A bastion of democracy?

They are the ones who are not aware of the important role of the media as a bastion of democracy. Sadly, too often the media itself does not really understand what this concept implies.

January 31, 2018 21:59
West Bank clashes

An Israeli soldier fires tear gas at Palestinian demonstrators during clashes at a protest calling for the release of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails, in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh, near Ramallah January 13, 2018.. (photo credit: MOHAMAD TOROKMAN/REUTERS)


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The media, in Israel and the world over, portrays itself as a bastion of democracy, preserving freedoms, standing up to power and corruption and revealing the failings of those who hold high office. The new Hollywood film on The Washington Post’s Katherine Graham is a recent example of how media personalities, deservedly so but sometimes not quite, are cast as cultural icons.

In the name of preserving democracy, more often than not the media provide special care for those ranks of the elites of society who extend protection to the media. At the same time, those who dare to find professional faults and unethical conduct in the media will be the butts of fierce attacks. After all they are attacking the bastion of democracy.

Consider the case of Kevin Bleyer, fired as head writer of the Megyn Kelly Today program in mid-January earlier this year. His description of the administrative workings of a media outlet even if only partially true, is shocking. He wrote, “the executive incompetence continues – as does the dysfunctional management, abusive treatment, maddening hypocrisy, staggering inefficiencies, acidic and deficient communication, and relentless scapegoating.”

That, we remind our readers, came from the belly of the beast. Bleyer had also previously worked for Jon Stewart, Bill Maher and president Barack Obama, and had all the correct ideological credentials.

But he dared criticize the holy industry. Worse, it was an insider’s criticism. The two producers who were Bleyer’s targets were defended by an NBC News spokesperson who said they “are being attacked unfairly. They are both excellent and experienced producers.” Blyer lost his battle. There was no change, only he was out of a job.

Here in Israel, a cultural icon, Yonatan Geffen, found time to write a short poem dedicated to Ahed Tamimi. Tamimi is nicknamed “Shirley Temper” for her years of rambunctious, even violent, behavior in confronting IDF soldiers when they were attempting to quell stone-throwing actions and worse, by residents of her home village, Nabi Salih. The village was vividly described as a hotbed of foreign-promoted NGO “resistance” by German journalist Tuvia Tenenbom in his book Catch the Jew.

Geffen’s “artistic work” ended in a comparison of Tamimi to Joan of Arc, Hannah Szenes and Anne Frank. Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman thought that the logical consequence would be Geffen no longer being invited to Galatz Army Radio studios. Liberman, the outsider, attacked Geffen, the darling, the insider. Geffen, however, was defended by media personalities across the spectrum, including those identified with the political Right. No one thought it outrageous that the Holocaust was exploited to aid Ahed’s struggle, who was quoted in interviews expressing support for suicide bombings.

No one raised the point that all three of Geffen’s heroines had been executed and asked him if he was suggesting Tamimi should be “martyred.” One can only imagine what would happen if right-wing columnist Kalman Libskind wrote an article comparing Baruch Goldstein to Jews who paid with their life for defending the state. Geffen, however, is “one of ours” so he must be defended at all cost.

American Vice President Mike Pence’s Knesset speech, a paean of love and appreciation for Zionism and Israel’s accomplishments, was criticized in certain media outlets as the rantings of a Christian Evangelist and therefore unacceptable. After all, he did not attack the “occupation” claiming it is illegal. He was not politically correct. And so the liberal media attacked him. The fact that he was extending assistance and recognition to Israel’s diplomatic standing in the world was irrelevant. Quoted in The New York Times on January 24, Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya political communications Prof. Gadi Wolfsfeld, known for his rather extreme left-wing views, said in response to Pence’s visit, “The news cycle has become shorter and shorter. Today it’s Tuesday? By Sunday it will be a non-issue, if not before that. The overall impact on politics here will be next to zero, or zero.”

Was that his opinion when president Barack Obama also spoke to thousands at Jerusalem’s International Convention Center in March 2013, lashing out at Israel’s effort to resettle Judea and Samaria?

Another example is the career of Moshe Negbi. Negbi, who died last week, was a lecturer at the Hebrew University, a lawyer and for decades the sole legal commentator on legal matters for Radio Kol Yisrael, with frequent appearances on Channel 1 as well.

It took a campaign led by Israel’s Media Watch to force the executive producers of his weekly program to appoint an editor to supervise his broadcasts. Until then, against all ethical standards, Negbi was the sole voice on legal affairs, he selected the guests on his program (who overwhelmingly represented an echo chamber for his own opinion) and set the agenda. Little pluralism and less objectivity were his program’s characteristics. No one dared criticize his record, for that is the fate of those who “belong” and are considered to be pillars of the democratic process.

George Neumayr, former media fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution, writing in the January 19 issue of The American Spectator, pointed to another aspect of the elites and their support for “democracy.” He claimed that America’s media engages in acts that facilitate the normalization of “the unruly Left.” “The media,” he writes, “is in a disruptive mood... The [same] media which refuses to ‘normalize’ the unconventional behavior of Trump indulge the unruly behavior of the [Left].”

That observation could be applied to the way the media covered Attorney General Avichai Mandlebit being harassed outside his synagogue on Saturday evening, January 20. Arriving at the synagogue to recite Kaddish for his mother, he was confronted by several demonstrators who demanded he prosecute Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for supposed crimes of corruption. The demonstrators gained favorable coverage with little critical comment in many media reports of the incident, and even more on reporters’ Twitter accounts.

Consider, too, a story by Yossi Verter in the January 20 edition of Haaretz. Verter informed us that the American pollster of the Zionist Union’s Avi Gabbay, Stephan Miller, had conducted a survey for Gabbay. One finding that “stunned” Gabbay dealt with “name recognition”: 17% of Zionist Union voters said that they didn’t know his name when asked to identify him. Among the general public, the situation was worse: 27% didn’t know who he was.

Most of those questioned by Miller, Verter continued, who said that Gabbay was not known to them, were young people who serve in the army or are about to be drafted. In short, first-time voters. Gabbay concluded that his problem was a media problem. We conclude the same. It is a media problem.

Those who do not watch the TV news and current events shows, and don’t read newspapers, are the ones unfamiliar with the Labor Party chairman and Zionist Union leader. They are the ones who are not aware of the important role of the media as a bastion of democracy. Sadly, too often the media itself does not really understand what this concept implies.

The authors are members of Israel’s Media Watch (www.imediaw.org.il).

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