Behind the Lines: Letting loose

It would have been nice to believe that the pathetic media circus surrounding Ze'ev Rosenstein would have come to a close.

zeev rosenstein 298.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
zeev rosenstein 298.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Even an avowed skeptic such as myself, who steadfastly refuses to believe in any conspiracy theories, finds it hard not to imagine a cabal of media moguls getting together to agree on all-out support for Kadima and a bitter war against its rivals. The ridicule of and hostility toward Amir Peretz and Binyamin Netanyahu on the part of the mainstream press has defied all norms of election-season coverage. And not only on the news pages. According to a deposition from the ousted editor of Yediot Aharonot's weekend magazine, efforts were made by Editor-in-Chief Rafi Ginat to suppress damaging reports on Ariel Sharon and his circle. According to reports posted on media-affairs Web sites, Ma'ariv Editor Amnon Dankner personally intervened in the writing of a lengthy two-part profile on his friend, Ehud Olmert - even to the point of replacing the reporter originally entrusted with the task. As a result of such goings-on, many of us journalists have been extremely concerned about the state and future of our profession. This week, we were able to heave a sigh of relief. The first signs of spring were the reports on Yoav Yitzhak's NFC Web site of Olmert's real estate dealings, followed by a lengthy feature in Haaretz chronicling all the acting PM's past dealings; and a report in Yediot detailing the lengths that Sharon's advisers had gone to in order to enable donor Martin Schlaff to open a floating casino in Eilat. But the coup de' grace this week was the Channel 10 expose by Raviv Druker of Omri Sharon's dairies, revealing lists of political appointments and gerrymandering. It's not so much the content of this expose that was refreshing. In fact, Yitzhak doesn't seem to have found definite proof of any wrongdoing. Nor did Haaretz reveal anything new about Olmert. The significance of this string of reports lies in the removal of immunity that Olmert and Kadima were granted since Sharon's break with the Likud, and especially after his second stroke. Kadima is finally under serious media scrutiny, just as a leading party should be on the eve of an election. How to explain this case of media schizophrenia? Though there are a number of reporters and editors who allow personal ideologies and friendships to distort their work, most journalists are conflicted over the natural affinity most of them have to the political center encapsulated in Kadima and their professional and ethical instincts. They are also torn between herd-mentality and competitive urges. There is no mafia protecting Kadima for the purpose of allowing Olmert to withdraw from the West Bank. Though an element of this is clearly present in some cases, most of the reporters covering potential Olmert and Sharon scandals are on the Left. And the sympathy that many journalists have for Kadima is based more on their sociology than their politics. *** IT WOULD have been nice to believe that with the extradition of suspected international drug dealer Ze'ev Rosenstein to the US on Monday, the pathetic media circus surrounding him would have come to a close. But whether he wins or loses in the Miami trial, he will be back - either as a free man or to serve out his sentence in an Israeli jail. So, we're not even going to get a respite during his sojourn overseas. Instead, we've been getting daily updates from the proceedings there, including the exact hour when Rosenstein ate a tuna sandwich. So eager were the tabloids to obtain every little morsel, that they actually dispatched reporters onto the suspect's flight with US marshals. Yediot on Tuesday dedicated its entire front page and first spread to the story. Reporter Yehezkel Adiram even noted that Rosenstein whiled away his long hours in the air by leafing through Yediot's sports pages. There's nothing new about societies being enthralled by villains. Books, movies and academic studies give even murderers and rapists mythological status, while both their victims and the real heroes who hunted them down are forgotten. But at least figures like Al Capone had real power and influence during the 1920s, as does the mob today in some parts of the US and Europe control various business sectors. In Israel, on the other hand, crime families mainly disturb one another. While they operate drug and prostitution rackets, they have little effect, if any, on the lives of ordinary citizens. It's not clear what Rosenstein did to acquire the title of "public enemy no. 1." But for gimmick-hungry journalists - especially those writing for the "yellow pages" at the back of Yediot and Ma'ariv - he is the ideal icon: a slick senior criminal who, instead of staying in the shadows, frequents night-clubs, fashionable restaurants, glittering social events and soccer matches. Initially, Rosenstein - whom the media affectionately calls "HaZe'ev" (the wolf) - hung around with C-grade celebrities in the hope that a bit of the stardust would rub off on him. Eventually, he became a valued guest at Tel Aviv parties. The festival surrounding the alleged murderer, stoked by Yediot and Ma'ariv, who fought tooth and nail over the last interview before extradition (in the end, each paper got one), proves just how rotten the popular press has become. [email protected]