
"People have always gossiped," he said. "Maybe, at one time, gossip
was news if you lived in a village and there were no formal channels
for disseminating information."
In pre-industrial societies, he said, relationships were based on customs
and traditions. "What was really important," Santoro said, "was your
reputation. The fear of your reputation being questioned kept people
"In our society right now, it has just become a big industry. Your
personal reputation isn't as important as it used to be."
Gossip and rumors always have been a part of politics. In her book,
"Scorpion Tongues: The Irresistible History of Gossip in American Politics"
(William Morrow, 1998), author Gail Collins writes about George Washington's
alleged mistresses, the rumor that Grover Cleveland beat his wife so
severely during her pregnancy that their daughter was born with extensive
brain damage and the story that when Woodrow Wilson proposed to his
second wife, she was so surprised that she fell out of bed.
Various magazines, talk shows and TV programs featuring "stars" such
as Rush Limbaugh, Howard Stern and Don Imus track the real and imagined
peccadilloes of public figures.
Jim Lichtman, an author and ethics specialist in Santa Barbara, Calif.,
divides gossip into two categories: talk among family and friends, and
malicious or unethical gossip. That does not mean, he said, that either
is right. "Would you want somebody passing around inaccurate or false
rumors about yourself?" he asked.
"The real criteria we should use, although it sounds simple, is to
more or less follow the golden rule: `Do unto others as you would have
others do to you.' "
Lichtman is author of "The Lone Ranger's Code of the West" (Scribbler's
Ink, 1996), a book focusing on eight ethical values of the masked do-gooder.
A frequent speaker on ethics to corporations, Lichtman likes to challenge
his audiences to ponder ethics questions with, "What would the Lone
It's a way, he said, to force people to be more conscious about their
decisions and have a greater commitment to ethical values. To that end,
Lichtman said, a person doesn't have to speak gossip in order to be
guilty of it. And it doesn't stop there.
"As soon as you participate in it, you are involved," he said. "You
begin to lower the bar for yourself. Other things become less important.
"In business and in public life today ... the thing you erode away faster
than anything else is trust. Once the credibility is gone ... you're
going to have to work two, three, four times as hard to get it back."
Luke says 5/15/05: I have studied the Chafetz Chaim (translated into
English) and rabbi Telushkin's book Words That Wound, Words That Heal.
In fact, I have read every book (religious or secular) on gossip I could
get my hands on (about two dozen).
If I were to observe the restrictions of the Chafetz Chaim, I would not
be able to publish most of my website lukeford.net. I wouldn't be able
to work as a journalist. Nobody would. Journalism would be impossible.
Surely Judaism's teachings on forbidden speech are more complex than
what the Chafetz Chaim codified. The example of Judaism's sacred texts,
such as the Bible and the Talmud, are filled with examples of Jewish leaders
being held accountable for their behavior and called out on it.
The problem with much of the reflexive religious teachings against gossip
is that they focus on the harm done to specific individuals who are gossiped
about (and let's focus here on gossip that is true) and ignore the benefit
widely shared among many people from gaining the information of that gossip.
As in free trade, the price paid by targets of gossip can be huge, giving
them a huge incentive to fight against gossip, while the benefits of the
gossip are spread out among hundreds of people. Thus, few of them have
an incentive to speak out on behalf of the accurate gossipm, such as that
a particular rabbi should not work with kids or counsel women because
he's a predator.
Does This Information Serve The Public Good?
Larry Yudelson writes 5/15/05:
Many years ago, when I was at Yeshiva College and on the editorial
board of Hamevaser, I had a late night discussion with some of my colleagues
about the question of Lashon
Hora [gossip] and journalism. The standard, according to the Chofetz
Chaim, is not "is the information derogatory" but "does this information
serve the public good"?
Clearly, political news qualifies, because a society with a press that
criticizes its leaders is better than a society (such as the Chofetz
Chaim's Russia) lacking such a press.
In fact, a quick glance at NYTimes.com indicates that all of the current
headlines meet the criterion of serving the public interest.
The one exception that we thought of, where standard journalistic practice
is at odds with the Public Good standard of the Chofetz Chaim, would
the publication of allegations and other charges filed against citizens
who are still presumptively innocent. I believe Halacha might mandate
that the right to release the name of an accused or arrested suspect
prior to conviction belongs only to the accused. This would be where
the citizen is in custody or otherwise not dangerous; situations like
the FBI Most Wanted List, where the criminals are at large and fleeing
arrest, are different, because society has an interest in catching suspects.
Luke says: I don't believe "public good" was the Chofetz Chaim's
standard. Where does he say that?
Rabbi Ari Kahn writes: "Individuals who behave in an extreme anti-social
manner lose the right of being protected by the laws of Loshan Hara. Individuals
who are predators certainly lose this right. Individuals who may be future
victims have a right to know about someone who is potentially threatening
them. I am suggesting that a Beit Din make these determinations."
Making Of The American Conservative Mind: National Review and Its Times
Will writes in The NYT Book Review:
For more than three decades, [Jeffrey Peter] Hart, an emeritus professor
of English at Dartmouth, has been a senior editor of National
Review. There he has seen, and helped to referee, conservatism's
struggles of self-definition. His book is a gossipy memoir leavened
by a quick skimming of 50 years of political history. "I confess," he
says, "to a fondness for gossip,
which, indeed, is a conservative genre. Gossips do not want to change
the world; they want to enjoy it."
Mickey Kaus argues that reporting on the private lives of politicians
gets people more interested in politics. He writes July 9, 2007 on
Slate: "L.A.'s mayor faces some N.Y. tabloid-style questioning
at a news conference. The L.A. Times reporter who didn't get
the story doesn't
know quite what to make of this new state of affairs--I detect a mild
sneering tone! Luke Ford sees a "beautiful
synchronicity." ... I think Angelenos may be actually getting
interested in local politics for once, which will give us better government
in the long run. Special interests (e.g., unions, developers) have less
power when people are actually paying attention. [What will happen
if all the pols in power are no longer womanizers, etc.?--ed Not
a serious possibility.]"
Academic Kevin Glynn said the tabloid media "multiplies and amplifies
the heterogenous voices and viewpoints in circulation in contemporary
culture, giving rein to many that are typically excluded from the dominant
regime of truth... The shrill and revulsive response to tabloid media
form 'respectable' journalism and other elite social quarters indicates
the extent to which their popularity threatens officialdom's power to
regulate the discursive procedures through which we make sense of society
and ourselves. 'Serious' journalism is far more concerned with controlling,
organizing, and ordering the hierarchy of voices it admits into its discurse
reportoir than is tabloid news, whose contents are driven by ratings and
circulation." (Pg. 132-133 of Journalism: Truth or Dare).
Ian Hargreaves writes:
Glynn brings to his advocacy for tabloid journalism a specifically
political case, involving the election to the governorship of Minnesota
in 1998 of Jesse "The Body" Ventura, a former professional
wrestler and radio talk-show "shock jock." Glynn sees the
very high turnout in this election (over 60 per cent, compared with
less than 50 per cent even for presidential races) resulting from Ventura's
fluency with tabloid-style communication, that enabled him to assemble
an extraordinary coalition of supporters, many of them normally excluded
from the political domain. (Pg. 134)
Liz Smith says: "Gossip is just news running ahead of itself in
a red satin gown."
Camille Paglia says: "Half-fictionalized as they are, the tabloids
with their twin themes of sex of violence tell the pagan truth about life."
Jack Shafer writes
for Slate Aug. 27, 2007 about New
York Times public editor Clark Hoyt's Aug. 26 column:
One of the flaws in Hoyt's thinking is his belief that one's reputation
is a possession --like a car or a tennis racket -- when one's reputation
actually resides in the minds of others. A person can have
as many reputations as people who know him or know of him. Positing
that the top link in a Google search of a name equals somebody's reputation
is silly, and Hoyt's column only encourages that notion.
If Google users conclude that an individual is guilty of fondling a
child just because a Times story reported his arrest, that
says more about their gullibility than it does about the inadequacies
of the Web or the Times. The Times is wonderful, but
it's not a vaccine against stupidity.
Whatever their shortcomings, search engines are a million times superior
to human memory, which they are rapidly replacing.
The Web also offers those wounded a variety of ways to manage their
reputations and mitigate the offenses of the New York Times (and
of other publications).
By exaggerating the absolute power of the Times and Google
to determine reputation, Hoyt's column encourages people to think of
themselves as technopawns. (It also damages Hoyt's reputation in the
process, but that's his problem.) I'm all for getting the Times
to correct meaningful errors of fact in a decent interval, but
if you want to secure a better reputation than the one that Google currently
spits out, get busy and build it yourself.