The Lashon Hara Picture Show

From "A Taste of Limmud" Sunday night in Valley Vilage:

Danielle Berrin rose to give her talk. (Listen)

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."

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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