Being anonymous, the Benjamite who, according to I Samuel 4, ran from the Even HaEzer battlefield to Shiloh to inform Eli the High Priest at the Tabernacle of the results could have been even a war correspondent. As verse 17 has it, his task was to be a mevaser, one who brings the news. Verse 13 informs us that when he entered the town to report what had happened, “the whole town sent up a cry”. Could that mean people did not like the media, even then?
The bad news that Eli received a few moments later, causing his death, took hours to be relayed. Since then, we have had the Pony Express, telegraph, telephone... and now, via the Internet, news is conveyed within seconds.
Moreover, the purveying of news is no longer exclusively controlled by the media industry. If in the past, reporters complained that politicians were scheduling their appearances to force the networks to carry their words live at prime time, thereby talking over the heads of the press, we witness today a virtual sidelining of the press.
Wesley Yang, a New Yorker contributing editor, highlights in a piece in the Tablet on May 28 the example of Jordan Peterson, whom Yang informs us “does not rely on the gatekeepers of the progressive consensus for his livelihood; indeed he prospers precisely by flouting it.” Yang traces how a narrative is generated on social media, fed back into the mainstream press, which, in turn, is fed back into Twitter.
Along the way, those who disseminate the narrative can be rewarded as well as sanctioned by “mob-style attacks and ostracism.” What is also evident is “confirmation bias,” whereby our threshold to demand proof for claims is lowered and we tend to conform to what we are already primed by habit, familiarity, and the desire to believe.”
In other words, citizen A reads Haaretz, while citizen B reads Arutz 7. Each one becomes a resident of a separate foxhole, believing and disbelieving ‘facts’ she or he cannot independently confirm.
Yang calls the people who make up this new tweet-driven media phenomenon “digi-journalists and social-media mobs”. And we ask: are the tweeters twits or what?
Further, what is the role of professional, and paid, journalists in all this?
An academic article authored by Zhaoxi Liu of Trinity University in Texas and Dan Berkowitz of the University of Iowa appeared last month in the Journalism journal. They suggest that journalists have “contradicting views on whether or not to accept tweets [as] a legitimate journalism artifact, leading to the blurring” of boundaries of “the journalism craft and its core mission of informing the public.”
If they are uncertain, what of we the media consumers? Samantha Bee tweets, outrageous, apologizes and continues to appear on American television. Roseanne Barr does the same thing and is fired. Was there a “mob-style attack” on her?
Twitter, though, allows us, the media consumers also some room.
ON MAY 11, Haaretz published an item by Hilo Glazer asking coyly, “Did US Ambassador David Friedman indirectly support pro-Kahanist groups?” He named one such organization only, “Kommemiyut.” JTA picked it up incredibly fast, and Ron Kampeas’ report in the JTA went from there to the Times of Israel and further afield, spread by journalists via Twitter, from leftist colleague to leftist colleague.
The story was a case of misidentification that any involved political reporter could have, and should have, spotted. One of us (YM) began tweeting the problematic character of the “facts” and urged those with inside information to contact the journos involved. Eventually, the truth came out (there were two distinct groups with the same name, one Kahanist, one not). However, even with an addition of an “editor’s note,” the damage was done. An ignorant reporter with an anti-Friedman agenda, assisted by the same in a news agency, caused ripples that reached the top echelons of the State Department, Congress and the American Jewish establishment. By the way, a check this past Sunday shows the original article still at the Haaretz on-line website.
Before print and then going to Twitter, there was a failure all along the chain of distribution. The reporter, his editor, and the JTA failed. Twitter introduced not only speed but also extensive reach, crossing continents and languages (tweets carry their own translation capability).
Not only was there a lack of professional confirmation of the item, at play was also the frame of enforced “correct-think” that pervades the media as well as academia and the world of entertainment.
The media does play a magnifying role. It may take a tweet and turn it into “news.” This is the case with President Trump. His tweets are publicized and usually also mocked. The recent tweets from Roseanne Barr, Samantha Bee and Joy Reid in America fall into the same category. Somehow there are glaring exceptions. There are political leaders who tweet and yet their outrageous comments are ignored.
A.J. Caschetta highlighted one case in a Middle East Forum piece. The leader in questions is quite well known here in Israel. No, he is not Benjamin Netanyahu but another “belligerent world leader who uses social media to bully enemies and feed his narcissistic delusions of grandeur” – Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Caschetta convincingly illustrates that Khamenei “beats President Donald Trump any day.” In Iran, he has no rivals; most Iranians are barred from using Twitter’s social media platform.
Do journalists, news program hosts or even comedians pay attention to him? Of course not. It is not the intrinsic negative value of the tweeting politician but rather how the media decide to relate to him. It is their biased outlook that leaves the public in the lurch.
Former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown told the Hay literary festival in Wales Sunday that with invasive modern media, the public gets sick of politicians more quickly and, with the 24-hour news format, long political leaderships which usually have contributed to stable governments have come to an end!
The Liu and Berkowitz study mentioned above found that while some journalists saw tweets as a means to an end – marketing their own stories and driving traffic to their newspaper’s website – others just tweeted for the sake of tweeting, turning their tweets into a journalistic product in their own right.
Twitter can also be a battlefield. After Haaretz’s Uri Blau published on May 25 a story on a “confidential dossier” on the American Muslim activist Linda Sarsour compiled by a “secretive Israeli firm” for an “Adelson-funded US group,” Middle East Forum pushed back via tweets that the material originated with the MEF going back a decade, all collected from open sources. Blau’s story was “sloppy and false reporting.”
One consequence of the tweets is that today the public has a much more informed opinion as to the political and ideological identity of the media stars. Another is they can engage the journalist in real time. This is a very positive result, because these tweeters, more often than not, turn themselves into twits and the public knows.
The writers are members of Israel’s Media Watch (www.imediaw.org.il).