On Tuesday, during an interview by a sports reporter a politician commented that: “political reporters are a lot like sports reporters. They’ve all got opinions, even if they never played.” That politician was US President Barack Obama, and the interview was broadcast over the Des Moines, Iowa, KXNO sports radio. In Israel, the term we would use would surely be “kibitzing.” But there’s a multi-pronged barb in Obama’s words, which are applicable to our local media and those who run it.

As we understand it, this political contender for office knows well that reporters are not objective. It is only a matter of the degree to which they insert not only wrong information, through sloppy work or otherwise, but a bit of bias, whether through omission or commission. In addition to opinions that sometimes insert themselves into the reporting of news, there is also the lingering concern as to whether reporters are truly knowledgeable about their beats. Are they sufficiently experienced “players” who can take to the field to compete not only with rival journalists but also with the people and events they cover?

This last point is especially relevant to the tom-tom beating that has been going on, at ever-increasing volume, in certain media quarters covering the possibility that Israel’s government may be forced by circumstances to employ military alternatives to curb the nuclear weapons program of Iran.

Iran is the country whose supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, recently announced that Israel will disappear from the “landscape of geography” and that its land will be returned to the Palestinians.

A few days later, on the occasion of Al-Quds Day, he characterized Israel’s administration of the disputed territories and, for good measure, the formation of Israel as the root of evil in the Middle East, which was a “conspiracy [of] colonialists and oppressors.”

This past Friday, in a speech marking Iran’s Quds Day broadcast on state television, Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke of “the Zionist regime and the Zionists” as “a cancerous tumor.” And he added that the nations of the region will soon finish off the “usurper Zionists” and that “in the new Middle East there will be no trace of the Americans and Zionists.”

The Israeli media’s response to the Iranian challenge is perhaps surprising. Haaretz, not known as a great fan of either Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu or Defense Minister Ehud Barak, outdid itself over the past few weeks in presenting a fair and rather comprehensive picture of the dilemma created by Iran for Israel’s political leadership. Its headlines were typically factual. Some examples are in order.

On August 1 it was: “Netanyahu: the political leadership will decide whether to attack Iran.”

On August 3: “Estimates – an attack will set back Iran by a year or two.”

Another large headline on August 7: “Iran is in an advanced stage in its nuclear program.”

On August 10: “Senior Israeli: Iranian sword at our neck is sharper than the situation in 1967.”

Two days later it was: “Iran has made progress in the development of nuclear warheads.”

Compare these to Yediot Aharonot’s coverage.

Its headlines during the same period went as follows: “Cabinet Ministers: we are not kept up to date [on Iran]”; “Saudi Arabia: We will shoot down Israeli planes on their way to Iran”; “Netanyahu and Barak have decided to attack Iran in the fall”; “Is Israel prepared for an attack against Iran? – unprepared for war”; “The atomic error of Ehud Barak”; “US Chief of Staff: Israel cannot destroy Iran’s nukes.”

DOES YEDIOT really know what the prime minister’s plans are? Have they become mind readers? Israel’s media consumers should be asking whether Yediot’s criticism is based on facts supplemented by analysis or whether it is just the result of ideological opposition; that whatever decision Netanyahu makes, military, economic or social, is to be countered in editorials, columns and even news stories?

One response to this was given by Defense Minister Barak in the Knesset when, in referring to a strike on Iran, he said, “The decision, if it is required, will be made by the government, and not by a group of citizens or editorial articles.”

A poll conducted by New Wave for Yisrael Hayom found that 83 percent of the public think there is too much chatter on the matter of Iran. One left-of-center personality, Hebrew University professor Shlomo Avineri, was honest enough to point out that “things several writers and journalists have said on this issue are infuriating, and they are a dangerous sign. They have no place in a democratic state.”

Some of the foreign media have also demonstrated rather unprofessional standards. Richard Silverstein, Tikkun Olam blogger who previously revealed Anat Kam’s name, was defined as a “well-informed source who has been very accurate” by Judith Miller, a FOX News contributor.

The BBC granted Silverstein an interview, elevating him to the status of kibitzer-plus. This followed Silverstein’s claim that he had published a secret official document, received from a reliable source, detailing Israel’s plan of attack against Iran. It just so happens that this “secret document” was publicized four days earlier on the Israeli “Fresh” website (fresh.co.il) and that moreover it was written by a user of the website who openly clarified that the plan of attack was nothing but his imagination.

So, what have we? “Much ado about nothing.”

Yediot knows no more or less than Haaretz, Yisrael Hayom or The Jerusalem Post about the Iranian issue. The central difference is that Yediot does not seem to know how, or perhaps does not care to distinguish between news and views.

It uses the Iranian issue as a springboard to attack the present Israeli government. It would seem that the Iranian issue has brought with it a fundamental change in the balance of Israeli new outlets. At least here, Yediot has outflanked Haaretz to the left. It has replaced the principle of vox populi vox dei (the voice of the people is the voice of God) with vocem nostram deus est vox (our voice is that of God) and is attempting to force on Israel’s society a media putsch of the minority.

As Avineri openly admitted: “It is regrettable to see that now those questioning democratic authority are personalities from the Left.”

IN FACT, everything being said now in the media is rather meaningless. If the government attacks Iran and is successful, then all those in the media who are criticizing the government today will take the credit, claiming that it was their warnings which assured that the government acted responsibly. And if heaven forbid such an attack fails, then no matter what one thinks, the Netanyahu government will be replaced – but this would be the least of our worries. And if the government decides to do nothing, we will be facing a nuclear Iran, and these same critics will criticize the government for not taking action on time.

Our suggestion: let the news speak for itself. Our media “experts” should stick to reporting the facts. That is the professional, the democratic and the lawful way for them to do their job. And if they don’t, then we, the media consuming public, should stop listening to them.

The authors are respectively vice chairman and chairman of Israel’s Media Watch.

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