Connections: Eye of the Beholder

Not only beauty but guilt and innocence can be in the eye of the beholder

    Even though it has been a long time since I saw the Japanese film “Rashomon,” I can remember the profound impression it made. “Rashomon” introduced Japanese cinema to this country, and its director, Akira Kurosawa, went on to become one of the most influential in American filmmaking.

    “Rashomon” is about a man’s murder and the rape of his wife, as described by four people who testify very differently about what happened. That witnesses may, and in some cases do, see important or powerful events from wholly different perspectives is a valuable lesson for anyone who ever thinks about truth and justice. Not only beauty but guilt and innocence can be in the eye of the beholder. And that also is a touchstone for journalists.

    Thirty or so years ago, when Dan Rattiner of Dan’s Papers and I met for dinner at East Hampton’s original Laundry restaurant, we seemed to have a lot in common. Over the years, some people confused our last names. We both grew up in New Jersey and we both began our newspaper careers in the town of East Hampton in 1960. But we knew we looked at the world through different lenses.

    I have never forgotten the day when Dan, just starting out, came into The Star office and asked if he could run our publisher’s column, “Looking Them Over.” What chutz­pah! Or was it flattery?

    At dinner, Dan explained his professional philosophy. He had realized (perhaps in high school) that there was no such thing as real truth so he decided early on that he was free to tell the news any way he fancied. Sometimes he took that idea to extremes, startling readers with elaborate and hilarious hoaxes. I, on the other hand, I had come to East Hampton by way of the Columbia University School of Journalism, where one of the basic rules was to strive for objectivity. The Star was more likely to run “on-one-hand, and-on-the-other” accounts of events than hoaxes.

    I am reminded of the famous Robert Frost poem that begins: “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood. . . .” It seems that Dan, a pioneer in personal journalism, “took the one less traveled by,” while those of us at The Star followed a traditional path. That I recited that poem at my eighth-grade graduation is one of life’s little ironies.

    Speaking of truth, or at least accuracy, in journalism, I was wrong last week when I announced there was to be a big rummage sale at the Springs Presbyterian Church this weekend on behalf of the Synchro Swans, the water-ballet team at the Y.M.C.A. East Hampton RECenter. Clothes and household goods are being collected there tomorrow and Saturday, but they will be distributed to the needy by a charitable organization.