Media Matters: The guessing-game genre of journalism

A more respectable replacement for rumor and gossip in the world of reportage is speculation.

In an op-ed in Globes this week, Yuval Yoaz says that the decision on the part of the judges in the Moshe Katsav rape trial to close the doors to the media is a mistake. He points out that, however sound the reasoning behind the attempt to uphold the privacy of all concerned, particularly the plaintiffs, it will actually serve the interests of no one concerned. This, he says, is because details of the case will become the domain of the rumor mill. As a result, he argues, gossip and fragments of information will replace proper coverage on the part of the press - members of which are sure to hang around outside the courthouse to pounce on anyone entering and exiting - and the blogs and talkbacks will rule. He's right, of course, about the Web-weaving. However, just because a journalist is paid a salary, and holds an official press card - unlike any old Tom, Dick and Harry relying on poetic license alone - doesn't mean he will provide only the cold facts of a story. On the contrary, as we've seen throughout the Katsav affair (no pun intended) - and as the former president himself has claimed and complained - "rumor and gossip" about his case have dominated the news pages of the Hebrew tabloids from Day 1. AND WHILE on the topic of rumor and gossip, another substitute for hard news that has been gaining respectability with the force of a speeding bullit (pun intended) is speculation. Since the announcement that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will be giving a speech at Bar-Ilan University on Sunday evening - that will be televised live on all the main channels - political reporters and commentators have inundated us with its content. Never mind that the PM hasn't actually delivered his much-publicized policy address yet. All that matters is that its preview is a peg that makes the rest of the news seem secondary. But then, pundits putting themselves at the top of the totem pole is the raison d'etre of speculation. And it's not as though those whose guesses and analyses turn out to be wrong ever suffer any consequences. On the contrary, as long as they're on the politically correct side of the argument, their forecasts, like the weather report, are never held accountable or called into question. And speaking of questions, the oh-so-obvious-as-to-be-self-evident ones being raised right now are: how Bibi's speech will match up to US President Barack Obama's Cairo oratorio; how he will juggle his positions in such a way as to satisfy the White House without causing his coalition to fall; and whether we're in for any surprises. Surmise and conjecture may not make for sexy headlines, but they sure purport to carry weight. Take Thursday's lead story in Haaretz, for example, in which Aluf Benn and Barak Ravid give a blow-by-blow account of what Bibi will say, based on "assessments" of the premier's close advisers. First, Netanyahu will adopt the road map and a demilitarized Palestinian state, they report. Then he will demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state. After that, he will declare that the settlements are not an obstacle to peace. Finally, he will talk about the Iranian threat and its impact on the region. Does this mean that we should carry our umbrellas on Sunday or not? We don't know. What we do know is that while Obama can do no wrong as far as most of the local media are concerned, Bibi can do no right. The biggest break he gets is from those who acknowledge he's got a tough act to follow abroad, and an even tougher one to balance at home. Not to worry, though. By the time the actual speech comes along, we will all feel as if we'd been treated to a heavy dose of inside dope - enough to last until next week's follow-up fest. The same goes for the upcoming elections in Iran on Friday, the results of which either will or will not correspond to the speculation about them. (If speculation prior to those held in Lebanon this week is any indication, the latter is the more likely.) Still, the sight of CNN's Christiane Amanpour reporting from Teheran - in a long, red headscarf - is one thing I wouldn't have missed for the world, whichever anti-Western leader emerges victorious in nuke land. INTERESTINGLY, THE media abroad have been going wild over a very different story that broke this week in the Middle East - in Israel, that is: the tossing to the trash of a mattress allegedly filled with its owner's life savings, allegedly one million dollars. I have my suspicions that there was somewhat less than that stashed away in the woman's box-spring. But the attention the item has received in the foreign media indicates that lost money is still a serious sore point these days, certainly among Americans. And it must be comforting for some to know that even the "prescient" pensioners who never even heard of Bernie Madoff, let alone handed him their hefty nest eggs, are just as susceptible to bankruptcy as anybody else. NOW FOR my own stab at speculation: The mattress yarn will turn out to be an urban myth. And Bibi's speech at Bar-Ilan will not get rained out.