From Joseph Telushkin’s biography, Rebbe: The Life and Teachings of Menachem M. Schneerson, the Most Influential Rabbi in Modern History:
In 1972, the veteran journalist Gershon Jacobson was considering starting a new Yiddish newspaper (Der Tog Morgen Zhurnal had recently closed) and he went to consult with the Rebbe…
Jacobson should not have been surprised by the Rebbe’s encouragement. An omnivorously curious person, newspaper had long mattered to the Rebbe, as vehicles for both acquiring knowledge and disseminating it. There are people who lived in Crown Heights in the 1940s who recall seeing him heading for the subway station in the morning, carrying four newspapers, the New York Times, the Yddish Der Tog Morgen Zhurnal, a newspaper in French, and another in Russian (the newsstand special ordered these last two for him).
The fact that he was reading newspapers in four languages suggests not only the Rebbe’s unusual linguistic abilities but also bears testimony to his lifelong belief in the importance of having a wide variety of sources for acquiring information. His nephew, Barry Gourary, recalls seeing the Rebbe carefully reading newspapers during the time the young Gourary — who was then six — spent in Berlin in 1929 and 1930: “I remember observing that my uncle was an avid reader of…many daily newspapers. He was very interested in politics. He was also fascinated with military strategy.”
…Newspapers were also recognized by the Rebbe as an important vehicles for disseminating knowledge. Rabbi Hirsch Chitrik, a wealthy Chabad businessman, was once summoned by the Rebbe, who told him of a newspaper with Conservative Jewish leanings that was suffering financial setbacks and was in danger of closing. He asked Chitrik to find out how much money the publication needed, and he, the Rebbe, would supply it (though he did not wish his involvement to become known). Chitrick was shocked. Why was the Rebbe concerned with supporting a Conservative-leaning paper, given that its views on matters of Jewish law and thought were so at variance with those of the Rebbe? The Rebbe told him that each week the publication supplied the right time at which people were supposed to light Shabbat candles; if the paper cased to publish, those who relied on it would no longer have easy access to such information.
Similarly, when speaking to Jacobson, the Rebbe mentioned in passing the role newspapers could play in educating Jews who might not otherwise be reached. He told Jacobson of an incident from the 1930s, when his father-in-law, the Frierdiker Rebbe, lived in Warsaw. “He said to me that I should go find a newspaper that will publish his talks. So I came back with a list of three or four newspapers and my father-in-law said, ‘In all of Warsaw there are only three or four Jewish newspapers?'”
“I answered, ‘No, but these are the religious ones.’
“And the [Friediker] Rebbe said to me, ‘If I want to reach only religious Jews, we could put these writings in every shtiebl and shul in Warsaw. I want to reach Jews who don’t go to synagogue.'”
The Rebbe told Jacobson that he eventually found a Socialist-leaning paper that was willing to publish his father-in-law’s talks.
But the Rebbe didn’t penetrate only the world of Yiddish newspapers. Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik spoke with great admiration of Chabad’s impact on the American press: “In the past, when a Jewish issue came up, the major newspapers such as the New York Times would only cite the viewpoints of representatives of Reform Judaism. Orthodoxy did not exist for them. Nowadays, the Lubavitch movement has placed Orthodoxy in these newspapers, and on the radio and television” (interview in Ma’ariv, October 28, 1977).
Jacobson soon went ahead with his decision to begin the Algemeiner Journal. In time, as the newspaper became known and its influence grew, a local Crown Heights rabbi suggested to him that a group of rabbis check over the weekly paper in advance to make sure the content was appropriate.
“Did anyone ask the Rebbe about this?” Jacobson inquired.
The rabbi said: “We think this is what the Rebbe would want.”
Jacobson went in to ask the Rebbe, telling him that some people wanted to set up a kind of rabbinic supervision bureau to determine what should and shouldn’t be put into the paper.
The Rebbe smiled: “And what will you do if these rabbis decide that the newspaper should be closed down?”
Jacobson said: “So what’s the Rebbe’s opinion?”
The Rebbe lifted his hands in a way that was clearly dismissive of the other rabbi’s message to Jacobson. “What do rabbis have to do with a newspaper? A rabbi should pasken [rule] that a Jew should be learning Torah all day, and every second that’s free is bittul Torah [wasted time that should be spent studying Torah]. So how are rabbis going to issue a ruling regarding a newspaper when they should be telling a person not to read newspapers but to study Torah? Newspapers are for people who don’t listen to rabbis or who don’t ask rabbis. And when you put into the paper a few words of Torah, you will be reaching such people.”
To make certain he was clear about the Rebbe’s attitude toward the direction the Algemeiner Journal should take, Jacobson asked if the paper should establish a formal affiliation with Lubavitch.
This, the Rebbe opposed: “A Lubavitch newspaper is a contradiction in terms. You have to look at everything in terms of its mission. The mission of Lubavitch is to help people access their Jewishness [Yiddishkeit]. The mission of a newspaper is to have more readers and be a successful media outlet. A newspaper has its goals and Lubavitch has its goals. As far as your editorial positions are concerned, that’s your decision.”
These thoughts in particular were refreshing and liberating. Newspapers and magazines published under Orthodox auspices generally adhere to a very restricted editorial line, more or less identical with the beliefs of the publisher or the organization supporting the publication. However, because the Algemeiner Journal had no organizational affiliation, Jacobson could follow his instincts and keep the paper open to opinions with which he — and the Rebbe as well — disagreed.
…Gershon Jacobson felt bad and told the Rebbe that he wanted to apologize for publishing an article that caused so much aggravation…
The Rebbe assured Jacobson that he had done nothing for which he needed to apologize. “You have to do your job, I have to do my job. You’re a newspaper. You’re not supposed to be censoring opinions. What I’m saying is what I have to do.”
…The Rebbe smiles at the journalist [left-winger Nathan Yellin-Mor] and told him, “I read your column every week.”
“God blessed you with the ability to write, so you should continue using your talent and use it to the fullest, and continue to write and God should bless you that you should be successful.”
“Not everything one reads does one have to agree with. You have to continue writing and, hopefully, as you continue writing you’ll come closer to emet [truth] as you evolve and become a better writer.”
…When Jacobson was preparing to go to Rome to cover Vatican II, the 1962 conclave of the Catholic Church convened by Pope John XXIII, the Rebbe advised him to read extensively about the Vatican and to make a concentrated effort to learn about a variety of Church practices so that he would be a far more informed and trusted journalist. One example the Rebbe offered was being familiar with the secret behind-the-scenes proceedings of choosing a new pope. This sort of wide-ranging knowledge, the Rebbe told him, would gain him access and credibility with the people in the Vatican with whom he needed to speak and would also encourage them to speak to him in a more forthcoming manner.
But perhaps nothing so forcefully demonstrated to Jacobson the high regard in which the Rebbe held good journalism as his annual presentation of matzah to the journalist before the Passover Seder, along with the blessing, “It’s a commandment to tell the story.” …Jacobson understood the Rebbe as saying: “Your job is to tell the story of what’s happening in the world. Understand that what you are doing is a mitzvah, a commandment to tell the news and to tell the truth, and to give people an accurate and comprehensive understanding of what’s going on in the world.”
The Rebbe’s respect for journalism when done well was understood in a yechidus with Moshe Ishon, who had previously worked as a reporter for the Israeli newspaper HaTzofe, published by Mizrachi, the religious Zionist party; now, though, he was serving as a representative for Israel’s Jewish Agency in New York. Ishon came to the Rebbe seeking advice: He had been offered two jobs, either an elevation in his position with the Jewish Agency or to become the editor in chief of HaTzofe. Which should he take?
To the Rebbe, the answer was so obvious that it required no further discussion: “The newspaper, of course.” He pointed to the variety of newspapers on his desk, among which was HaTzofe. “You see that I value journalism, because it fulfills a very important mission; it influences, it creates public opinion. If the journalist understands the mission he has, he has the power to sway public opinion and to influence the public to approach a subject properly.”
Ishon followed the Rebbe’s advice and served as HaTzofe‘s editor in chief for sixteen years.
…When Yehoshua Saguy, director of AMAN, Israeli military intelligence, met with the Rebbe, he was staggered — as Yitzhak Rabin had been — that the Rebbe was “very acquainted” with all matters, including minor ones, going on between Israel and the Arab states. What particularly struck Sagay was that while he himself knew of all these things, it was because he spent ten hours a day reading newspapers and intelligence reports, whereas the Rebbe seemed to have acquired his detailed knowledge by means that Saguy could not comprehend.
Another journalist, Herbert Brin, described in detail his 1954 meeting with the Rebbe, a meeting that was remarkable, particularly because it lasted six hours and was with a man whom the Rebbe had never previously met. Brin had made a decision a short time earlier to leave the Los Angeles Times, where he had been a successful feature writer, and start a Los Angeles-based Jewish newspaper. His motivation was a sense of guilt for not having previously done more for the Jewish community, particularly during the years of the Holocaust. As Brin explained to the Rebbe, he had always been a proud Jew, but not a knowledgeable or observant one…
“Do I have a right to act as an editor and write editorials for a Jewish newspaper, when I know so little of Yiddishkeit, when I can’t even daven [pray]?”
…[T]he Rebbe tried to reassure Brin concerning his lack of knowledge…
The Rebbe stood up from his chair, walked toward Brin, and reached into his pocket. “How much is a subscription to your newspaper?”
“Three dollars and fifty cents.”
The Rebbe took out three dollar bills and two quarters and told Brin, “I want a subscription.”
After giving Brin the money, the Rebbe looked him square in the eye and said, “Obviously you’re a learned man. You’ve read a great deal. Do you have a right to withhold that which you know?”