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`Trash Talk' TV
As It Affects Jews
JAMES BESSER WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT
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WE'RE FIGHTING FOR YOUR LIFE
ow do you work with the
bad guys, when the bad
guys are working to pro-
mote the cause of good?
In the 1990s, with political po-
larization the rule of the day,
Jewish groups are not address-
ing that issue with any vigor.
Our aversion to Christian tight
groups that mix morality and
"family values" with bigotry and
sectarian intolerance prevents us
from acknowledging the validity
of some items on their agenda.
The result is that Jewish or-
ganizations, which have reams
to say about almost every other
issue, have been strangely silent
about the moral and cultural is-
sues that underlie some of the
toughest issues facing the nation.
This came to mind recently
when Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-
Conn., the only Orthodox Jew in
the Senate, teamed up with for-
mer Education Secretary William
Bennett to attack "trash talk"
television — those daytime talk
shows that feature sexual taw-
driness, sensationalism and all-
around bad taste.
Mr. Lieberman is a man whose
religious values are clearly
stamped on his political persona,
which sometimes gets him in
trouble with Jewish groups. His
advocacy of school vouchers that
will provide indirect government
aid to parents who choose to send
their children to religious schools,
for example, has been vehe-
mently opposed by most Jewish
Social problems, Sen. Lieber-
man insists, are clearly linked to
our growing failure to transmit
positive, healthy values to our
children. Religion, our most ef-
fective vehicle for perpetuating
such values, cannot be entirely
removed from the debate over
problems that have failed to re-
spond to purely political solutions.
"It's clear to me that the great
majority of people in this country
feel that the entertainment cul-
ture, and particularly television,
does not reflect their values," he
said in a recent interview. "In
fact, more and more, it rejects
their values by placing sexually
inappropriate material and vul-
gar language even in the 'family
The usual explanation is that
they have been too busy with oth-
er pressing issues, like the sweep-
ing reductions in federal social
programs. Jewish organizations
are also devoted to the First
Amendment; more than most
groups, Jews see a direct con-
nection between the freedom of
speech and the freedom of every
But there is another factor at
work here, as well.
Jews do not want to do any-
thing to legitimize the political
fundamentalists like the Rev. Pat
Robertson and the Rev. Don
Wildmon who have turned the
battle against trash TV into a tool
in their crusade to stamp their
own sectarian perspective on
American public life.
Anything that contributes to
their agenda is anathema to Jew-
ish groups, even when the polit-
ical preachers promote positions
based on values and concerns
shared by both religious and non-
As a result, groups like the
Christian Coalition, whose crit-
ics say spread bigotry and intol-
erance along with family values,
have almost an exclusive fran-
chise on an issue that disturbs a
growing number of Americans
who may not share Pat Robert-
son's narrow religious vision, but
who recognize the cultural crisis
that has allowed trash talk and
other lurid programming to pro-
In fact, our refusal to forceful-
ly address these concerns may en-
hance the credibility of the
Christian extremists and dimin-
ish our own if we are viewed as a
community that is so focused on
a myopic liberal ideology that we
refuse to see the cultural devas-
tation taking place in our own liv-
So what is the Jewish stake in
the decline of American culture,
as manifested in the likes of Rik-
ki Lake and Sally Jessy Raphael?
Don't Avoid The Issue
We speak about continuity and
we cast about for ways to ensure
a Jewish future, but we seem to
ignore the fact that our own chil-
dren are bombarded with images
and ideas that represent a direct
TV And Cultural Rot
repudiation of the values Jewish
Up to 8 million children every parents — Orthodox, Reform and
day, he said, watch programs everything in between.
But we, too, have a lot to lose
that "investigate" such issues as
women who sleep with their as a money driven, out-of- control
daughters' boyfriends, or over- media industry seeks even
weight and promiscuous women. greater profits, no matter what
Jewish organizations, have been the cost to our culture and our de-
strangely silent:about this cul- mocratic institutions. O