Jewish World Review June 20, 2002 / 10 Tamuz, 5762

Paul Greenberg

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Consumer Reports

What do you say to leaders? | LITTLE ROCK It's always good to talk with the folks in the annual leadership course offered by the Chamber of Commerce here. There are 52 of them, some in their 20s, a couple already in their 50s, some already leaders, others who will be.

Anxious to hear what they had to say, I confined my own comments to three pieces of advice about the Care and Feeding of the Media:

1. Be Honest. In what may be my favorite movie, "Moonstruck," the climactic scene takes place in the kitchen, naturally enough, this being a movie about an Italian family. That's where the father gives his daughter some hard-earned advice: "Tell him the truth, Loretta. They find out anyway."

Leaders would profit by the same advice. It's seldom the original mistake that undoes a leader, for people are forgiving. It's the cover-up. See Bill Clinton, Richard Nixon, et al.

2. Think About Motive, ours in the press and yours as leaders. Marcus Aurelius understood. I share a line or two from his "Meditations":

"Whatever is being done, accustom yourself as much as possible to inquire, 'Why is this man doing this thing?' But begin with yourself, and examine yourself first."

The relationship between source and writer has best been described, and diagnosed, as symbiotic. Each feeds off the other. We inky wretches are like the little bird hunting for scraps who cleans between the hippo's teeth. Alert Reader will understand the motives of both bird and behemoth when he reads a news story.

3. Objectivity must be a goal in our business, but it can never be fully attained. Because we're human. To speak is to judge. Something of ourselves will inevitably be reflected in every word we write, including and and the. Nobody is ever perfectly happy with a story about himself, or about an event he witnessed. Because we are all unique creations with unique points of view. When people say they just want unbiased news, it's been my experience that what they want is news that reflects their own biases.

Perhaps the best question asked the panel was why anyone would enter public life with the press around to tear the poor victim apart.

Answer: If you can be intimidated by the likes of us inky wretches, maybe you don't belong in public life, where you'll face far more serious things than a little public criticism. Take it, and give back as good as you get. We both might learn some things.

Ignore the petty, respond to the serious. It's called raising the level of public discourse. Take the issue seriously, not your ego. Engage. Out of the exchange a better approximation of truth will emerge. At least that's the democratic faith.

And remember that the media are not singular. The press isn't just one great big blob. If you're unhappy with what one channel or paper or station offers, go to another. The multiplicity of news sources in these times is a heartening development not just for journalism, which thrives on competition, but for the republic, which thrives when the marketplace of ideas is overflowing.

What a nice change these times are from the days when a triune god ruled the airwaves -- ABC, NBC and CBS -- and a fine patina of nice, respectably liberal opinion smothered every idea that might be even a little different.

It's foolish for either politicians or the press to expect, vanity of vanities, gratitude.

Nobody has ever come up to me and said, "Say, thanks for the blistering column you ran about me. I'm going to study it and change my ways." The reward for the work is the work itself. Few things are so satisfying.

Why engage in public life rather than play it safe and avoid taking any leadership role? For the same reason we live our private lives fully. Because we're all part of one social organism, and draw so much of our meaning from others. Private life, too, has its hurts, but we do not fulfill our nature by withdrawing from it, no matter the losses and disappointments. Choose life, public and private.

Marcus Aurelius understood all about that, too:

"Begin the morning by saying to yourself, I shall meet with the busybody, the ungrateful, arrogant, deceitful, envious, unsocial. All these things happen to them by reason of their ignorance of what is good and evil. But I who have seen the nature of the good that it is beautiful, and of the bad that it is ugly, and the nature of him who does wrong, that it is akin to mine, not only of the same blood or seed, but that it participates in the same intelligence and the same portion of divinity, I can neither be harmed by any of them, for no one can fix on me what is ugly, nor can I be angry with my brother, nor hate him. For we are made for cooperation, like feet, like hands, like eyelids, like the rows of the upper and lower teeth. To act against one another then is contrary to nature; and it is acting against one another to be vexed and to turn away."

A society will always need leaders who won't turn away.

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