Some say that a day-old newspaper is just good for wrapping fish, but the stories in old newspapers live on for years, if only in someone’s kitchen, even if reporters and readers have long moved on.
A few weeks ago, a small item in northeast Pennsylvania’s Times-Leader noted the passing of an 89-year-old woman whose daughter died “in a well-publicized automobile accident.”
Gwen Kopechne was remembered as “a caring woman who loved talking, drinking coffee and making pancakes for breakfast.”
“What made Gwen a strong woman,” her family told the local paper, was “her strength … not [to] dwell on the past.”
Long ago, in a distant summer, Gwen’s only child, Mary Jo, then 28 years old, was found drowned in Sen. Ted Kennedy’s upside-down
car after he drove off a small bridge in the night. Only the moon landing kept Chappaquiddick — the site of the Massachusetts bridge — from being the biggest news story of 1969.
Mrs. Kopechne “loved talking” but for 39 years, in Swiftwater, Pa., where the Kopechnes lived, you could pull up a chair for coffee and pancakes if you knew what not to talk about. It wasn’t talked about at the funeral, either. She was buried alongside Mary Jo. Almost no one in the media noticed, a quiet that would have pleased the family.
Other mournful parents, briefly discovered by the media, choose to return to anonymity like Mrs. Kopechne, but some find purpose in becoming a public presence, demanding that we continue to pay attention, if only to somehow make sense of the senseless.
Judea Pearl exemplifies the latter. Six years ago, his son, Daniel Pearl, a reporter for The Wall Street Journal, was kidnapped in Pakistan and his throat was slit. The father, writing in his son’s old paper (Jan. 30), said Daniel represented America, he represented journalists, “and journalists, more than any other professionals, represent the strength, beauty and vulnerability of an open society … His murder proved that 9/11 was not an isolated event, and helped resurrect the age-old ideas of right and wrong, good and evil. Moral relativism died with Daniel Pearl….”
Pearl told us that he observes Daniel’s yahrtzeit on Adar 8, which fell this year on Feb. 14.
Not all journalists are pure, writes Pearl. He cited the recent chaos in Gaza when news agencies “willingly reported Hamas propaganda stunts as truth.”
To distinguish “true from false journalism,” writes Pearl, “just choose any newspaper or TV channel and ask yourself when was the last time it ran a picture of a child, a grandmother or any empathy-evoking scene from the ‘other side’ of a conflict.”
His standard, at first glance, is the very essence of the moral relativism he abhors. We asked him about a piece in The New York Times (Feb. 13). “2 Boys, 2 Sides, 2 Beds in an Israeli Hospital Ward.”
The story tells of two boys in an Israeli hospital ward. One, Osher Twito, 8, an Israeli boy from the town of Sderot, was seriously wounded by rocket shrapnel; the other, Yakoub Natil, 6, from Gaza, was brought to Israel after being hit by Israeli shrapnel in a retaliatory raid.
The Times reporter, Isabel Kershner, writes, “the proximity of the two boys has not brought reconciliation. Osher’s parents, Iris and Rafi Twito, are outraged at the thought of comparing the boys’ cases. They refuse to allow them to be photographed together. ‘The Palestinians aim to hurt our sons and rejoice at their injuries,’ they said … ‘while neither we, nor our army, intended to hurt them.’”
Speaking by telephone from his home in California, Pearl explained that in the ideological dimension, there can be no moral relativism. A “reconciliation” between Hamas and Israel, said Pearl, is a gulf greater than the distance between beds. Part of the discussion, he said, has to be why the Arab media, such as Al-Jazeera, “has a taboo on showing the suffering of Israeli children.” On the other hand, he quickly added, “I would like to see the human side of the murderer’s children, even the murderer of Daniel Pearl. They are human beings. They are the future.”
He understood reconciliation but there didn’t seem to be too many in the reconciliation camp who were comfortable with his use of the word “evil,” who understood his solace in hearing President George W. Bush say, just this past Chanukah, that Daniel’s final words “have become a source of inspiration to Americans of all faiths.” Those famous final words were, of course, “My father is Jewish … I am Jewish.”
Pearl’s frustration recently brought him into conflict with none less than the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi.
The Washington Post and Newsweek share an online religion section, “On Faith,” an ongoing religious discussion by various contributors. The Hindu contributor is Arun Gandhi, formerly a journalist with The Times of India and, like his grandfather, an active proponent of nonviolence.
Gandhi contributed an item, “Jewish Identity Can’t Depend On Violence,” arguing that Jews are “too locked into the Holocaust,” an example of how “a community can overplay a historic experience to the point that it begins to repulse friends.”
Gandhi warned that anyone “anchored to the past is unable to move ahead, especially a nation that believes its survival can only be ensured by weapons and bombs … Would it not be better to befriend those who hate you? … You don’t befriend anyone, you dominate them. We have created a culture of violence (Israel and the Jews are the biggest players) and that culture of violence is eventually going to destroy humanity.”
Gandhi, as you can imagine, was forced to apologize, admitting that he should have distinguished between the Jewish state and the religion, between Jewish peace activists and other Jews.
Pearl felt he had to speak up. In a letter to the Washington Post, he brought up his son’s final words, “My father is Jewish, my mother is Jewish, I am Jewish,” as Jewish as anyone Gandhi might have had in mind. “My son Daniel died mighty proud of his Jewish identity,” an identity that was not “dependent on violence.” He was not saved by nonviolence, either.
“Violence is on the rise,” writes Pearl, “and no sensible strategy is in sight for containing it. Gandhi decided to exploit this state of anxiety and transform it into a mob hysteria directed at Jews, Israel-supporters, and Israelis … The hatred that killed my son Daniel was created by reckless incitements of this sort.”
Pearl was always peaceful, still trying, never a public man, but he found his voice when they slit his son’s throat. This was his season of mourning, a bad time to get into his kitchen.