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Rich Speaks About a Stronger Jewish Identity

N.Y. Times Columnist Praises Harvard's Hillel, Discusses TV's Domination of the Media

By Chana R. Schoenberger

Since Israel won the Six-Day War in 1967, American Jews have increasingly "come out" and asserted their Jewish identities in public, New York Times columnist Frank Rich '71 told about 50 people at Hillel last night.

In the context of the greater visibility of Jews and Jewish themes in the United States today, Rich praised Rosovsky Hall, Hillel's new building on Mt. Auburn St., as a measure of the change in attitudes toward Judaism on campus.

Rich, a former editorial chair of The Crimson, writes a biweekly oped column for The New York Times entitled "Journal."

His previous position as a drama critic for The Times earned him the nickname "The Butcher of Broad-way" for his harsh analyses--an epithet to which he referred laughingly during his talk.

In his column, Rich said, he often combines themes from his theater-critic past with current political events.

"If there's a premise of my column at all, it's where culture meets the news," Rich said.

Because of the dominance of TV over print media, Rich said journalism in America is increasingly moving toward "soft news" and away from serious issues, such as the Clinton health care bili or welfare reform.

"Substantive issues have been crowded out of discourses on politics," Rich said. "With the rise of TV, with the enormous growth and prosperity of this country since World War II, people have less time for [news] and less interest in it."

The move from criticism and news reporting to column-writing was jarring, Rich said, especially because of the complete lack of editorial control The Times has over its columnists.

"It's terrifying to write a column," Rich said. "You have complete freedom to do whatever you want. It's completely dependent on having your own ideas."

Currently, he said, he focuses his column on issues that he feels are neglected by the news media, including the "conglomeration" of huge communications companies like ABC/CapCities.

Because The Times syndicates his column to newspapers across the country, Rich said his audience is varied.

"I get a lot of mail, from Harvard and from people who are writing in crayon from places you don't want to know about," he said.

Asked whether the atmosphere of The Times allows Jews more freedom to exhibit their Jewishness, Rich replied that American society in general has become more receptive to Jewish influences.

He traced the history of The Times from its purchase 100 years ago by Adolph Ochs, who was Jewish, through its grossly negligent coverage of the Holocaust during the Second World War, to the notable presence of Jewish columnists and other writers at the paper today.

Rich related the progression of Jews at The Times to "a coming out of Jews in American culture."

In particular, he said, the Six Day War marked a change in American Jewishness consciousness from a "victim mentality" to a "victorious feeling," which encouraged Jews to be more self assertive about their public identities.

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