Opinion must not be passed off as impartial news - opinion

“News consumers have a difficult time making a distinction between reporters and opinion journalists... because most of the time there is no difference.”

A man in a coffee shop in Ashkelon reads newspaper coverage of the prime minister's indictment last week.  (photo credit: AMIR COHEN/REUTERS)
A man in a coffee shop in Ashkelon reads newspaper coverage of the prime minister's indictment last week.
(photo credit: AMIR COHEN/REUTERS)
On March 6, Channel 13 diplomatic correspondent Barak Ravid reacted to a tweet by Ariel Kahane of Israel Hayom by writing, “There is no basis for a unity government under Netanyahu. It will not happen. It is a shame to waste words on it. The reality must be acknowledged and it needs to be understood that the sole path forward that can be seen to prevent a fourth round of elections is the establishment of a good-riddance government.”
In Israel, as we know, rarely if ever do media personnel, and surely those of celebrity status, apologize for errors. In this case, however, an error is not what was committed. Ravid revealed his anti-Netanyahu bias and attempts at influencing and pressuring politicians. He is not the only one.
On May 1, Attila Somfalvi, Ynet’s political correspondent, tweeted in reference to Yair Netanyahu, “The clown from Balfour [Street, the Prime Minister’s Residence], the gnat whose existence you pay for, is dropping filth on Attorney-] General [Avichai] Mandelblit, spreading lies which are clearly immediate incitement, calling him a traitor. Now, tell me more about the temporary state prosecutor [Dan Eldad], the doll that was appointed in order to break up the state attorney and the criminal cases of the father of the clown... one could vomit.”
On Monday, May 4, Channel 10 law correspondent Aviad Glickman tweeted that a petition to the High Court of Justice by the Legal Forum for Israel NGO, seeking to prevent Attorney-General Mandelblit from taking over the state prosecutor’s job, was summarily rejected. To end the tweet he added, “and with full justice,” another typical off-the-cuff put-down.
This is the mindset of those who are supposed to bring us the news but too often substitute it for their subjective “insight” into why and how events happen and should happen.
As David Harsanyi wrote in an April 27 National Review article titled “A Rant Against the Media,” “Reporters don’t openly collude with [political parties], they merely share the same objectives and set of values.... It’s a problem that’s been festering for decades... there is no price paid for getting things wrong, there really is no financial incentive to be a grounded, straight-down-the-line, unbiased journalist these days.” Harsanyi also noted that the “biggest source of political bias isn’t necessarily the left-wing framing of stories and issues, but the focus and types of stories that editors assign writers.”
Indeed, as he summed up, “News consumers have a difficult time making a distinction between reporters and opinion journalists... because most of the time there is no difference.”
In Haaretz, Gidi Weitz published an “analysis” on May 1 that was headlined “Israel’s Attorney-General Knows Netanyahu is Dangerous and Still Gave Him a Green Light.” In it, Weitz asserted that had Mandelblit not become entangled in Netanyahu’s investigations, eventually indicting him, the attorney-general would have become the right-wing government’s darling and the prime minister’s closest confidant.
The prime minister was not asked to comment but he used his social media platforms, including Instagram (!), to provide one. In part it read, “I was horrifically shocked to read the column... after Roni Alsheikh lied and framed me... after Ronni Ritman framed me and my wife... Gidi Weitz relates today in Haaretz an additional false claim against me as if it came from the attorney-general. Unbelievable. If Mandelblit truly thinks that about me, how did he make objective decisions about me?... he is in a conflict of interest.”
WEITZ CONVENIENTLY ignores the criticism of Mandelblit voiced by many, especially in Israel Hayom, asking why Mandelblit needed to wait all these months to allow Netanyahu to be reelected prime minister. Was he interested in having the wound fester?
We, along with all other media consumers, have no real way of knowing who is telling the truth in this exchange. However, whereas in the past we raised the need for a more pluralistic media so that a true realization of the freedom to information and opinion be provided, it has become apparent that the mainstream media largely remains as it was. We and those attacked in the media are left seeking alternative platforms.
This sorry state is aggrieved by the total lack of any ethics demonstrated by too many journalists, some of whom have been cited above. In this context, it is very relevant to note an interview in Time magazine’s May 4th issue with Mariane Pearl, the widow of murdered journalist Daniel Pearl. She commented, “For a long time, journalists were happy asking everyone questions but themselves... now, journalism is only as good as the willingness of those who practice it to be honest when they ask themselves what they’re in it for.”
In a 2018 article by J. Brian Houston of the University of Missouri titled “The twitterization of journalism: User perceptions of news tweets” in the academic publication Journalism, it was noted that Twitter has been quickly incorporated into newsrooms. A 2013 survey of journalists in 14 countries revealed that 59% were using Twitter, and that was seven years ago.
Houston admits that norms are being challenged, and one of them is the value of objectivity. The credibility of a journalist depends on his or her impartiality, neutrality, objectivity and fairness. This column has brought numerous examples in the past few years showing that tweets most often result in what is called “opinionated news” but more accurately is nothing but personal opinion. Instead of reporting, we witness journalists descending into using in their tweets, irony and snarkiness to turn serious news into a new form of stand-up comedy. The journalist is often there to entertain us with wit rather than with knowledge or wisdom.
In this atmosphere, it is very difficult for journalists to hold themselves to ethical practices. It is even more difficult for people in the media business to seriously research an issue. The “stars” just need to express their opinions, which does not require much effort. An upstart journalist will never be able to compete, as there just isn’t enough time or resources for serious reportage.
Ethics aside, the issue is not only that journalists are drawn into a medium that encourages them to offer their own opinion about events or issues, but that this behavior can create, and already has in part, created a new elite class of narcissistic, smug managers of the news who coordinate their messaging.
They even become, at times, show-offs who perform the news instead of reporting it. Another academic article in the same issue of Journalism by Shannon McGregor and Logan Molyneux, postulates that journalists have always heavily featured elite perspectives in news stories, and Twitter simply amplifies that bias by affecting the news judgment value of journalists when they determine if and how an item is to be treated.
Perhaps it really is time to replace newspapers with “twits.”
The authors are members of Israel’s Media Watch.