In the one story published by the Forward last week about (now former) White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci, we didn’t cuss. We didn’t have to. The story was about a biblical reference to Cain and Abel that Scaramucci made on CNN, the closest we came to a Jewish angle of the R-rated reality show that passes for the White House these days.
But as we have since learned, Scaramucci cusses a lot. And worse. To a reporter. On the record. His profane and vulgar comments set a new low in a presidential administration that already felt like a playground of 10-year-olds out of earshot of any supervising adult, and obviously contributed to him losing his job before it officially began.
His remarks prompted great debate among journalists about whether it was appropriate to quote those four-letter curses that used to be bleeped on the air, banned from family newspapers and never heard in polite company. There were actually stories about the fact that The New York Times printed the f-word, and assertions that it did so only to embarrass President Trump. (As if that were possible.)
Personally, I think that Scaramucci’s words should not have been censored or softened. He was the spokesman for the president of the United States, for goodness sake, and whatever he said matters.
But I do lament the dramatic loosening of standards in public discourse, and the way that new low is reflected in the media.
I did a search of certain curse words on the Forward’s website, and found more than I expected. Most were in stories about celebrities, referencing profane book titles, songs and sometimes direct speech. Some, unfortunately, related to Trump.
There are times when I think it necessary to publish offensive words — if they are contained in anti-Semitic graffiti, for example — so that readers have a full understanding of what happened.
Other times I’m not sure it’s at all necessary, or advisable. Are we contributing to the coarsening of our public discourse? Or are we reflecting the new reality? Email me and let me know what you think.
What I’ve been writing
My piece examining Jared Kushner’s explanation of his dealings with Russians generated a lot of readership and chatter. “These people have no idea that public service means PUBLIC service,” one reader commented.
And I found myself unexpectedly moved as a mother when I saw the theatrical production of David Grossman’s “To the End of the Land” — especially when I learned more about the meaning of the original title of the novel in Hebrew. Read about it here.
Last Thursday night, my colleague Josh Nathan-Kazis revealed that Jewish National Fund — the iconic charity that for decades raised money to buy land in Israel — appeared to have broken New York state law by loaning $525,000 to its CEO, and a smaller amount to its chief financial officer. In a letter to JNF, the state’s attorney general demanded that the money be returned by the end of the year.
JNF denied that it did anything wrong. But somehow, the organization got religion. By Sunday evening, Josh wrote another story after a JNF spokesman said that the CEO would return the money by the end of August.
The spokesman said the Forward was engaged in a “witch hunt.” I’d say we just pursued journalism in the public interest. With results.
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Jane Eisner, a pioneer in journalism, is writer-at-large at the Forward and the 2019 Koeppel Fellow in Journalism at Wesleyan University. For more than a decade, she was editor-in-chief of the Forward, the first woman to hold the position at the influential Jewish national news organization. Under her leadership, the Forward’s digital readership grew significantly, and won numerous regional and national awards for its original journalism, in print and online.