Criticism of journalism by media consumers is often dismissed as either “political,” “subjective” or as coming from those who know nothing about the profession. That journalists can be extremely political themselves, or have no real training, is generally avoided.
The New York Times media columnist Jim Rutenberg has described the standard for media ethics as follows: “It is journalism’s job to be true to the readers and viewers, and true to the facts, in a way that will stand up to history’s judgment.” But who makes those judgment calls, and are they as liable to be critical as the politicians and public figures they scrutinize? Consider Israel’s latest media scandals in its coverage of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
As we have written previously, we viewed quite negatively the willingness of Netanyahu to allow Channel 10 to continue to literally steal money from the public while at the same time providing its viewers with tainted and unethical programming content and slanted ideological commentary.
Not only was the channel economically unsound, but we also documented its biased content.
Channel 10 has a different view of “fairness,” permitting Assaf Harel, one of its late-night satirists, to rip into Netanyahu mercilessly.
On his July 19 program, Harel, upset that Netanyahu as communications minister postponed the launch of the new public broadcasting company, accused him of acting so because of investigations he is embroiled in. “You wish the media to deal with this [delay] rather than your personal corruption... running the country without integrity, fraudulently, without values and 100% opportunism... you are a monster,” said Harel.
This monologue came after the July 5 show when Harel criticized the 40-year memorial ceremony for the Entebbe raid, which was combined with Netanyahu’s meeting with seven African heads of state, as all “because Yoni [Netanyahu’s brother] died.”
This week, one of Harel’s scriptwriters, Ruth Elbaz – who is not enamored of Netanyahu – posted to her Facebook page a picture of Hitler with Goering on a balcony, a Nazi flag in the background and the caption: “Many came to the briefing today.” We will return to the context, but first, if exploiting Nazi imagery is fair for an extreme left-winger, or anyone opposed to Netanyahu, why is everyone still upset about GSS-employed agent provocateur Avishai Raviv’s photoshop of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in an SS uniform, which he managed to get displayed live on camera back in 1995? And if that contributed to Rabin’s assassination, what is the culpability of Elbaz? When, within minutes, voices rose against such abuse of the freedom of expression, Elbaz responded: “If anyone felt slighted, it was just bad-taste humor.” Her FB page carries that caption under a scene from Orwell’s 1984 and other totalitarian figures.
As for the context, in the past few weeks Netanyahu has been conducting one-on-one meetings with members of the press. Multiple meetings and, it seems, intensive ones. This is the backdrop to Elbaz’s Nazi reference mentioned above. In the past, Netanyahu has been rapped for not conducting press conferences. Now he is holding them, if not in public. But it is not enough.
One meeting, a four-hour session with the editorial board of Haaretz (!), generated much discussion.
Haaretz columnists, being who and what they are, were troubled.
On August 18, Gideon Levy referred to the meeting two days earlier as a “performance, authentic theater, a one-man show by a character actor... [p]erhaps he is an effective Evangelist preacher....”
Levy added: “He’s a kid who’s never grown up.” At the same time, when Netanyahu used his Facebook page to snap back at journalists, a protest arose from media ranks; how dare he?. What the media permits itself is prohibited to those they attack.
In April, former editor-in-chief for The Observer in England and current Guardian columnist Will Hutton expressed fear of “a highly powerful rightwing press” for which “a cowed BBC” was no match. He spoke of “a new carelessness about truth... partisan, unforgivable nonsense, with uneasy tones...,” and warned that the public debate is in danger of being “largely framed by a media whose core purpose has transmuted from the dissemination of information, news and fact to the propagandizing of a worldview.”
Parallel to this perspective was Justin Raimondo’s, who wrote in The Los Angeles Times, “It has become almost impossible to separate coverage of the Trump campaign from attempts to tear it down.”
Indeed, the coverage of Netanyahu in the Israeli media seems to be driven not by objective, factbased reporting or even well-reasoned opinions but by an animosity almost pathological in nature.
It has been amply documented that in Israel, this very type of “personal opinion journalism” has been the dominant bon ton, especially in the public broadcasting networks. This includes the broadcast hosts who led the Get Out of Lebanon campaign and boasted of it; the suppressing of news regarding Yasser Arafat’s negating of the Oslo Accords commitments; the fawning over those who adopt an anti-occupation stance; the ignoring of cultural events, usually either religious or connected to the nationalist camp and more.
We have analyzed this and documented bias with factual data and, in many cases, actual admissions.
Returning to the present, has there been any investigative journalism as to what the elections in the Palestinian Authority mean? Is the Iran-US deal being reevaluated as Iranian ships bait American vessels (not to mention the ransom money the US admits it paid)? Have Israel’s new foreign policy outreaches been subjected to a fair and balanced review? Have anti-boycott successes been lauded? Have attacks vilifying American Jews trying to assist Israel in this matter been highlighted? Why has Jordan’s vicious antagonism over events on the Temple Mount and capitulation to extremist Islamism after it jettisoned its agreement with Netanyahu to affix surveillance cameras ignored? The fact is that in our media there is no proper analysis of the Islamism growing in the kingdom across the river.
In America, media critics on both sides of the spectrum are referring to a “complete collapse of American journalism” as the election campaign seems to spiral out of control, with one noting that the “shameful display of naked partisanship by the elite media is unlike anything seen in modern America.” We in Israel, sadly, have our own share of shameful displays.
The authors are members of Israel’s Media Watch (www.imediaw.org.il).