Fake News? I’m Shocked

Hypocritically assuming a false mantle of virtue by pretending horror at discovering someone else’s transgression is so unattractive.  We all recognized the dishonesty when Captain Louis Renault in the movie Casablanca (1942) said, “I am shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!”

The hysterical shrieks we’ve been hearing these past couple of years about “Fake News” are equally disingenuous.  Until 2016, did we simply accept as reliably true everything we read or saw?  Of course not.  The rule of Caveat Emptor – let the buyer beware-has been part of the prudent person’s arsenal forever. 

Sadly out of print is Robert Spero’s wonderful book, The Duping of the American Voter: Dishonesty and Deception in Presidential Television Advertising in which Spero showed how the television ads as far back as the 1960s and used by presidential candidates Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford and Carter were “the most deceptive, misleading, unfair, and untruthful of all advertising…” 

I consider one of the greatest geniuses of advertising to have been David Ogilvy, whose iconic book, Confessions of an Advertising Man (1963) included the assurance that he would never do political advertising because it is “…totally uncontrolled and flagrantly dishonest.”

Not only did David Ogilvy know that most political ‘news’ is Fake News but he also revealed understanding of how one aspect of the world REALLY works. He had character.

After dropping out of Oxford, young David Ogilvy found work as an assistant chef at the Hotel Majestic in Paris. Then, for a while, he was a stove salesman back in England. Thereafter he was hired as a trainee at the venerable London-based advertising firm of Mather & Crowther, where his older brother was managing director.  When David decided that he wanted to start his own advertising agency, it was again his brother, Francis who came to his aid with the necessary financing and valuable business contacts.  However, David Ogilvy never remained dependent upon his older brother.  Starting with his family connection, through relentless hard work he became his own man, recognized in his own right as one of the greatest advertisers of all time.

We all start off with a mother and ideally, also a father present and influential.  We have other relatives and friends.  Along the road, someone helps us and gives us a leg up.  It is a real challenge to ride that booster and then fire our own rockets.  Likewise, all parents derive deep satisfaction from being able to help their children.  The challenge is doing so in a way that boosts them rather than shackles them.  It is so very easy for well-intentioned help to foster dependency. 

The lesson is beautifully highlighted here:

And Yitro, priest of Midyan, the father-in-law of Moses, heard everything…
(Exodus 18:1)

And Yitro, the father-in-law of Moses took Tziporah, the wife of Moses…
(Exodus 18:2)

And Yitro, the father-in-law of Moses came to Moses with…
(Exodus 18:5)

Why does Scripture repeat Yitro’s relationship to Moses?  We can all read.  By the time we reach Exodus 18:2, I think we can safely assume that most of us already know that Yitro is the father-in-law of Moses from verse 1.

Then again no more than 3 verses later, we are again told the redundant information that Yitro is the father-in-law of Moses.  Three times the same information in five verses?  Okay, we get it!

Some assume that this must just have been a standard honorific by which the priest of Midyan was always identified.  However, this convenient but false guess falls away when we see Yitro referred to a few verses later, here:

And Yitro rejoiced over all the good…
(Exodus 18:9)

And Yitro said, ‘Blessed is the Lord…’ 
(Exodus 18:10)

As ancient Jewish wisdom explains, Yitro arrived to join Israel with nothing going for him other than his status as the father-in-law of the leader of the people.  In verses 9 and 10 he demonstrates that he has now associated himself with his newly adopted people and is no longer dependent on the relationship with his son-in-law. He stands on his own two feet.

By verse 12, Yitro has already established a relationship with Aaron and the Elders of Israel who join him in his initiative to honor God.  At this point, having achieved recognition in his own right as a person of significance, Yitro does not forget the family relationship that gave him acceptance and he explicitly acknowledges it.

And Yitro, Moses’ father-in-law, took a burnt offering and sacrifices for God: and Aaron came, and all the Elders of Israel, to eat bread with Moses’ father in law before God.
(Exodus 18:12)

Like David Ogilvy who started his climb to success when his older brother gave him a leg-up, we all have benefitted from others who have helped our ascents.  It takes maturity to accept that help and to express gratitude for it.  It takes greatness to continue climbing ever higher while retaining deep appreciation and always honoring the early relationships. 

Adapted from Thought Tools February 2016

10 thoughts on “Fake News? I’m Shocked”

  1. Dear Rabbi, I’m curious about one thing you mentioned a few times in your podcasts, but I don’t know why. And that is that you think president R. Nixon was a great president. I can’t understand why, so can you explain it a little bit more? Especially the part that he would be a better choice for the country then Kennedy back then.

    Now, I don’t think that he was bad vice-president of Eisenhower and I don’t judge him bad because of Watergate (because I don’t think that was his main mistake).
    But I simply don’t understand why he would be any better than Kennedy’s presidency…..

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear Ivan–
      In these matters one can only speculate; basing oneself on the best evidence and making an educated guess. I think history confirms that leaders, whether of companies, families, or countries do best with three rather rare qualities: (i) Knowing how the world REALLY works (ii) Possessing courage (iii) Fearing the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Obviously the latter is the hardest for outsiders to judge but, for instance, Donald Trump, with his treatment of Israel and some other evidence, seems, on some level, to manifest (iii). Having (iii) doesn’t mean you never do anything wrong. It does mean you are not utterly amoral and without conscience. For instance, Jimmy Carter possessed (iii) and (ii). He was a failed president. Hitler and Stalin both possessed (i) and (ii) and neither created lasting structures. Bill Clinton possessed only (i) and with a native cunning kicked some disturbing cans (i.e. Bin Laden) down the road for his successors. Obama evidently possesses none of the three. JF Kennedy, together with his father, Joseph, possessed (i) and (ii). He died before the jury was in. Richard Nixon possessed, again on some level, (i), (ii) & (iii). His understanding of China and his courage Chinese actions revealed both (i) and (ii). He never exploited his office sexually as did Clinton and Kennedy which suggests (iii). I do not, personally, agree with many of Nixon’s actions with respect to the economy and the ‘environment’ but I think if people were to judge him fairly on his achievements without the emotional overlay of hatred that many left-leaning Americans still feel, he would emerge with a strong reputation as one of the better presidents of the past fifty years.
      Just my take,

  2. It seems that somewhere along the way, someone or something, perhaps a cuckoo bird, I think, has thrown the official out of the nest and replaced it with the superficial. I can understand why bird-brains might have difficulty in recognizing the difference, but…

    However, genuine gems In a gold-plated setting? Now, that is, truly, shocking!

  3. My father had a saying. “Don’t believe any thing you hear, and only half of what you see”.
    God Bless,

  4. Regarding false presidential advertising, Thomas Jefferson wrote hundreds of lies to the newspapers to unseat John Adams from being re-elected to a second terms as our second president. False advertising goes all the way back to the founding Fathers.

  5. Well spoken.
    Where you wrote Rabbi, on ill-voice, it has been read of , that here a tactic of those wanting to quell cooperation amongst a people. So,
    slander and innuendo are commonly used. Support for the good of the whole is needed. Not Schism.
    The voice of Yitro (Ex. 18. 13-23) is quite sharp,and rings as a forefront for proper democracy,as well as with respect for fellow man and HaShem.

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