Between Art and News: Ellen Horowitz on the “Higher Truth”

The following is an article that Ellen Horowitz wrote and illustrated with an original drawing. I post them here because we worked closely together on this piece, and the points she makes are essential in beginning to understand the problem with advocacy journalism.


Between Art and News: A Terrible Privilege

Part 1
October 11, 2006
Ellen W. Horowitz

“Today’s history is written the very moment it happens. It can be transmitted immediately through the press, radio, television… For this reason I like journalism. For this reason I fear journalism… Journalism is an extraordinary and terrible privilege…Not by chance, when I find myself going through an event or an important encounter, does it seize me like anguish, a fear of not having enough eyes and enough ears and enough brains to look and listen and understand…”
-from Interview with History by Oriana Fallaci [1929 -2006]

She passed away 3 weeks ago. But it seems that avowed atheist and renowned journalist Oriana Fallaci may have earned a piece of prime real estate in paradise which is normally reserved for the very righteous..

More artist than journalist, Fallaci was a non-partisan partisan. Self -aware, insightful, and brutally honest, Fallaci adhered to her own set of strict principles. Detached impartiality and equitable reporting were not among her rules of the game. She brazenly declared, ”…if I am a painter and I do your portrait, have I or haven’t I the right to paint you as I want?”

And yet, world leaders and personalities from across the globe and political spectrum clambered for an interview with her. In Fallaci’s world, good reporting had little to do with objectivity and a lot to do with finding the key to provoke, inspire and challenge a thoughtful readership. She did this through her own unique and complex formula of passionate creative expression, coupled with an intense sense of justice, and an profound awareness of history. I guess that approach seemed fair and comfortable enough for a glut of V.I.P.s to allow her to skewer them. They knew who and what they were dealing with. There were no hidden agendas.

oriana small

She opted out of popular trends and mainstream political correctness because she knew that fabrication or suppression of reality and authentic feelings – therapeutic rhetoric of moral equivalence pretending to be fair play – could be a formula for disaster and spelled the end of civil society.

While living in this world, Ms. Fallaci trembled at the responsibilities and consequences associated with her occupation. She was also fully cognizant of the blessing and the curse that comes with being gifted – and yet she was a virtuoso at meeting those challenges.

A G-d fearing and highly spiritual atheist? Something to think about – but then again the one-of-a-kind Oriana Fallaci regularly attempted the impossible. She did indeed,, successfully navigate the paradoxical and contradictory, sometimes antinomianline between art and journalism. She could do it, because she had scruples.

But what about the lesser beings among us – like the kind who frequent the Mideast desks for a variety of local and international news outlets? The media services swarm with frustrated novelists, cinematographers, and wanna-be Hollywood producers who fail to rise to an ethically-challenging occasion. Armed with their opinions, agendas, bereft of ethical guidelines, compunction, they slip on the masks of unbiased reporters and enter turbulent waters with every intention “doing good” (helping the oppressed, for example) no matter how much they mightmuddy those waters further.

So somehow those suppressed creative tendencies and inclinations manage to find expression in some convoluted way and, once exposed, the public rightfully becomes suspect and loses faith in the press.

Demanding uncompromising fealty to neutral standards of reporting in a hotbed like the Middle East would be asking too much of any skilled, intelligent, (and human) journalist or photographer.The region is steeped in intense drama and history-in-the-making. Why would and how could anyone – especially those striving for a Pulitzer – dilute the story by desensitizing themselves or sacrificing their style, presentation, personality and ideology? And yet, the point of journalism, as of any of the information professions, is to at least prune back one’s opinions, ideologies and style to accord with accuracy and honesty. There are ethical requirements and obligations incumbent upon any media professional that are not upon artists. Finding a solution to this challenge is the test of journalistic integrity.

Unfortunately, the near impossible dance combo of creativity, authenticity, self discipline, and accountability, employed by Oriani Fallaci, belongs to rare individuals of whom we are in desperate need.. Today’s onus falls on the editors and bureau chiefs, who have to act as parents and policemen in an attempt to reign in and ground the overly zealous ideologues and the unbridled creative tendencies of his or her staff.

It’s a given that proper review, consideration, discretion, and fact-checking investigation, checking of images and accompanying reports received from cameramen in the field, must be part of any editor’s job description – regardless of his or her personal views. Not only is this wise policy, but it’s a moral imperative in a region where a mere click of the shutter is capable of sparking vast conflagrations.

In theory, accountability and credibility could be achieved and maintained by drawing clear lines and disengaging artistic expression from authentic reporting. But it’s not a very fun or realistic approach (unless you like performing lobotomies). Moreover, today’s editor is under intense pressure to deliver, disseminate and even create the latest earthshaking scoop. And when competition trumps credibility the consequences can be .

Nowhere is this conflict between professional standards and desire for a scoop with immense ideological significance more evident than in the poor judgment exercised on September 30, 2000 by French Public Television’s (France 2) Jerusalem Bureau Chief, Charles Enderlin.

Enderlin failed the test in such a grand way that this single, classic example of twenty first century incompetence should be required reading in the history and journalism departments of every university – and perhaps in classes in philosophy, social deviancy, information warfare, and psychology as well (we will explore why in Part 2 of this article).

What’s curious to note is that Charles Enderlin and Oriana Fallaci shared a strange sort of destiny. In the last few years, Oriana was on trialin her native Italy for defaming Islam. Never one to mince words, Fallaci lamented and protested, in no uncertain terms, the transition of Europe into Eurabia at the hands of Islamofascists. Her words didn’t sit well with Islamic activists and progressive Europeans.

Meanwhile, a mere train ride away, three French Jews are still on trial in Paris for defaming France 2 Television and its Jerusalem Burea Chief Charles Enderlin. By now it’s widely acknowledged by those familiar with the evidence, that France 2 disseminated misinformation on the alleged (very likely staged) shooting of 12 year-old Mohammed Al -Dura. The faulty report not only fueled four years of unprecedented terror in Israel, but there’s strong evidence suggesting that it fomented a wider global Jihad.

But neither the evidence nor the consequences are the issue for Charles Enderlin. Rather than resign in an act of acknowledgment of failure contrition, Enderlin is concerned about his honor. As he told Jerusalem Post’s Michel Zlotowski, “I can accept any polemic; what is unacceptable is to be publicly insulted and be called a liar. ”
Never mind that it looks like he lied shamelessly. Enderlin won’t tolerate being insulted.

Ironically, Enderlin had no small hand in helping to fuel and create the very atmosphere which Fallaci railed against – an atmosphere which brought death threats and defamation suits against the famed Italian writer.

Next: Between Art and News: Duped by a Scoop

9 Responses to Between Art and News: Ellen Horowitz on the “Higher Truth”

  1. […] rest evidence of Enderlin’s incompetence as a journalist — not, mind you, as a story-teller; he’s a first class profes […]

  2. Eliyahu says:

    the claim that art represents a “higher truth” reminds me that some people –perhaps because of their prejudices– are inclined to accept symmetrical stereotypes as truth. Symmetry after all is an element of art. In particular I’m thinking of the psychological warfare argument that, Yes, the Jews were terribly persecuted by the Nazis, but now they have become the Nazis who are doing exactly the same to the Arabs or “palestinians.” There are many people who hold on to this false argument, for whatever reason. Perhaps because of its symmetry, perhaps because of prior prejudices.

  3. RL says:

    to Eliyahu:

    i think this symmetry is one of the great failures of western thinking in our day. while the symmetry is one part of the appeal, i think the other is a certain moral Schadenfreude. it just feels so good to some gentiles to be able to point the finger at jews and say, “you jews, 2000 years you’re oppressed by others and no sooner do you get power than you turn around and do it to someoneone else.”

    of course this is particularly painful to jews since their ethics are based on precisely not doing that: you shall not oppress the stranger in your midst because you were strangers in egypt and know the heart of the stranger. to take this awful situation in the Middle East and interpret every move of self-defense (including the taking of the territories in 1967) as signs of an incipient imperialism/fascism may be emotionally gratifying (esp to europeans who have a strong imperialist and fascist past), but it’s not dealing with reality, and eventually reality (esp when it’s misread) bites back.

    and then of course there’s the comparison with nazis, which i think is nothing short of moral sadism… as if there’s anything that the jews and the nazis have both done that every nation on earth hasn’t also done, certainly under circumstances of attack like the one israel finds itself in.

  4. […] 8212; RL @ 12:59 pm — Print This Post This is Part 3 of a Three Part Series. Read Part 1 and Part 2. It has also been publishe […]

  5. […] S is busy giving absolution to Oriana Fallaci — what intelligent reader could not be struck with her intellectual itinerary! &#821 […]

  6. […] using a picture of an Israeli shooting at the boy that came from another time and place. Between Art and News: Ellen Horowitz on the “H […]

  7. […] n responded to the scandal caused by these revelations with a defense that suggests he has “gone native.” He used Talal’s footage […]

  8. […] erlin knew or knows is certainly a matter of concern, especially for anyone concerned with journalistic integrity. What I lay out below […]

  9. […] all comments. Will post the best. (Thanks to my resident cartoonist — here, here, and here — Ellen […]

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