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(photo credit: AP)
Although the media love to report on the romances of show biz celebrities, those are rarely more interesting than the love-hate relationship many have with the press itself. Celebrities need the exposure the media provide, but often come to loathe the invasion of their privacy and the caricatured image sometimes created in tabloid coverage.
Take, for example, Bar Refaeli. Although the model, actress and Leonardo DiCaprio-arm candy is not quite in the league of the Britney-Lindsey-Paris unholy bad-girl trinity that rules American celebrity journalism, the interview with her published last month by Yediot Aharonot has currently made her the closest Israeli equivalent.
Yediot's profile contained such choice quotes as: "Why is it good to die for our country? Isn't it better to live in New York?"; "What does it does matter, Uganda or Israel?"; and "I am not sorry for not serving in the army, because I profited in a big way."
The interview predictably kicked up a storm. Does it really matter what a 22-year-old best known for her talent in filling out a bathing suit has to say about the state of the State of Israel? Well, it does when she's one of the country's best-known celebrities, and was even featured last year in a Tourism Ministry promotion.
It certainly matters to Refaeli, who last week had her lawyers send Yediot a letter demanding the paper publicly apologize and pay damages of $125,000, for conducting "a media and public lynching of Bar Refaeli after she was wickedly manipulated by the newspaper's reporter and editors," and running a story that had "false, tendentious and malicious quotes which lack connection to Refaeli's comments."
Yediot shot back that the interview was recorded, the comments were accurate and it had no intention to apologize.
DOES REFAELI have a case? According to Dr. Hillel Sommer, a media law expert from the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center, "Most such letters do not end as actual litigation, but serve for venting purposes. If she starts litigation, and it is what was actually said and not too much out of context, she would lose based on the defense of truth on a public matter."
And even if she does have a case, Sommer notes that "given time-frames for litigation in Israel, it's likely that by the time the final appeal is decided, in 10 years, no one will remember who Bar Refaeli is."
Ouch. Throughout her brief career, from her clumsily handled quickie marriage to avoid army service to the rambunctious encounter between Refaeli and DiCaprio and a horde of paparazzi at the Western Wall last March, the model and her handlers have shown surprisingly poor judgment in dealing with the press. Indeed it's likely that Yediot was gunning for her in part because of her reluctance to cooperate with the local media.
Rather than sending threatening letters to the country's most powerful media outlet, Refaeli would probably be better off explaining herself and clarifying her comments by giving a better prepared interview in a more sympathetic forum (such as Yair Lapid's TV show).
In general, the public is sympathetic to complaints from celebrities that media coverage of their personal lives has become over the top in recent years, and by this point nobody expects model behavior from Refaeli. But as a celebrity who is largely famous for being famous - or dating someone even more famous - you'd expect her, or at least her professional support team, to have a better sense of handling the press coverage that's helped make her rich and famous.
ALSO COMPLAINING about unfair press coverage is the Tiv Ta'am supermarket chain, which is engaged in a very public feud with Channel 2's investigative consumer program Kolbotek.
Tiv Ta'am's complaint is essentially the same as Refaeli's, but the stakes are more serious and far higher. For weeks now, it has been conducting its own public relations campaign against Kolbotek, because of a report broadcast this week that featured hidden-camera video footage showing a stray cat eating its merry way through packages of meat and chicken at a Tiv Ta'am processing plant in Bat Hefer.
Tiv Ta'am's sensitivity to the report is understandable; just last year Kolbotek ran another report on the chain that showed that one of its outlets was selling recycled meat products well past their expiration date, and its sales reportedly suffered as a result.
This time, Tiv Ta'am went on the offensive; even before Kolbotek's report was aired, the chain sent out press announcements and ran big ads in newspapers claiming the report was unfair and inaccurate. It charged that the cat incident had been staged by disgruntled workers, and Kolbotek had blown it out of proportion. But it didn't seek legal redress or choose to appear on the Kolbotek to present its case.
Tiv Ta'am claimed this week it was satisfied by survey results that showed its campaign had raised doubts about the Kolbotek report in about a third of the viewing public. That seems a pretty Pyhrric victory, especially since 81 percent, far more than Kolbotek's usual rating, had heard about the broadcast, no doubt in large part because of Tiv Ta'am's own efforts. As with the Bar Refaeli situation, one can't help but think the chain would have done better by taking a less antagonistic approach to the media in this case.
That said, some of Tiv Ta'am's complaints in this matter - that Kolbotek relentlessly hyped the broadcast prior to its airing and overemphasized its impact - are not without justification. Kolbotek, under the direction of producer-presenter Rafi Ginat, often does valuable work. But a tendency for over-the-top dramatization on the part of the bearish, basso-voiced Ginat ("sal-mon-ella!") sometimes does seem to cross the line from investigative reporting to TV docu-drama.
Don't get me wrong; Kolbotek wouldn't be on the air at all if it didn't have more than a touch of show business. But sometimes it should use a little more business, and a little less show, to make its journalistic points.