Behind the lines: The new 'Media Party'

The majority of the press corps is after some fuzzy secular-Zionist dream.

arik sharon main 88 (photo credit: )
arik sharon main 88
(photo credit: )
Among the tens of thousands of words spoken and written this week over Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's split with the Likud, no one has stated the basic fact that the real parents of his new party are the country's journalists. Many months, if not years, before Sharon began considering this week's momentous step, the basic blueprint had already been drawn on the pages of the newspapers. Long hours of brainstorming were spent this week on coming up with a suitable name for the new venture, but if the copywriters had been honest, they would have called it the Media Party. Correspondents and columnists didn't even try to hide their glee on Monday morning when reporting on the fulfillment of their fondest dream. What had seemed for so long like wild predictions and wishful thinking, a new centrist party - that, at least according to the latest polls, is going to finally break the Right-Left paradigm - has suddenly become a reality. The entire media seemed to be singing from the same prayer-book, celebrating the liberation of Sharon and his followers from their bondage at the hands of the Likud Central Committee members. No longer would they have to run every night to three different weddings or arrange jobs for sons, nephews and cousins. I'm not going to try and get into Sharon's head and understand what part the incessant media cheerleading played in his final decision. Since he has never had any qualms about making unpopular moves, I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt about needing any push from the press. On the other hand, it's clear that the ecstatic reception their new party would receive in the media helped Sharon's acolytes make their minds up to leave their political home. The question now is why has virtually the entire Israeli press signed up for membership in the new party. Obsessive media-phobes on the Right will answer, of course, that the press is rejoicing at what it perceives to be the downfall of its nemesis, Binyamin Netanyahu, and that the leftist journalists consider this development as another nail in the coffin of the Right. There are two major flaws with this theory. First, pundits were dreaming of a new center party long before the Sharon-Netanyahu rivalry became such a visceral hatred. Second, not the only the Likud is going to go into hiding in March if the new party fulfills the pollsters' expectations. Amir Peretz's Labor will also fail. The unprecedented media support that the new party has received proves that Israeli journalists are a lot less idealistic than many Israelis believe. It's true that a number of prominent reporters and columnists have well-documented radical leanings, but the majority of the press corps is conformist - what they're really after is some fuzzy secular-Zionist dream of a peaceful, western, user-friendly country. That's why they are generally in favor of a territorial compromise but still dutifully applaud whenever the IDF eliminates terrorists. It is also the reason they turned Corporal David Markovitch into an instant hero, after he killed four Hizbullah fighters this week. The Israeli media conduct a poverty-line festival when the annual statistics are released and run photos of empty refrigerators and hungry children, but the rest of the time they maintain a capitalist, market-orientated agenda and don't publish anything that could harm the interests of big business. In other words, a party that's tough on terror but willing to dismantle settlements, that pays lip service to social concerns but has no radical plans to redistribute wealth, is the summation of all their shallow ideals. There is also another reason behind the media's backing of Sharon's party. The fact that two of the major players in the latest developments are Ehud Olmert and Haim Ramon is no coincidence. Both enjoy relationships which are much more than cordial with leading journalists, and the desire to see them cooperating in a new political framework is definitely a factor. Ma'ariv columnist Dan Margalit, for example, has been Olmert's bosom buddy for more than a quarter of a century, and Channel 2 pundit Amnon Abromovitch is more than merely a Ramat Hasharon neighbor of Ramon's. Margalit has often been criticized for his friendships with Olmert, Tommy Lapid and Yossi Sarid. He claims this has never stopped him from attacking them in his columns. Yet this doesn't prove there is no lasting two-way effect. ONE OF the interesting debates to arise from the Plame-gate scandal in the US is that surrounding the relationship between journalists and their senior administration sources. The saga - which has dragged American reporters in front of a grand jury, and cost The New York Times's Judith Miller 85 days of freedom and eventually her job - has caused many commentators to question this relationship. It's only natural for reporters and those who supply their information over long periods of time to strike friendships that transcend the professional relationship, but the fact remains that journalists and sources can never be real friends, since every word exchanged between them can have also ethical, legal and even historical implications. In a democracy with a free press, reporters and politicians are on different sides of the divide. Or, at least, they should be - as the blatant backing of the Israeli media of Sharon's new party demonstrates.