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(photo credit: Courtesy Naor Gal)
When breakfast television hosts start poking fun at themselves for frivolous, over-the-top coverage, the rest of us sit up and take notice.
On Tuesday morning, one Channel 2 anchor commented jokingly to another that entertainer Dudu Topaz's latest exploits had been dominating the news to such an extent that there was hardly time, space or inclination to cover much else. In mentioning the Air France passenger jet lost somewhere over the Atlantic, they facetiously "justified" devoting time to that tragedy on the basis that there was a "Dudu" connection - he was known to occasionally travel by plane...
There's no denying that the Topaz imbroglio has been priceless in terms of ratings and circulation. The country's one-time top comic, big mouth and relentless enfant terrible has been a household name for decades, his escapades and misadventures the mainstay of gossip columns. And he merits his reputation as one of Israel's most supercilious narcissists.
Topaz gained notoriety in 1981, when he branded Likud voters chachachim (Mideastern trash). He broke the glasses of columnist Meir Schnitzer, bit the ear of a co-star on a live telecast, was the "hero" of many quasi-romantic scandalsâ€¦ and much more.
Now the voluble sometime superstar has been arrested and confessed to having paid some heavies to assault high-ranking TV executives Avi Nir and Shira Margalit and showbiz agent Boaz Ben-Zion. (An attack on Yisrael Hayom editor Amos Regev was in the pipeline.)
All this is clearly too good a story to pass up.
Granted the revelations, oozing with celebrity-interest, make for lurid copy. But the coverage didn't need to be hyped, and the hype didn't have to become a feeding frenzy. On Tuesday, all but one of Yediot Aharonot's tabloid news pages were devoted to Topaz.
Talk about overkill. And if that wasn't enough, there were more titillating pages further on, in the features section. Yediot's approach was not atypical; even the staid and sober economic newspapers got into the act.
Topaz's confession - "They didn't want me on television, and I decided to take revenge" - led to even more tabloid ink being spilled on Wednesday.
WHAT spawned this excessive coverage? Was it public fascination with the bizarre behavior of a celebrity "bad boy?" Or did the coverage feed on itself, increasing people's appetite for more of the same?
We venture to suggest that it was a bit of both, and that in a better world the media would not be pandering to the lowest common denominator among its consumers. This very atmosphere of sensation-mongering certainly can't have hindered Topaz's behavioral aberrations, thus serving as a contributory factor, however marginal, to the conspiracy he now admits to have masterminded?
The public, which lapped up Topaz's outlandish behavior over the years and often applauded his vulgarities, aren't blameless in this episode either. Topaz may have considered success his natural due and assumed he could get away with anything. In a way, he is a much-magnified reflection of the worst in a society where it is not uncommon for people to use their elbows to get what they want.
Even the police played unabashedly to the peanut gallery in this extravaganza, courting publicity every bit as much as Topaz always did, summoning camera crews and reporters to witness officers taking the humiliated star into custody. Verbatim transcripts of his confession then made their way onto the airwaves and front pages.
The police should not be rushing after media attention in this way. Nor is there any excuse for the interminable dribble of salacious leaks from police investigations, both pre- and post-arrest, something with which we have sadly become familiar.
Indeed, the police were hardly on the ball until the recent attack on Margalit and the lead she furnished regarding Topaz. Previously, the cops had been in the dark, with rumors rife about an underworld intrigue aimed at muzzling media freedom and controlling franchises.
If there's any solace to be derived from this entire unsavory episode, it is that it involved no coordinated onslaught against our liberties, but appears to have been the product of one disappointed and disturbed individual's drastically overblown grudge.