There is no question that the American media suffered a colossal and embarrassing double failure during the US presidential election campaign. It did not assess the possible outcomes nor did it provide fair coverage of the day-to-day developments. The failures should have been a déjà vu moment for those who have been following our columns these past years as well as our work at Israel’s Media Watch since 1995.
Israel’s elections in 1996 and 2015 as well as many intermediate events were treated by Israel’s mainstream media in an almost parallel fashion.
To their credit, American media figures admitted their errors. Will Rahn, political correspondent at CBS, wrote, “We were all tacitly or explicitly with Hillary Clinton” while “mocking the people who had a better sense of what was going on.” He admitted the press’ “assumption that Trump voters are backward, and that it’s our duty to catalogue and ultimately reverse that backwardness.” Journalists possess “smugness [and] meanness” toward the electorate, he wrote.The New York Times’s
Frank Bruni referred to “we geniuses in the news media” who were “telling... how the Republican Party was unraveling.”
He admitted that the media’s “political correctness has morphed into a moral... sanctimony, undermining its own goals.”
His is a fair description of the elitist character of too many media figures, editors, producers and reporters not only in the US but also here in Israel.
The rumblings from below were heard in America but during the campaign the media there ignored and rejected the valid criticism directed at it, refusing to take stock of its performance.
On August 22 this year, it was reported that nearly four in 10 American voters believe that the US media was biased toward the Democratic presidential nominee. Thirty-three percent said that the media’s fairness to each candidate was “poor.” A September 14 headline reads: “Americans’ Trust in Mass Media Sinks to New Low” and an October 19 poll had it that “Majority of voters believe media biased against Trump.”
The findings of a post-election poll by the Media Research Center (MRC) claimed 69% of voters “do not believe the news media are honest and truthful” and that 78% of voters believe the news coverage of the presidential campaign was biased, with 59% of them believing Clinton was the media’s favorite.
Polls in Israel also indicate a growing disdain for the ability or even willingness of the media to preserve the values of professional objectivity and fairness. In light of the American experience, will our journos take time out to reconsider the way their own personal prejudices corrupt their reporting? We doubt it.
CBS’s Rahn, quoted above, could have been commenting on Israel’s media when he wrote, “Journalists, at our worst, see ourselves as a priestly caste. We believe we not only have access to the indisputable facts, but also a greater truth, a system of beliefs divined from an advanced understanding of justice.”
The damage done is not a simple matter of wrong facts or misunderstood trends but, as The Washington Post’s
Kathleen Parker noted on November 18, “Of all the losers in this season of discontent, the mainstream media top the list.... and I sincerely fear that loss of faith in journalism ultimately will cause more harm to the nation than any outside enemy could hope to.”
Despite being witness to all this, and more, many of our own media people continue in their unethical, smug and sanctimonious ways.
The press here gleefully reported that only 24% of US Jewry voted for Trump. This was based on exit polls which we know were not accurate.
Who cares? The fact that Jewish voters played a crucial role in certain key states that swung to Trump, like Florida, was simply ignored by our media.
Consider Aryeh Golan, whose performance has been criticized by us many times in the past. He was sent to cover Election Day and its aftermath in the US and chose to cover the happenings at the Clinton base.
To his chagrin, in more ways than one, the center of attention turned to the Trump camp where Nathan Gutman was installed. The least that should have resulted from his professional debacle is that he would come to realize and internalize the errors of the media. But no, that would be asking too much. Political correctness cannot be discarded so quickly.
Just this past Sunday, Golan in his unethical personal opinion opening to Reshet Bet radio’s morning news magazine continued his Trump bashing.
Among other remarks, he said the following: “Now Trump is putting together his dream team. An attorney general who hates blacks and the Ku Klux Klan only disturbs him because the use marijuana; a national security adviser who tweets with respect to the possible election of Clinton – ‘no more you Jews, no more’; and Steve Bannon who according to testimony of his former wife thinks that the Jews educate their children as crybabies.”
Golan considers Trump and his aides to be antisemites. Golan is ridiculous and petty, but his editors and bosses do not even chastise him for debasing our publicly funded broadcasting, presumably they too have been infected with political correctness.
The story, however, is not only Trump, for here in Israel, it is also Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Too many in our media really despise the prime minister and are willing to clutch at any straw to try and remove him. The latest story is the decision to obtain submarines from Germany and the fact that Netanyahu’s adviser, advocate David Shimron, had as his client businessman Miki Ganor who was employed by the German submarine building company. Raviv Drucker of Channel 10 was the one who got the scoop, and the media jumped at it.
Sure enough, opposition leader Isaac Herzog fell into the trap and is now calling on the Knesset to appoint an official inquiry panel. In contrast to many Israelis and Americans who have stopped believing the media, Herzog did not study the issue deeply and took the populistic route.
Had he done his homework he would have realized that Netanyahu’s dealings were, as reported on the News One website by Yoav Yitzchak, government to government. Netanyahu could not have had any direct contact with the construction company, since this was a decision solely of the German government. In other words, Netanyahu certainly did not commit any breach of trust, let alone any legal violation. But, our media has been incessantly promoting the issue already for a whole week, and woe to the person who dares question it. Yitzchak was not interviewed on public radio; the powers there do not believe that his type of reporting is worthy of their listeners. Did we mention smugness and a “we know it all” attitude? The bottom line is that Israel’s media does not understand the public, does not want to cater to it, is not willing to change its ways and like El Al, is digging its own grave.The authors are members of Israel’s Media Watch (www.imediaw.org.il).