Watch the news or open a paper today and it seems that we’re seeing a trend
which should have any person living in a democracy concerned.
in Israel and in the United States, for various reasons, the press is being
marginalized and forced into a weak position. This severely dilutes the public
discourse and reduces the role of one of society’s important
While some might see this a blessing, I see it as a danger
to our pluralistic ideals. Examples of this deterioration can be found in the
biggest stories both here and the US over the past couple of weeks.
start in the US, where the presidential race is now running on all cylinders
following the Republican and Democratic conventions. I watched parts of both
gatherings and I think it’s safe to say that the majority of the time is spent
preaching to the choir.
After watching a fair share of the speeches, I
believe that most of them are designed to motivate the base and not to convince
the undecided electorate. More importantly, most of the media found these
conventions to be unworthy of coverage. In the daily wrap-ups of the
conventions, there was rarely anything more than a quick sound bite or two, with
the exception of the big stars, of course.
Why is this happening? Well,
it’s a part of a vicious cycle which is slowly leading to the demise of
On one hand there is the 24- hour news cycle which
demands a huge amount of new material to keep it fresh. On the other
hand, almost every news outlet is fighting for its life as their market share
drops due to growing competition. This has led to many of them cutting
convention coverage, taking only highlights.
Both parties understood the
writing on the wall and tailored the conventions to meet the new priorities of
the media. The result; a flat, scripted, sound bite-fueled snooze fest
which has little to no value for the general public.
As to the substance
of the conventions themselves, the candidates’ speeches were overshadowed in the
media by the warm-ups. Mitt Romney and the Republicans will have a hard time
getting past the Clint Eastwood fiasco. President Barack Obama, on the other
hand, was outmatched by the savvy straight-talk of Bill Clinton and the emotion
of Gabrielle Gifford’s pledge of allegiance. In any event, I doubt either
convention will have any impact on the vote itself.
The question of how
much of an effort public officials need to make for the press is not limited to
the biggest political event in the US. Here in Israel it seems that the ongoing
animosity between the much of the news media and the Netanyahu government is
reaching fever pitch over the endless rumor mill surrounding the Iran
I’ve written about this topic before, but now it almost seems like
the news media is playing a game of chicken with the government and both sides
are waiting for the other to blink. The problem is that this game not
only has very damaging consequences for the Israeli people, but both sides come
Many stories about Iran have been published over the past two
weeks, including; the reported confrontation between the prime minister and the
US ambassador to Israel; the fallout from that confrontation; MK Tzachi
Hanegbi’s claim that we are entering a critical 50-day period of decision making
about Iran; and how the prime minister is said to want unprecedented authority
which could circumvent certain officials in ordering an assault.
read articles on how an attack would impact our economy, public transportation
and radiation levels. You name it. These stories come as Prime Minister
Netanyahu shut down a cabinet meeting because of leaks to the press on the Iran
situation while a day or so later, Defense Minister Ehud Barak came out with
another statement on a potential attack.
The thing is that the substance
of the public statements made on Iran have become meaningless. Every editor in
town wants a headline on Iran. Everyone seems to want to make a statement
about Iran. It grabs people’s attention. The problem is that some are making
fools of themselves and the news media because everything is being written
At this point, does it even matter who says what? What’s worse is
if that’s the case, what’s the point of reading the stories at all? Here’s the
irony: the media has found itself fueling the fire which is burning up its own
credibility. I think that the Israeli government might have initially wanted to
use the media to get its message out about Iran but the plan
It started a snowball effect just after the Tishrei holidays
last year and it has been at the top of the public agenda ever since. That’s not
a good thing for anyone, especially the Israeli people – some of whom are living
in fear of the day after.
While the damage to the Israeli public can be
debated, there is no doubt in my mind that it is the news media which has taken
a huge hit in loss of credibility. Israel’s news media is already in decline.
It’s bad enough that Ma’ariv is reportedly going to stop printing its paper and
Channel 10 is under constant threat of closure. If you don’t believe your news
outlet, you won’t watch or read it, will you? That means more financial losses
and more cutbacks.
Bottom line is that right now, the government in
Israel and the political parties in the US see the media as an entity which
needs to be manipulated and outwitted. For their part, news people are seen as
treating elected officials as the enemy. While these attitudes might have
short-term benefits, in the long run they are self-destructive. Politicians
aren’t around forever – and many news outlets might not be, either, if this
We need to return to a place of media reliability,
government responsibility and for both to respect each other’s role in a
democratic society. This is the only way to maintain continuity of the
positive relation between elected officials and the people.
The writer is
an independent media consultant. Jeremy@jeremyruden.com