I. Newspapers and Lashon Ha-Ra
The notion of a news source that omits all forbidden gossip–lashon ha-ra–seems like a pipe dream. Perhaps those with rabbinic supervision approach this ideal. But are we halakhically required to obtain our news solely from those sources? May we read other newspapers, respectable media even if they do not fully reach our standards?
Rabbis have often complained about reading newspapers. The Chafetz Chaim repeatedly warns people not to read them because of the rampant lashon ha-ra (e.g. his letter #42). However, those who wish to be aware of world occurrences have no choice but to read or hear the news, either in a newspaper or on some other device. And they will inevitably stumble across lashon ha-ra. Are they halakhically permitted to do so?
Interestingly, one rabbi argues that the Chafetz Chaim himself would permit reading a newspaper that contains lashon ha-ra under certain conditions. The Chafetz Chaim (1:2:10) writes that even when you have permission to repeat some information because it has already become publicized (and all other conditions are fulfilled) you may still not tell it to someone whom you know will automatically believe it. His accepting the story is a violation which you may not facilitate.
II. Reading Is Not Believing
R. Binyamin Cohen (Chelkas Binyamin on Chafetz Chaim 1:7:4 in CB 6) deduces that if the listener (or reader) will not automatically believe the information, if he evaluates news stories and does not accept them uncritically, then he does not violate any prohibition by hearing or reading lashon ha-ra. However, R. Cohen is quick to point out a contradiction.
Elsewhere, the Chafetz Chaim (1:6:2) writes that you violate a prohibition by listening to lashon ha-ra even if you do not intend to believe it. They very act of tilting your head to listen is forbidden. There are two aspects to this prohibition, each equally forbidden: listening to lashon ha-ra and accepting it.
The Chafetz Chaim (ibid., BMC 2) proves this from the Gemara (Shevu’os 31) that a judge is forbidden to hear one litigant’s claim before the other litigant arrives because of lashon ha-ra. The Chafetz Chaim analyzes this text from various angles and concludes that it proves the previously mentioned point. But above he implied that you are only prohibited from listening if you will accept the story as true. Which is it?
III. Don’t Look For It
R. Cohen (ibid., 1:2:10 in CB 18) struggles with this contradiction, leaving it unresolved. Perhaps we can suggest that the difference is a matter of intention. If you consciously attempt to listen to lashon ha-ra, then even if you maintain a skeptical attitude you have listened. But if you do not try to listen to lashon ha-ra, you do not “tilt your head to hear,” then you do not violate the prohibition because the lashon ha-ra comes to you and not you to it. It is a prohibition that comes to you passively and against your will (see Chafetz Chaim 1:6:5 BMC 14). You might still violate the prohibition of accepting lashon ha-ra. But if you maintain a skeptical attitude and do not look for lashon ha-ra, then if you happen to read it you have not violated any prohibition.
If the above is correct, and I fully admit that it is all speculative, then a critical reader would be allowed to read a newspaper that sometimes contains lashon ha-ra. If it regularly contains lashon ha-ra, then your reading it is essentially tilting your head to hear. But if it is there incidentally, you need not worry if you stumble across such a forbidden article. However, you must maintain a skeptical attitude toward the reporting, recognizing the limitations of journalism and the need to refrain from judging the subjects based on such limited evidence and without hearing both sides of the story.
(As always, ask your rabbi for personal guidance and do not rely on internet or newspaper guidance)