Danielle Berrin Talks About Hard-Hitting Jewish Journalism

I am a bad man. (Complete Video)

I am a bad man who had no intention of driving to the Valley tonight for a "Taste of Limmud."

I am a bad man who had no intention of driving to the Valley tonight for a "Taste of Limmud" until he found out that Danielle Berrin was going to lecture about hard-hitting Jewish Journalism.

Here is the exact title of her presentation: "Digging for the Dirt: How Jewish Values Inform Hard-Hitting Journalism."

Come on! I wrote the book on Jewish Journalism. What’s this girl doing talking about my topic? I’m the authority, not this freakishly gorgeous actress!

I thought, "What the hell does Danielle Berrin know about hard-hitting Jewish journalism? She’s the Journal’s Calendar Girl. She writes fluff pieces. She’s beautiful and fluffy and she has great manners but hard-hitting? She’s sweet. You need to be an SOB like me to write hard-hitting articles."

Damn, I’ve got to go to this. I’m going to her talk. I’m gonna tape it. Then I’m going home and tearing her to shreds.

I feel like I have no friends at the top of this thing and I will just exacerbate my pariah status but damn it will be fun.

I am a bad man and I should be true to myself and I should tear Danielle Berrin to shreds and feed her to the lions.

Such jolly fun!

So I got Joey Kurtzman to give me a ride. This LimmudLA event was co-sponsored by JConnectLA and it had a far higher percentage of young people than normal. The house in Valley Village was beautiful, decorated by the owner’s paintings of various hot chix. I dig.

I ate and shmoozed and smacked my lips in anticipation of Danielle’s talk.

She was with this AJU rabbinic student who looked like he could definitely kick my ass.

I ended up sitting right next to him as Danielle rose to give her talk. (Listen)

And damn it all if she wasn’t good. If she wasn’t gracious. If she didn’t give me props and solicit my thoughts. I am a legend in my own mind and when other people give me just the smallest props I’m as grateful as a puppy dog.

I’m so much nicer in person. On my blog, I’m a bastard. I’m a keyboard warrior. In person I’m shy and scared and insecure and filled with shame and self-loathing.

Danielle spoke about her cover profile of director Brett Ratner. She said that she did not publish the worst things he did to her. Damn, I’ve got to know what that was. Men can be such bastards.

Here are excerpts of Danielle’s class:

"I did not study journalism. So it’s only natural that my education would come at the hands of a big Hollywood director. About a year ago, my Editor said to me, ‘Danielle, we’ve never had Hollywood in our paper. It’s really important. There’s this massive Jewish community at our doorstep and we don’t know who they are and we’re not accessing them and there’s all this mythology about Jews running Hollywood and what’s that about?’ I said, ‘Hollywood? No problem.’ Who cares that I am from Miami and that I am probably the least connected person here.

"I met Brett Ratner. He is a high-profile successful Hollywood director. He makes big popular commercial films such as Rush Hour. His films have grossed over a billion dollars at the box office. He’s also from my home town of Miami.

"He gave me his phone number. I said, this is going to be my big Hollywood entre.

"I ran into him again. I had enough of the cat-and-dog chase. I said, ‘I’m not going to take no for an answer.’ He said, ‘OK, come to my home tonight.’

"He has this mythology where he got into Hollywood by not taking no for an answer and talked his way into the upper echelons of Hollywood.

"I showed up to his house with pad and paper and tape recorder. Over the course of four hours, I had an interesting conversation with him. He was forthright and candid with me. As he got more comfortable, he started making some come-hither comments about how I looked or what he wanted to do with me. Then he offered me a tour of his house… He starts in the underground disco basis, which is like a Las Vegas nightclub.

"Over the course of the evening, he became more and more comfortable with me as his companion. He got strangely touchy. I walked out there feeling really deflated. I had to ask myself, did I compromise my integrity to get this interview? It was so important to me. Nothing severe happened, but as a woman, it was a humiliating experience.

"This was my first lesson in journalism.

"As I went to write the story, it was really difficult. It took me two weeks to get it down on paper. I asked myself, do I write it as a straight profile or do I tell the fuller picture of what my experience was when I went to interview him?"

"I wrote the story as it happened. There was a lot of discussion of whether that would be the right thing and the potential consequences to me as a brand new journalist and especially because I am endeavoring to get into the Hollywood scene, to shame a Hollywood director who could potentially help you out, but I realized I couldn’t write it any other way.

"It was written about in the LA Times. The LA Times called Brett Ratner to see if it was true. My journalistic integrity was challenged… Sure enough, I had the facts to back it up. I recorded the entire evening.

"I didn’t even write the worst of what happened."

Whoa! I wonder what that means. Did he pull it out and scream, "Interview this!"?

Danielle: "I was pretty nice. In the end, Brett’s comments to the LA Times reporter were fair, he knew I was being kind to him in more ways than one."

Danielle’s AJU rabbinic student says: "Proust says about Rembrant that when Rembrandt came into the world, you couldn’t help but look through the world but with the eyes of a Rembrandt. Once something great comes around, it changes the way people see things… Jewish journalism is [seeing the world] through Jewish eyes."

I know I have not been the same since I read Danielle’s journalism. It evokes Rembrandt and Proust, but Rembrandt and Proust at their best. Their highest selves, not the swill they’d churn out for the masses.

Speaking of Proust, Joey Kurtzman said: "I did that for two-and-a-half years [at Jewcy.com]. Jewish journalism. Jewish content. Content looked at through the lens of a Jewish sensibility. But what is the Jewish sensibility? I can report that I am no closer to the answer after two-and-a-half-years."

My friend Danny, who majored in journalism, tells Danielle: "I’ve noticed that the Jewish Journal tends to focus [its reporting on] scandals among the Orthodox."

Danielle disagrees.

Danny: "The non-observant Jews put the Orthodox under a magnifying glass just like the non-Jews put Jews and Israel under a magnifying glass."

Danielle: "We could go on all night about who we cover more…"

She gives an example of a story the Jewish Journal found out about and she asks us it the paper should report it: "A young woman (around 18yo) comes to a rabbi for counseling (he’s married with kids) and ends up having an affair with him. What do we do?"

Bloke: "Who’s catering?"

Danielle: "The claim was that a prominent rabbi took advantage of his position with vulnerable young woman who came to him with some real issues."

"We had another example where a rabbi was just having an affair with another married woman. We determined not to report it because it was an affair between two consenting adults."

Woman: "You have an advantage. You don’t have to sell on sensationalism whereas most other publications do. People don’t read the Journal for scandal."

Danielle: "But you know when there is scandal? You know how many more hits we get on the website? As opposed to when I interview another Hollywood executive making another Holocaust film, no one cares, they want to hear about the Brett Ratners taking advantage of the little amateur journalist."

"It is important to be provocative and interesting without crossing the line to ‘Alien Jews From Milky Way Land Set Up Shul On Pico And Take Over.’"

Patrick Goldstein writes for his LA Times blog:

Ratner has been on the receiving end of a lot of snarky press over the years, but what made this startling was that it ran in the Jewish Journal. I couldn’t help but wonder what Brett’s reaction was to being painted as a Lothario in L.A.’s leading Jewish newspaper. What did he think?

I called Ratner on Sunday, just to make sure Berrin didn’t make this all up–or was wildly exaggerating. He’d read the story, but was surprisingly unperturbed. "Some of the stuff she did was unfair, like the part about the books," he told me. "I didn’t brag about how expensive the books were. She was the one who asked me how much they cost. I was just answering her question. But she’s pretty smart, because she didn’t have a pen and she wasn’t recording anything, so I don’t know how she remembered everything so well."

And what about him hitting on her? "I didn’t hit on her," he says. "I was flirting, but it wasn’t as bad as she made it out. I don’t remember being quite that aggressive. I mean, flirting is just flirting. I think she exaggerated a lot of it, maybe because she was trying to get her boyfriend jealous. We talked about a lot of serious things in the story, but I guess that’s not what anyone’s going to write about when they write about me."

UPDATE: Berrin just emailed me, wanting to clarify the issue of how she reported the story. She says: "I had my tape recorder in plain view when I interviewed Brett, which would confirm everything he said. I also took handwritten notes."

At the end of the night, I introduced myself to Esther D. Kustanowitz by holding up a piece of paper saying, "Hi, I’m big bad Luke."

Then I whipped out my charm and got to work.

Here Joey and I drive to the event and talk Kundilini yoga:

On the ride home, Joey says he used to drive an ambulance and was "trained in the art of defensive driving."

Joey: "I chose the Journalistic Ethics class for the purest of reasons. It was just a lovely coincidence [that Danielle gave it]. A lovely young woman."

Luke: "Tall, slender, blonde, gracious. Beautiful manners. A real credit to the Jews. It makes me proud to be a Jew."

Joey: "She’s a sterotype-buster. She’s lovely and well-spoken and she had a confident-assertiveness about her."

Luke: "And she did a good job. I was totally ready to rip her if she didn’t do a good job. I’d say she’s all looks but she’s shallow but I couldn’t say that tonight."

Joey: "She’s kinda ballsy. She opened by discussing this unpleasant sexual thingy with the director [Brett Ratner]. When she starts with that, you’re thinking, oh we’re in LA and the first thing we hear is about how a director hit on her, but as she ended up relating it, it was an important issue and she handled it with sophistication."

Luke: "It’s her best piece of writing. It was funny, brave, ballsy. And most important of all, it was compelling to read. And it was a compelling way to bring up this topic of hard-hitting Jewish journalism. Danielle Berrin is not this hyper-accomplished 55 year old fat man who’d just come from Afghanistan…"

"I want to know what was the horrible thing that Brett Ratner did that she didn’t expose."

Joey: "She said he talked about the kind of things he’d like to do with her."

Luke: "I wonder if they were purely intellectual."

We go over Coldwater Canyon.

Luke: "The light is green. We can go."

Joey: "Luke is an anxious passenger…"

Luke: "I had this girlfriend I’d bully when she drove. She was passive. We almost got into a lot of accidents because her nerves would be shot from my bullying. Now I get into other people’s cars and I’ve got all these bullying habits ingrained in me."

Joey: "You can feel free to do that with me. I won’t get rattled."

Luke: "My favorite type of women are masculine women. I don’t like beards and excessive muscles, I like socially-adjusted accomplished women, women who are different from me. Hard strong tough women. Not tortured artist blogger types. Now I find myself bullying chicks ten times as tough as I am and it is silly and futile."

Joey: "You’re attracted to those you can learn from. If that’s who they are, they’ll tell you what’s up."

Luke: "They’re just kinda amused."

"Have you ever had people who were so desperate to be in your life that they let you bully them? When people let me bully them, I bully them."

"I remember there was this chubby chick who liked me in fifth grade. I kicked her until she cried. And she said, ‘I love you. One day you will find out what it is like to love someone and have them kick you.’

"I would leave tacks on her chair with the pointy end up.

"I’d go left here."

Joey: "Yes."

Luke: "I’d leave tacks on her chair so she’d sit on them with her fat little tush. Tears would spring to her eyes. I kicked her and I left tacks on her desk because she liked me."

Joey: "That’s women. The more the guy is emotionall unavailable, the more desperately they want him. The women I find most enchanting are the women who are often emotionally unavailable. I hope you don’t beat yourself up over that. Attraction is messy. It is a typical human thing. People take the liberties they can."

Luke: "I remember confessing things like this in therapy and I’d blush and be all wrecked and ashamed and she’d say, ‘Luke, you were eleven years old.’ Oh, OK.

"But I am still ashamed and I still carry it with me."

Joey: "Why? You’re ashamed in the present?"

Luke: "I see Danielle Berrin and I know I’ve written cruelly about her at times and I feel like the guy who thumbtacks on a girl’s desk and kicked her and how I bullied a past girlfriend and then I think I may have bullied [Danielle and Esther Kustanowitz and Amy Klein etc] on my website and I feel ashamed. [It’s all connected.] On the other hand, I don’t regret anything I’ve written. I think it was true and accurate, but it feels emotionally like bullying. It’s like picking on a defenseless kid. Danielle Berrin is not going to be writing anything vicious."

Joey: "She’s a strong woman who knows how to look after her own business."

"I had this inflated sense of my own emotional power over other people. I had to get over it. Joey, they’ve got a whole universe and you’re just a tiny part of it. It’s not an excuse to be a jerk but I had to learn humility. I had to get over my own terror of hurting someone."

"The tragedy of very nice guys is that they end up thinking all women are whores because they don’t want to sleep with them. They end up the most embittered. ‘I was a nice guy. I didn’t do anything but try to anticipate what she wanted and throw it at her. And she went off and f—ed someone else. What a whore.’"

We’re at Wilshire on Rexford.

Luke: "I’d go straight."

"You don’t recall a whole bunch of rejections from attractive women that continue to haunt your psyche?"

Joey: "It’s possible I’m in denial."

"Even men who don’t harbor feelings of revenge can find pornography quite enticing."

Luke: "We were talking to a guy tonight who was doing his PhD in pornography and he claimed he’s never looked at pornography. I don’t understand. I think every guy has to have some fetish…that will send him over the edge. Maybe he hasn’t been exposed to it and lucky for him."

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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