Behind the Lines: Less powerful than it believes

The parties that used media-evading tactics succeeded, while those who relied on the media were almost obliterated.

anshel 88 (photo credit: )
anshel 88
(photo credit: )
The votes were still being counted, but Uzi Landau, number 14 on Likud's list (which meant he had just been booted out of the Knesset), was ready with his own list of culprits for his party's downfall. At the top of which, of course, was the media. Special mention was given to Channel 2 and Yediot Aharonot, for relentlessly attacking the Likud in general and Binyamin Netanyahu in particular - and for acting as Kadima's cheerleaders. On numerous occasions over the last few months, this column has criticized most of the mainstream media for taking a blatantly anti-Netanyahu and anti-Amir Peretz stance during the election campaign. But there is a great deal of disingenuousness in Landau's diatribe. The Likud didn't lose because of the press. Its traditional voters aren't swayed by what the papers say, and have proved so time and again in the past. The same media was against Netanyahu in 1996, and he won the elections anyway. As unbelievable as it may sound today, they were also against Ariel Sharon, and he still won two landslides. The media may serve as a useful scapegoat for the likes of Landau, but if these elections prove anything, it's that the Israeli media is far less powerful than it would like to believe. Kadima did a lot worse than the media-touted polls predicted; and in spite of much of the press complimenting Ehud Olmert on his conduct over the last three months, many voters weren't convinced that he was a worthy successor to Sharon and turned away from Kadima. Look at the parties that fared well in these elections. Neither Shas nor Israel Beiteinu enjoyed media-backing; and the Pensioners Party was ignored by the press until the very last days of the campaign. Likud lost almost 75 percent of its 2003 voters on Tuesday. Landau is much more familiar than I am with this public. He cannot honestly say that they left because of any media coverage, because if they were so easily influenced by the press, they wouldn't have been Likud voters in the first place. Labor had similarly justified complaints against the media. The same Channel 2 and Yediot ridiculed Peretz's leadership while ignoring his new social agenda. But, instead of attacking the press as did the Likud - whose spokespeople went on the offensive, and even lodged an official complaint with the Central Elections Committee against Channel 2 - Peretz and his campaign manager, Roni Rimon, decided not to pick a fight. Instead, they opted to continue pushing their message to the public. Peretz was the candidate who spent the most time out in the field, meeting and speaking with voters. (I've seen him do it and can say that he's much more persuasive in person than he is on screen.) Labor's results weren't that hot, but Peretz nevertheless managed to establish his leadership and agenda. Perhaps he would have done better if, for the first couple of months of the campaign, he hadn't tried to play the media's game. THE PREVAILING attitude is that Israel is no longer a small country, and therefore people don't flock to political events the way they used to, preferring to sit in front of the TV or surf the Web. So only a media campaign can bring in votes. Yet, this campaign proved the opposite to be the case. The parties that used media-evading tactics succeeded, while those who relied on the media were almost obliterated - like Likud and Meretz - or underachieved, like Kadima. Israel Beiteinu and Shas first went around the media - making contact with their core constituencies by more direct methods, and only later tried to attract voters from different groups through other means, including the media. The Pensioners were ridiculed by the press - when they were paid any attention at all - but used e-mails, text messages, coffee-shop rounds and celebrity endorsements to create a buzz among the young trendy set. This method was so successful that in Tel Aviv, Israel's media capital, one out of 10 people voted for them. The media doesn't decide the outcome of elections in Israel. The journalists and editors have their own political convictions - often the same ones - which they allow to skew their reporting and cloud their judgment. Which means we have a lot of soul-searching to do following this particular campaign. But the voters also rely on other sources of information and on their own personal beliefs before making up their minds. Media influence remains only one of the factors in the decision-making process. In many ways, the media is but one sector of the electorate among many that the politicians have to win over. Blaming the media for losing the elections is about as serious as saying that the posters were badly designed or that the slogans didn't rhyme. The genuine reasons for Likud's humiliation abound. When the time was right for a Likud victory, the media could nothing about it.