It is no secret that the printed media is in financial trouble across the globe; what is referred to as a probable “collapse of daily print journalism.” Newspapers are as much (if not more) an economic enterprise as sacred institutions defending and campaigning for freedom of expression and the public’s right to know. Is there a danger that a lack of money will severely curtail the ability of newspapers to continue to serve as platforms for honest reporting? The dire prophecies that appeared four years ago in The Atlantic magazine’s “End Times” piece by Michael Hirschorn, who wrote that “it’s certainly plausible” that The New York Times could go “out of business,” have proven very wrong. But other journals have fallen, filing for bankruptcy, and others have drastically altered their business models while trimming staff to reduce expenditures. And, of course, there is the “pay wall.”
Even journalists think of money; it’s their livelihood.
Haaretz, which presents itself as providing “extensive and in-depth coverage,” distributed a letter last week from its publisher Amos Schocken, who wrote: “We have maintained our commitment to provide our readers in Israel and abroad with the most relevant and professional news, opinion and analyses. We have enlisted top-notch reporters, editors and writers and have significantly expanded our unique, English-language coverage.... We have continued to serve, we believe, as an indispensable cornerstone of Israeli liberalism and democracy and to stand firm against shortsighted and often dangerous winds of the day.”
We have, in several of our previous columns, noted the dismal record of Haaretz with regard to professional standards of reporting and principles of media ethics. To claim to be providing relevant news, rather than, say, disproportionately highlighting supposed facts that bear on the far-left agenda of Schocken and his crew, is pure chutzpah.
Haaretz is not so much a newspaper as an ideological tract. Its professional shortcomings, such as its publisher’s narrow focus and the clique-like character of the editorial staff, have turned Haaretz into an organ injurious to free, open and pluralistic thinking.
Gideon Levy trumpets his non- Zionism. Amira Haas was quoted saying to The New Yorker “my tribe is leftists, not liberal Zionists.” Regular columnist and Israel Prize laureate Prof. Ze’ev Sternhell in 2001 wrote in Haaretz’s pages “There is no doubt about the legitimacy of [Palestinian] armed resisitance”.
The same is true of Haaretz’s former columnist Akiva Eldar, an uncritical propagandist for Peace Now, B’tselem and Yesh Din, the most egregious of pro-Palestinian Israeli NGOs. His pro- Palestinian stance led him into legal entanglements which compelled him to apologize.
Amir Oren’s columns on the military are colored by antipathy. The English-language edition of Haaretz literally misrepresents and corrupts news items appearing in the Hebrew version. If there is any shortsightedness and danger in Israel’s press today, it is in Haaretz.
Israel’s Media Watch, almost 20 years ago, began to include Haaretz in its media reviews and was the first to track its sinister alterations of news content and headlines from its Hebrew edition for publication in its English one. This practice has only worsened over the years, and includes simplistic translation errors, with no evidence of proofreading.
In the February 2011 New Yorker piece by David Remnick, Schocken was asked the possibility of Haaretz folding or having to be sold to someone with different principles.
He replied that his paper was being published “in the best interests of the country” and then said that “shouldering the burden of Haaretz is like carrying a cross.” No doubt there are many more Israelis who consider Haaretz an albatross around their necks.
Joshua Muravchik has now written in Commentary magazine of Haaretz’s “adversary culture,” by which he means the promotion of an outlook “that finds one’s own country to be the embodiment of all that is wrong and evil.”
A. J. Liebling once quipped, “Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one.”
Unfortunately, not everyone has the chance to own a paper. Their only option is to hope those who do to adhere to professional ethical standards. And that is not the case here in Israel.
A few recent examples of the problem with Haaretz, as listed by CAMERA’s local agent Presspectiva, include: • In mid-May, for two consecutive days, the English edition of Haaretz falsely reported that Jewish prayer is permitted on the Temple Mount.
• On March 31, Gideon Levy falsified the number of Gazan Arab deaths during Operation Cast Lead, sourcing it to Amnesty International – which didn’t report it.
• On June 6, a teenage girl who had been raped by Arabs when she was 13 (and who was involved in the recent controversy involving Judge Yeshaya) was erroneously called a “Palestinian” in the English translation, although she is Israeli and Jewish.
• And lastly, the paper had to correct a grievous translation error: it mistakenly reported on April 23 that a judge in the trial of administrative detainee Samer Issawi agreed that the appearance of the prisoner could be compared to that of a Holocaust survivor.
What the judge was shocked about was Issawi’s own claim that he should be compared to a Holocaust survivor.
Despite gross inaccuracies such as these; basing editorial columns on misrepresented data; unreliability and political bias, the paper is still widely quoted by the state-funded public broadcasting radio and television outlets, especially the early morning programs. They in turn rarely, if at all, include the subsequent corrections, thus multiplying the damage to the media consumer.
The German investor group DuMont Schauberg purchased 25% of the paper’s ownership shares in 2006. Has this foreign involvement influenced the paper’s downplaying the issue of European funding for left-wing NGOs? Haaretz serves as a major platform for some of them, even though past experience has shown that too often their information is based on shoddy research and overzealous identification with the subject matter.
In 2011, the paper announced that the former Russian oligarch Leonid Nevzlin, who immigrated to Israel in 2003, had joined Haaretz as a partner, acquiring 20% of the company’s share capital. Is Haaretz still a local paper? In the past few months, Haaretz has experienced growing financial difficulties. Undoubtedly, Shocken’s letter is part of the effort to retain its subscriber base. Last September 23, The Jerusalem Post informed us that Haaretz employees had called a partial work stoppage which shut down the paper for around two hours. Employees were facing layoffs, and demanded answers about their scope.
Some senior staff has left recently, including Akiva Eldar and Doron Rosenblum. Could it be that they were thinking of receiving their pensions while there’s still money around to pay for it? It is not unreasonable to guess that stricter adherence to professional journalistic ethics would contribute to a more solid future for Haaretz.
The authors are, respectively, vice chairman and chairman of Israel’s Media Watch (www.imw.org.il).