Should a successful career in the news media catapult ambitious journalists into
the political arena as candidates for high public office? The answer is
That is not the way it is in the US, UK, France or any of the world’s
other genuine democracies.
None of the 44 men who was elected to the
American presidency since 1789 was a newspaper reporter, radio correspondent or
Nor have the British or French recruited national
leaders from the ranks of their respective news media.
There is good
reason for this.
Coverage or analysis of current events in democratic
countries requires objectivity, honesty and independence. Journalists who engage
in this activity cannot have ulterior motives or secret agendas. If such
duplicity were exposed these individuals would lose credibility.
why outstanding personalities in the American news media such as Edward R.
Murrow, William L. Shirer and Walter Cronkite never became candidates for
elected office. Their popularity and renown might have won them impressive
victories at the polls, but never has there been a single case in which this
presumed advantage was put to the test.
And rightly so.
only consider the mental pressures that political ambition would have generated
in the back of these men’s minds. One of them presumably would be to avoid
offending key people whose support or funding they might require once they threw
their hats into the political ring.
And since the psychological,
intellectual and practical preparations for a crossover from news media to
politics do not take place overnight, the self-imposed restrictions on the scope
of their reporting would undermine its quality if not its honesty or fairness
over a relatively long period.
These considerations surfaced dramatically
in Israel when Friday night TV anchor and newspaper columnist Yair Lapid
announced that he will run in the next national election.
following the example set by my his late father, Yosef “Tommy” Lapid, my close
friend and esteemed colleague, whose popularity as a panelist on Channel 1’s
Popolitika and columns in Ma’ariv
enabled him to bring the Shinui party to
prominence, win a seat in the subsequent Knesset and rise to a cabinet post in
the next national election.
Yair Lapid’s decision was probably
facilitated by the fact that Israel’s political world has become a playground
The Labor party’s chairwoman, Shelly
Yachimovich, was a familiar voice on Israel Radio for decades. Daniel Ben-Simon
and Nitzan Horowitz transformed themselves from Haaretz
members of the Knesset, the former for Labor and the latter for
Before their switchovers, Nachman Shai of Kadima, who served as
Channel 1’s military affairs reporter, had already qualified as a veteran
parliamentarian, as had Uri Orbach of Habayit Hayehudi, a right-wing stalwart
who previously worked as a columnist for Yedioth Aharonot
and as a co-host for
Army Radio’s The Last Word program.
All of these
journalists-turned-politicians have a common shortcoming: None of them entered
politics at the rank-and-file level, but only as full-fledged parliamentarians
with relatively secure seats and guaranteed salaries – not to mention the lavish
perks available to Knesset members.
They never experienced the challenges
of working their way up their respective parties’ ladders to popular leadership
or the coped with subtleties of interpersonal relations with active and
influential party colleagues who do not necessarily hold prestigious
governmental offices, local or national.
Nor did any of them ever hold
public office before making their debuts as Knesset deputies. That shortcoming
differs sharply from the careers of such genuine national leaders as Franklin D.
Roosevelt, who served as governor of the State of New York prior to his entry
into the White House, or Winston S. Churchill, who was a member of Parliament
and a cabinet minister before his unexpected elevation to the premiership in
1940 (due to the exigencies of World War II and Great Britain’s precarious
New and especially charismatic candidates often have
If Lapid had emerged as the champion of the grassroots
campaign for “social justice” this would have been easily understandable.
Likewise, if he had come up with a serious and reasonable solution to the
dispute with the Palestinians of the West Bank (other than “two states for two
peoples”) his candidacy would have attracted considerable interest if not
innocent curiosity. Even more impressive would have been for him to have
advocated a formula for dealing with the Gaza Strip’s Hamas regime and its
potentially deadly launching of homemade Kassam rockets and Grad missiles at
Israeli territory. Had he done so, his cause would have attracted considerable
The bottom line is that entry into national politics should not
be reduced to the level of a popularity contest based on the impact of
personality rather than on original ideas or proposals which might solve urgent
By the same token and with all due respect and sympathy, Noam
Schalit’s surprise announcement that he too decided to vie for a Knesset seat as
a veteran and loyal Laborite – this after the entire nation had agreed on a
nonpartisan basis to jeopardize security by consenting to Prime Minister
Binyamin Netanyahu’s decision to trade more than 1,000 Palestinians imprisoned
for terrorism for his son Gilad, who had been kidnapped by Gaza Strip
There seems to be something inherently wrong in the widespread
notion that the relentless and ultimately successful public relations drive Noam
Schalit conducted along with his wife, Aviva, proved his ability to succeed in
Since when is a public relations success a logical prelude to
political activity? Do his fellow Laborites expect him to introduce new
techniques and skills to their seemingly hopeless bid to restore the preeminence
their party enjoyed from 1948 to 1974? A footnote to all this derives from the
hackneyed saying, “Tell me who your friends are and I’ll tell you who you
Lapid reportedly is backed by former prime minister Ehud Olmert, a
man who is waging desperate legal battles against charges of corruption and
malfeasance, not to mention several cronies prominent in the realm of dubious
financial or business activity to whose inner circle he reportedly belongs. If
this is true, Lapid may be a marked man once his political ambitions are put to
the electoral test.