Recent media studies have identified an ominous development: predictive
reporting. This is a form of journalism in which attention isn’t drawn to actual
events or quantitative facts from which conclusions can be drawn and checked. In
essence, journalism with no accountability.
In 1996, James Fallows, in
his book How the Media Undermine American Democracy, wrote about this
“It builds the impression that journalism is about
spectacles and diversions... this useless distraction has become a specialty of
the political press. Predictions are easy to produce, they allow the reporters
to act as if they possess special inside knowledge, and there is no consequence
for being wrong.”
Following the Palestinians’ September bid for statehood
at the UN, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman waxed poetic regarding the months
of dire media predictions that preceded it.
“There is no diplomatic
‘tsunami,’ or even rain on a cloudy day. I remember all the predictions of doom
and all the people who said there would be a catastrophe... I have reservations
about the Quartet’s decision, but the fact that it calls for negotiations
without preconditions is a great achievement for Israel,” he
Observers of Israel’s media during the run-up to September have to
ask: What was its intent? To sell more papers? Undermine the government’s
position? Confuse the public? Embarrass Israel? To be fair, it was Defense
Minister Ehud Barak who first used the “tsunami” metaphor.
participants of the Research Division of the Institute for National Security
Studies on March 13, Barak, referring to the natural disaster in Japan the
previous week, said, “We stand to face a diplomatic tsunami that the majority of
the public is unaware of.”
He added that “for the past two years we
haven’t tried to put the core issues on the [negotiating] table.”
words provided the media with ample fodder to attack Prime Minister Binyamin
Israeli media turned Barak’s statement into an agenda. In May,
in this newspaper’s weekend magazine, David Harris- Gershon wrote, with a bit of
hyperbole, of a “crippling fear of September’s UN General Assembly” and
predicted “that, with help from the prime minister, Barak’s self-fulfilling
‘diplomatic tsunami’ prophecy may actually come true.”
He was not alone.
For half a year the media rallied itself behind the “tsunami”
Headlines, questions from interviewers, panel discussions, expert
comment and op-eds all were linked to the upcoming September tsunami.
matter which channel or which page, the media consumer found him/herself all but
consumed by the media wave.
On May 8, one headline referred to a “legal
columnist Aluf Benn described Netanyahu as falling into
a diplomatic trap in April.
An editorial in that newspaper on August 9
pictured Israel’s government as “hysterical.”
On September 15, Ari
Shavit, also in Haaretz
, stated, “uncontrollable violence would break out in the
Inexorably, panic was being generated. Fears of
Arab-initiated violence and Israel’s failure were heightened. Deputy Prime
Minister Moshe Ya’alon tried to stem the surge of bias in a Ynet interview on
July 11, saying “... there is a series of scare tactics being used from within
the coalition” but he was a lone voice, outside the media frame.
media scare campaign reached it climax in the weeks preceding the actual
On September 11, Ma’ariv’
s Ben Caspit had his readers focused on
this scenario: “It’s happening now: the start of the tsunami. It’s difficult to
find a leader who didn’t warn Netanyahu and his ministers of the coming
tsunami... Now that it’s coming – it’s too late.”
Again, Ari Shavit, in
on September 1, declared, “in a few weeks, Netanyahu will pay the
price... the Palestinian state will be established with a large majority... the
spring is over; the storm will hit in the fall.”
The media brimmed with
TRUE, THERE were some journalists that
analyzed the situation differently. These voices, however, never reached the
“value-added” media status that accrues to the “stars.”
These media stars
not only are provided a home platform but are invited to other media outlets,
notably radio and television.
For example, Ari Shavit is a permanent
member of the experts’ panel on Channel 1 TV’s Friday night weekly roundup, with
no balance from opposing media representatives.
And what, in the end, was
the public’s opinion after the supposed tsunami failed to materialize? A DAHAF
poll that appeared in Yediot Aharonot
on September 30 registered 66 percent as
believing there will never be peace with the Palestinians.
percent considered Netanyahu’s speech to be good, with less than 10% holding a
A Dialogue poll for Haaretz
had 41% satisfied versus 45%
unsatisfied with Netanyahu’s performance at the UN.
Asked how they felt
watching Netanyahu’s UN address, 40% expressed pride, 21% hope, only 13%
It would be hard to dispute Moshe Arens’ comment,
published on September 28 in Haaretz
: “It turns out that the tsunami predicted
to hit Israel in the month of September went the way of so many other
predictions that have been made about the Middle East in recent
In retrospect, we again note that Israel’s media set an agenda –
a campaign to force Israel’s government to provide concessions to the
Palestinian Authority in return for negotiations. Even after the Palestinian
move failed miserably, Yediot Aharonot
was not willing to concede Netanyahu’s
success; rather their headline screamed that Netanyahu was returning to a
The same type of agenda-setting occurred during the
expulsion from the Gaza Strip and north Samaria. What is surprising is that the
public, which should by now be well aware of the media’s predominantly
undemocratic attitude, does not respond. It is high time the public demands
accountability, especially from the public media outlets.
commentators, whose dire predictions turned out to be false, should be
identified as propagandists, rather than journalists. The public should demand
that they be replaced.
The name of the game is accountability.The
writers are executive director and vice chairman of Israel’s Media Watch.