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"The sin of one who listened to evil gossip is more severe, and it is punished more, than the sin of the one who tells it." Rambam, laws of personality development 7:3. For example, one political news outlet might give bad news about a certain democratic politician, while another political news outlet might give bad news about a Republican politician. Am I liable for listening to this kind of news? And let's assume that the intention of said news outlet is to spread gossip in order to influence how people might vote for that politician come election day.

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  • @shmosel Duplicate?
    – Moishe
    Feb 20 at 21:46
  • Considering what passes for journalism today with corporate media conglomerates and the use of social media algorithms, it just might be lashon hara.
    – user34203
    Feb 20 at 23:29
  • Should I start a bounty for this question?
    – Miguel
    Feb 22 at 7:30

2 Answers 2

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Every monster, harasser, molester, and abuser is suddenly a [self-professed] expert on the laws of Lashon Hara. They don't want anyone to find out about them.

(Noted posek Rabbi Dovid Cohen shlit"a of the Gvul Yaavetz synagogue of Brooklyn. I heard it in a talk from him c. 2009.)

The classic work on Lashon Hara, Sefer Chafetz Chaim, spends a lot of time on cases where it may be allowed, appropriate, and even necessary to speak (or listen to) detrimental reports, where there is a clear, practical needed outcome (to'eles); there are conditions in place, such as taking rumors with a grain of salt, not reacting disproportionately, and the like. He also adds that if there are unsubstantiated rumors, those should be presented as such if necessary for someone's protection. "Hey I've heard rumors that you may not want to leave Mr. Smith alone with lots of cash." Then Mr. Smith's employer can decide whether to investigate, and/or to act in a defensive manner, e.g. rethinking his store's cash-handling policy. The employer does not have to (nor should not) believe for certain that Smith is guilty, nor do anything disproportionate, such as suddenly firing Smith.

Basically, you take the instance of reporting concerns to an employer, and in our case, the public is the employer vis-a-vis public officials.

Democracy only works if the electorate is well-informed on relevant issues. To quote a recorded lecture from Rabbi Yitzchak Breitowitz, it is kosher to be an investigative journalist if you are uncovering things like a mayor spending taxpayer money on a shoddy construction company because of bribes, when clearly there was a better option in the public interest. The public deserves to know that in order to decide whether to vote for that politician again, work to legally expel them from office, and/or for law enforcement to open an investigation. (All of which are reasonable and proportionate.) And if it's appropriate for the journalist to be printing it, it's appropriate for the appropriate audience to read it.

Rabbi Breitowitz contrasts this with the personal vices of some movie star, on the other hand ... what does the public gain from that? There's really no to'eles.

(As for the private-life problems of politicians, if it's not affecting how they carry out their duties, Rabbi Breitowitz acknowledges this one as thorny.)

Thus, it is to'eles for me to inform myself of matters that may require my action; I should not be reveling in hearing "dirt" about people. But I should be finding high-quality news sources, weighing the evidence and its strengths, and deciding accordingly how to proceed through the democratic system.

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  • Thank you. I find it hard to translate the information in this answer into how one should approach the "political guantlet". You said it's good to find high quality new outlets, but I don't know how to do that, especially in this very moment of time. I also would note that I don't relate to the starting quote. I haven't ever experienced a deluge of monsters and harrassers BH! Could very well be the norm in Rav Cohen Shlita's town, but certainly not mine or any I've lived in
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Feb 21 at 9:31
  • I'm in no position to tell you practically what news sources to watch. But I can address the bigger concept and state emphatically that an absolutist position of "stick your head in the sand because maybe lashon hara" is anti-halachic (recall that Gedalya ben Achikam refused to listen to rumors that someone was plotting against him -- wouldn't even take defensive steps.) As for Rabbi Cohen shli'ta -- he is the posek for Ohel Family Services in Brooklyn. So all sorts of problems wind up on his doorstep -- that's part of his job. All the stuff swept under the rug that you or I don't see ...
    – Shalom
    Feb 21 at 10:39
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"Many forms of public media, such as newspapers, magazines, television, radio, internet etc, publicize evil gossip and tale bearing. It is permissible to read or watch them even though one is hearing evil gossip and tale bearing because these things are already publicized and have become common knowledge. Nevertheless, it is not fitting for this to be a person's main interest and attention. It is only if the person saw or heard this by chance and he did not go delving into the matter that there is no transgression involved. It is not even forbidden to tell others about gossip that was publicized through the media, but it is a bad trait to feel good about or benefited from the failures and shortcomings of other people. Such a trait is unfitting for an upright person. However, it is forbidden to receive a subscription to a media publication if it's main business is evil gossip and tale bearing. Furthermore, these types of publications should not be supported. If the publication's main business is not evil gossip or tale bearing but it includes these types of reports as interspersed minor additions, it is permitted for one to support and subscribe to such media. Nevertheless, one should protest the wrongdoing they commit by publicizing evil gossip. It is explained in part one Chapter four that whoever can safely protest a sinful policy and urge that it be eliminated is obligated to do so in order to improve the opinions of others and to improve the world." Source: The Divine Code 2nd Ed, Rabbi Moshe Weiner, pg. 458-459.

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