Media Matters: Coalition coverage

Labor's joining of the coalition this week is putting the press in a political predicament - not knowing whom to attack first, or from which direction.

It is not surprising that the Hebrew punditocracy was less than pleased with Labor's decision on Tuesday to join the Likud-led coalition. Op-eds, sounding more like obituaries, abounded in Yediot Aharonot, Ma'ariv and Haaretz eulogizing the party that "sold out for cabinet seats," and attacking its key players for having lied when they initially swore they would take their electoral defeat with them to the opposition. Nor is it news that most of the media contemptuously attributed what Ma'ariv's Shalom Yerushalmi called a "Pyrrhic victory" to Labor's nature in general, and Ehud Barak's in particular. But it is interesting that few analysts saw in this move - which awarded the party that garnered a pathetic 13 mandates in the elections a whopping five ministers and two deputies - cause for celebration. Which, of course, it was - at least for the majority of central committee members who opted for power over oblivion and irrelevance. If anything, rather than emphasizing Labor's "suicide wish," "imminent demise" and "loss of soul," these disgusted doomsayers might have paused to pat the party on the back for pulling a fast one over the public who punished it at the polls. Indeed, we should be seeing an exponential rise in columns calling for a change in the electoral system that enabled the current coalition deal, which is certainly no less cause for concern on the Right than it is on the Left. STILL, IT wasn't the system that was under scrutiny this week. Rather, it was the replacement of a discussed-ad-nauseam duo desperately seeking a third wheel by an unexpected triumvirate. Suddenly, from incessant focus on the prime minister-designate's difficulty in gathering together a stable government, partly due to a particular thorn in his side in the form of Israel Beiteinu head Avigdor Lieberman, along came an unconventional alliance that has breathed a bit of life into the talk-show blah-blah. Strange bedfellows will do that. And the budding relationship between Binyamin Netanyahu and Histadrut chairman Ofer Eini is nothing if not that. In fact, if it weren't for the latter's support, Barak would have ended up banished to the back benches of the Knesset, and not on his way to another term at the helm of the Defense Ministry. Naturally, when Mr. Free-Market Capitalism forges a bond with Mr. Workers Unite, the backers of both look askance. This has provided fodder for much media speculation about whether it is "good for the Jews" - for weathering the "economic tsunami," as Eini has called it - or merely a mutually beneficial arrangement for the two leaders. Cynics claim that through Bibi, Eini is guaranteeing his political future, and that through Eini, Bibi is staving off potential strikes. It is understandable that Netanyahu's efforts to create a stable, broad-based coalition that can't be toppled at the drop of a hat - causing him to invest inordinate energy into trying (so far unsuccessfully) to entice Kadima chair Tzipi Livni into joining, and to pay Barak's high price for same - have aroused the ire of disgruntled Likudniks and of Lieberman alike. Less understandable is that, in spite of the above, Bibi hasn't received any real exemption from enmity on the part of the press, such as Haaretz economics editor Nehemia Strassler, who bashed him this week for being about to give in on child allotments. ONE NOTABLE exception to the characteristic cacophony against Netanyahu was Israel Radio's Arye Golan. On Tuesday night's Politika (Channel 1), hosted by Oded Shahar, Golan was almost effusive in his praise of the prime minister-designate. "Netanyahu is a victor," Golan declared. "He really didn't want to ride on the back of the right-wing tiger that emerged in the elections - and he succeeded... [Now] he has a more balanced, more moderate government, with which he can face the world and the American administration... And you know what? He did it and worked on it, in my opinion, in a way that inspires respect." That Golan's newfound admiration for Netanyahu stems from the latter's "balance" and "moderation" may be cause for pause - or worse - among those who voted Likud. It undoubtedly is worrisome to Liebermanites. Which is why, alongside the coverage of the stormy event at the Tel Aviv Fair Grounds that handed Bibi his sought-after solution, reporters hurried to remind everybody that "Netanyahu's troubles have only just begun" - within his own party, that is. Not to mention with coalition partner Israel Beiteinu. Hell hath no fury like that of loyalists shunted aside for prodigal sons or courted newcomers, after all. But Netanyahu - who has told members of the press that, having learned from past mistakes, he is doing things differently this time around - probably is reassuring himself that he can handle any huffiness coming from his own camp. Especially now that he has achieved his goal and, as a result, has the likes of Arye Golan giving him an unprecedented good grade. It's a precious "two-fer" for someone who has complained repeatedly over the years about being unfairly treated by the media. Well, he's right about never having been given a break by the press. But he's wrong if he thinks his luck on that score is about to change, no matter how many handshakes between him and Barak - and Eini - are caught on camera.