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Two weeks ago, Haaretz published a blistering piece by columnist/interviewer Ari Shavit, titled "Don't say you didn't know."
Wrote Shavit: "You knew. You, Ehud Olmert's coddlers, knew that the prime minister was a nouveau riche who made his fortune during his years as a public servant. You, the people who form Olmert's circle of protection - who include senior journalists - knew that the prime minister is a lawyer who operates in the borderline dark-gray regions... In the past, you mocked Uri Dan, whom you considered Ariel Sharon's court scribbler. But you became Olmert's personal court... You patronized the handful of journalists who remained aloof and stood their contrary ground."
If that sounds a tad overheated, well, Shavit also might have declared - a la Al Pacino in Scent of a Woman: "Ahmm-just-gettin'-started! Hoo-hah!"
This week, Shavit followed up that column with an appearance on Channel 2's "Media File" (Tik Tikshoret), during which he opened fire with both barrels blasting on this "concentrated group of influential senior journalists" allegedly shielding Olmert because they like the man and his policies - and equally dislike the same about opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu.
"There hasn't been the kind of symbiosis between the ruling establishment and the media that there has been during the past two years since 1973 - and I'm not sure from even then. This has been a virtual 'dark ages' of the media here," Shavit excitedly insisted. (His appearance is still available for viewing on the new Internet edition of the media issues magazine, The Seventh Eye, at http://www.the7eye.org.il/Tik-Tikshoret/Pages/Tik-Tikshoret-Lobby.aspx).
But when "Media File" host Chaim Zisovitch requested of Shavit that he name names, he demurred.
Before chipping in my own comments, let me state for the record that I share the admiration many have for Shavit as Haaretz's most thoughtful (and least doctrinaire) writer. Although a self-professed man of the Left, since the Second Lebanon War he has been one of Olmert's fervent critics, his views unswayed by the prime minister's efforts over the past half a year to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians (and now the Syrians).
All that is well and good, even if Shavit's negative feelings about Olmert have become so fervent that they sometimes seem almost obsessive in their intensity. There are, however, some problems with this latest attack on his journalistic peers, including the fact that they apply less to the past half year, during which the general coverage of Olmert has been quite critical.
TO START with, why has Shavit decided this time to be so circumspect in naming names? Six months ago, writing on this same issue - the phenomenon of so-called "etrog journalism,"of political figures being coddled like the Sukkot ritual fruit because of their ideological outlets - I noted that Shavit specifically named as culprits Yediot Aharonot, Ma'ariv, Channels 1, 2 and 10, and even wrote: "Those who bear most responsibility are Nahum Barnea and Dan Margalit."
The latter, as Shavit duly noted this week, has turned against his old friend, Olmert, but presumably the rest are still on the suspects' list.
When asked by Zisovitch if his condemnation included his own employer, Shavit responded: "I think in Haaretz, my own newspaper, there was something impressive, in that there was a clash between two approaches - there was a long period that the dominant line was one I didn't agree with, and I'm glad it has been replaced - but I think the paper gave expression to these two clashing attitudes, while there are other major media outlets in which total immunity was given to the prime minister."
LET'S BE clear here: Haaretz gives Shavit his platform, and has published some significant work damaging to Olmert. But the same could be said of every one of the other media outlets he earlier condemned - and at least two of them, Yediot and Channel 2, have produced investigative reports (including the current scandal) equal to or even better than anything in Haaretz.
This is not to deny that Shavit has a legitimate point, especially when it comes to Ma'ariv, until recently edited by another of Olmert's old friends, Amnon Dankner. But it was only Shavit's newspaper that had its former editor-in-chief, David Landau, actually saying last winter that his paper was "ready once again to do an 'etrogization,' in order to allow Olmert to go to Annapolis, because: "More immorality happens every day at a single roadblock than in all the scandals put together."
Landau's subsequent replacement by Dov Alfon may be what Shavit means when he coyly refers to the paper's changing its "dominant line" about the prime minister. But if he wants to really play the courageous whistle-blower among his peers, let him start on his home turf.
Here's what Haaretz's Yoel Marcus wrote on Olmert's troubles this week: "There is something unfair, and indeed quite upsetting from the perspective of proper democratic procedure, in the way Ehud Olmert is being treated in the latest case against him... Olmert, a devotee of the good life, has been turned into a doormat, not only by the media but by the political establishment ... populated, as we all know, entirely by saints, none of whom has ever been suspected of any wrongdoing or called in for questioning."
Hard-hitting stuff. Another point worth making: There have certainly been other times equal to this "dark age" of "symbiosis between the ruling establishment and the media" that Shavit fails to mention. How about, for example, the failure on the part of the Israeli media to properly cover the corruption and incitement of Yasser Arafat's regime during the Golden Days of Oslo?
While the media certainly aren't blameless in the way they have covered Olmert, let's not get carried away. He didn't vault into the prime minister's office because of favorable press coverage, but due to the Likud-Kadima split and Sharon's sudden stroke. And he certainly hasn't held onto that office because of any "etrog journalism," especially considering his all-time-low popularity ratings. This is due, rather, to coalition politics and Olmert's shrewdness as a lawyer who knows how to operate in that borderline grey area without leaving fingerprints (until now, perhaps).
None of this criticism lessens my respect for Shavit; it just increases a sense that in this matter, his emotions about Olmert are somewhat getting the better of him. I do, though, appreciate hearing him say this week that he and his fellow journalists owe an apology to my former fellow Jerusalem Post columnist, the late Uri Dan, who was at least up front about his allegiance to Ariel Sharon. Too bad Uri isn't around to enjoy hearing that from Haaretz's star writer.