Between the Lines: Exposing 'Exposed;' Boaz Yona's overexposure; and Tim Russert's message

While Yona may not have received the punishment of an Eichmann, the television news and tabloid press this week did give his return here a degree of coverage that would be merited more by the extradition of a top Nazi war criminal.

Boaz Yona 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Boaz Yona 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
As it's been quite a few years since I served as this paper's television reviewer, those interested in a proper critique of HOT 's new telenovella Hasufim (Exposed) will have to turn elsewhere. But as the series is the first that purports to be set behind the scenes at one of our nightly news broadcasts, it has aroused some interest among the real-life journalists who constitute Israel's broadcast-media branja (clique) and is a suitable topic for this column. This is especially so as its creator is Ram Landes, who has played key producing roles in both the Channel 2 and Channel 10 news departments, and now works for Arkadi Gaydamak's Radio 99 station. Indeed, the show's central premise of a male/female anchor team who are also a married couple seems based on the long-standing (false) rumors that a romantic relationship actually existed between co-presenters Ya'acov Eilon and Miki Heimovich, who followed Landes from Channel 2 to Channel 10 (or perhaps the fact that Eilon was authentically once coupled with his current rival anchor, Channel 2's Yonit Levy). Heimovich has even voiced objections to the portrayal of the female anchor character on Hasufim, played by Yael Bar-Zohar, supposedly on grounds that having an attractive blonde who sometimes visibly allows her (false) emotions to show on air is meant as a veiled reference to the Channel 10 star. Given the fact that Hasufim's fictional broadcast team appears improbably incestuous, with everyone on staff seemingly either related to, or romantically involved with, each other (clearly I made a mistake going into print journalism), Heimovich should lighten up. If the show does have a problem, it's not its roman a clef allusions, but the fact that it focuses too much on typical soap-opera personal histrionics, and less on the very real and much more compelling professional dilemmas that bedevil television news broadcasting. CERTAINLY NOTHING I've watched on Hasufim yet has been as dramatic as the footage aired this week by the news broadcasts of disgraced Heftsiba CEO Boaz Yona going ballistic on his extradition flight back from Italy to face charges that his financial misdeeds cost thousands of Israelis the money they had put down on homes built by his collapsed real estate company. Nor, for that matter, as interesting as the subsequent discussions within the media whether this affair has been properly covered. Yona's self-pitying outburst - in which he insultingly asserted his suffering was worse than that of his victims who lost life savings on down payments to Heftsiba, claimed he was being treated "worse than Adolf Eichmann" and blamed the media for calling him "a thief" - was simply pathetic. Whatever the circumstances of Heftsiba's collapse, had Yona stayed and faced the music rather than flee the country in the first place, he would never have been in this position. That doesn't mean, though, that the media handled this matter appropriately. While Yona, whose plea bargain agreement means he will only serve some seven years in prison, may not have received the punishment of an Eichmann, the television news and tabloid press this week did give his return here a degree of coverage that would be merited more by the extradition of a top Nazi war criminal than a white-collar offender of this stature. While his tirade may have made for good television, the news broadcasts went way, way over the top in repeating this clip ad nauseam - especially Channel 2, no doubt thanks to Yona's singling out its crime reporter, Moshe Nussbaum. With all due respect and compassion to those who suffered in the Heftsiba affair, in a week that saw no shortage of other major political, diplomatic and security stories, some sense of proportion was lost here in the attention paid to Yona's homecoming. And while I don't know how Hasufim would do in the ratings if it dealt a little more with these types of issues rather than Yael Bar-Zohar's character's marital troubles, if it did, this is at least one viewer who might be willing to give the program a second look. THIS WEEK, the US broadcast media bid farewell to one of its most influential and respected figures, Tim Russert, host of the Sunday morning NBC-TV news-interview show Meet the Press, who died of a heart attack at the untimely age of 58. As Russert's rise to fame anteceded my aliya, and I rarely watched him on air (though he appeared regularly on the MSNBC channel available here on cable), I can't claim any exceptional insight into his work or emotion on his demise. This, perhaps, explains my surprise at the remarkable degree of media attention his death was given. It seemed comparable to that given the passing of Tommy Lapid here last month, despite the fact that Lapid was also a major political figure in a way that Russert was not. A few American media critics did, in fact, subsequently complain that the extensive coverage of his death was a symptom of the excessively insular nature of the Washington press corps. There's no question, though, that the Meet the Press host played an influential role in American politics, including in the current race for the presidency. Russert was also rightly admired for being equally tough when interviewing politicians from both sides of the political divide, even though he came to journalism after working as a senior staffer for two notable New York Democrats, the late senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan and former governor Mario Cuomo. Moynihan and Cuomo were two of Israel's biggest supporters in the liberal Democratic camp, and referring to Russert this week, one pro-Palestinian blogger wrote: "On Israel, Russert was horrible: He would always challenge politicians if they had the slightest skepticism toward Israel and its crimes." Actually, Russert, who made much of his Irish-Catholic heritage, didn't appear to have had any disproportionate interest in this country or its doings - itself a laudatory quality too rare among his Washington colleagues. When he did touch on Jewish-related issues in his interviews, it was usually in the context of his real passion - electoral politics. One such moment came last February during a Democratic debate, when he asked Barack Obama to reject any support given him by anti-Semitic Black Muslim leader Louis Farrakhan. Obama loyalists jumped on Russert for that exchange - though later in the campaign he would be attacked by Hillary Clinton supporters for supposedly favoring her rival in his coverage. Russert also drew fire for choosing to wear on-air an American flag lapel-pin in the days just following 9/11. This week, in The Wall Street Journal, Bernard Goldberg recalled asking Russert about that criticism: "'What about those who say journalists shouldn't wear red, white and blue ribbons, that by doing that somehow you're taking the government's side in some debate or another?' I asked him. 'It is imperative,' he [Russert] told me, 'that we never suggest that there's a moral equivalency between the United States of America and the terrorists. Period.'" I'd liked to believe Russert thought the same about Israel - and even if not, it's a message his colleagues in the foreign press would do well to reflect on.