Media Matters: Mea culpa, media-style

Certain journalists are capable of patting themselves on the back, even while purporting to repent.

By RUTHIE BLUM LEIBOWITZ
February 19, 2009 21:09

'Try to think about which four questions you'd like answered," began Ilana Dayan's oral editorial. "If you ask me - not as a journalist, but as a citizen, a woman and a mother - [I would say]: Who will teach our children? Who will care for our elderly? Who will treat our sick? And who will protect us daily in our streets?" Dayan continued: "I looked for these questions in interviews we conducted with candidates for prime minister over the past few months. I looked for them in my own interviews, as well. "I asked Tzipi Livni about [political adviser Reuven] Adler and strategy and feminism. I asked Bibi Netanyahu about Iran and Hamas. I asked Ehud Barak how he's changed, and why he's not liked, and about the wedding ring he's been wearing since he got remarried. I didn't ask them about the ill, the elderly, the children and the police. "How can we expect any of them to be really committed to repairing the education system, getting the old woman out of the [hospital] hallway and into a room, improving the police, stopping crime and worrying about our pension plans? How can we expect this of them, when we didn't even ask them about it? "And why didn't we ask them? Because the old woman in the hallway isn't sexy - and we really want to be. Why didn't we ask? Because it's not that interesting - and we want so terribly to be. Why didn't we ask? Because we didn't really deal with the issues. Maybe next time, we'll try harder." DAYAN - FAMOUS for her hard-hitting interviews and investigative reportage - offered this morsel of "mea culpa" on Bikortivi, a promising new program on the media - whose name is a Hebrew play on the words "critical" and "TV" - that Channel 1 launched this week. (The broadcast can be seen on Tuesdays at 8:30 p.m., and on the Internet, at www.iba.org.il.) According to its host, Army Radio's Liad Mudrich, each week, a different member of the press will follow suit in this spot. Though Mudrich didn't come out and say that jump-starting with Dayan was a clever way of setting a precedent for other big names in the field, it was clear as crystal. Less apparent was the purpose of Dayan's public penitence for this purported sin of omission committed by her personally and by her peers in the profession as a whole. Even more murky was her conclusion, which involved expressing hope that "next time" the media, herself included, would do better. In response, I would pose a few rhetorical questions of my own. Why, for instance, can she not begin acting on this great insight immediately? Does Dayan - or her ilk - have to wait until the next elections to mend their wayward ways? Furthermore, that she is now upset with herself for having focused her interviews on Tzipi's PR and Barak's personality may be commendable, but why is she equally perturbed at having grilled Bibi on Iran and Hamas? Oh, yes, I forgot, because those petty issues pale in comparison to health, education and welfare - the three pillars on which the liberal establishment, of which the media are prominent members, loves to build its case against government. After all, it is this establishment that worships at the altar of the self - except when doing so means taking responsibility for it. Indeed, as a general rule, Dayan's form of repenting should not come as a surprise to anyone familiar with the Hebrew press, which is so megalomaniacal that even its brow-beating becomes cause for self-celebration. STILL, UNLIKE with regard to other items on Bikortivi's agenda, the studio panel - which consisted of Israel Radio host and Channel 1 pundit Yaron Dekel, Ma'ariv's Maya Bengal and former cabinet secretary Yisrael Maimon - did not analyze or argue over the validity of Dayan's motives or message. This they did, however, on two other issues: the press's self-appointed role as coalition builder, and its unabashed activism on behalf of Gilad Schalit. Bengal explained that part of the reason for the constant commentary on who will get which ministry has been the lack of actual news on the political front since election day. Dekel laughed. "Yeah," he agreed. "We can't just say, "Due to the absence of news, we'll get back to you in 72 hours." But Dekel didn't make light of the media's intentional interference in the Schalit affair. On the contrary. As he has been doing regularly since receiving the Sokolov Prize for achievement in journalism a few months ago, Dekel socked it to his colleagues for their lack of impartiality. Whipping out copies of Yediot Aharonot and Ma'ariv to illustrate what he considers to be an appalling practice, Dekel pointed to the front page photos and headlines - the former showing a blown-up close-up of Schalit's mournful eyes at the top, and the latter displaying photos of bereaved parents urging the government to release even the Palestinian terrorists who killed their kids. "What if," Dekel propose, "instead of this kind of coverage, there were a six-page spread presenting the pictures and bios of all the prisoners Hamas is demanding in exchange for the kidnapped soldier? What if this led to a serious discussion about the cost of such a swap? But, of course, this could never happen [in such a climate]." He's got that right. THE QUESTION is what effect it's having on the powers-that-be. Maimon, providing a watered-down version of inside dope, claimed that the country's leaders are, in fact, heavily influenced by pressure from the press. Perhaps. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced this week that any cease-fire agreement with Hamas will have to include the return of Schalit. He went as far as to say that the border crossings would remain closed until Gilad comes home. And, as President Shimon Peres concludes his meetings with the major parties to determine whom he's going to call on to form the next government, the media can only speculate on the accuracy of their earlier speculations. Not to worry, though. Whatever the upshot of this deal or that, they will take credit (where it's not due), and accept blame (for far lesser offenses) only where it really counts. On camera, that is. ruthie@jpost.com


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