The Popo conference call has problems


Somebody’s dog won’t shut the f*** up, and some fool – let’s call him Amichai – keeps dropping in and out of the conference call, bringing things to a halt each time.
Once a week or so the Israel Police hold a conference call with crime reporters from all the national outlets. It’s usually when a big story breaks, or before a gag order is lifted, and they want to make sure everybody has the police narrative and the chance to ask any questions they’d like.
Typically these briefings are given by the LAHAV 433 unit’s spokeswoman, and with stories like the Beit Yair/Yitzhak Abergil money laundering story they’ll also get the lead detective in the investigation on the line, to give a timeline of the case, list the allegations, and answer a limited scope of questions.
That’s how it’s supposed to play out.
Problem is when you get a dozen Israeli crime reporters on the line, all of them on deadlines and at the same time friendly acquaintances and bitter competitors, the effect is like herding cats, or trying to have a conversation with someone who every 5 to 10 seconds punches you in the face, forcing you to start over.
Every time the spokeswoman for LAHAV 433 will plead with everyone to put their phones on mute while she gives a run down of the case, a request that is lets say, not universally heeded. Without fail there is typically a handful of people who leaves the phone off mute, often while driving through traffic at that very instant. Also, there’s always a few people who call in late, and whenever a new caller arrives a computer voice cuts in saying “now arriving —”, drowning out all other sound for a couple seconds. The spokeswoman will ask people to make sure they come in on time, and then, almost on cue, another late arrival will check in, derail the conference call, and get chewed out.
What’s the point of all this?
In theory the conference calls allow police to get ahead of a story, to make sure their bases are covered and to deny en masse reports that are often already circulating in the press.
On the other hand, they’re limited. For instance, if a case is breaking but no one has yet been brought to court, technically the press can’t report the person’s arrest, something that is flouted repeatedly. As the Ashdod port corruption case was breaking last week, reporters continually asked the spokesperson if a certain well-known Israeli businessman was one of the people arrested. She ducked and dodged the question repeatedly, finally saying “everyone, you can’t expect me to violate a suspect’s rights in a conversation that you might be recording.”
One way I heard the LAHAV 433 spokeswoman get around this in the past was when asked to confirm a specific report about a famous suspect undergoing questioning at LAHAV headquarters in Lod she said simply “we can’t confirm that, but we also can’t deny the reality of what is happening.”
Another type of conference call is done on a bi-weekly basis by the National Police Spokesman, who gives a round-up of crime statistics and issues facing police. There’s always a mention of threats from Sinai and the northern borders and the possibilities of “popular resistance” and violence protests, and often an indication that terror groups are trying to kidnap a soldier. The conference call is typically the same as the one a week earlier, a repeat run down of the “threats currently facing us” and “what police are doing for you this week”. It’s not a heated back and forth about a particular case, rather, the spokesperson just talks more or less uninterrupted for about 10 minutes and then people sign off, typically without asking any more than a question or two.
These briefings and the bi-monthly meetings with the head of the Intelligence and Investigations branch Meni Yitzhaki are part of a wider police effort that began not long ago to reach out better to the press. Their image is far from being on par with the army, and it seems that as of late they’ve made efforts to try to right the course even though they’ll always fall short of the public approval that the army receives.
Now, if only they can get everyone to set their phones on mute for a solid five minutes.