Behind the Lines: Sharon's ground rules

Sharon needs to consolidate his lead and plan the next few months quietly.

arik sharon main 88 (photo credit: )
arik sharon main 88
(photo credit: )
So much has been said and written over the last few years about the way Ariel Sharon has managed to rewrite the rules of engagement between the prime minister and the media that the latest abrogation went almost without comment. Sharon, or more likely his advisers, decided to forsake the time-hallowed Rosh Hashana interview he usually grants to newspapers and TV stations. The fact that the press haven't howled over this decision shows just how enthralled the media are at the moment with Sharon generally and, in particular, with his victory last month over Binyamin Netanyahu in the crucial Likud Central Committee vote over bringing forward the primaries. Sharon's tactics are clear. After his narrow win and the momentum he has gained over Netanyahu in the polls among Likud members, he needs to consolidate his lead and plan the next few months quietly. That doesn't mean that he has stopped talking to reporters altogether, it just means that he will continue setting the ground rules. On the eve of Rosh Hashana, he gave a few non-committal quotes to Yediot Aharonot and that was enough for the paper to trumpet in a huge headline "Sharon: 'Next year we will make a giant stride towards peace'". Interestingly, the same issue of Yediot carried an admission by Israel's foremost columnist, Nahum Barnea, that up until the last few years Sharon hadn't spoken to him in some 24 years after Barnea had written vicious criticisms of him. Now, the reincarnated Sharon is again talking to Barnea and other journalists who had been attacking him unrelentingly for so many years. Barnea, in a special column, tried like so many others to explain the sea-change in the old troublemaker; but Sharon remains a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma, as Winston Churchill said of Russia in 1939. Perhaps Barnea would do better to try and explain why Sharon, after so many years as the press's whipping boy, is suddenly the kind grandfather who can get away with anything. The biggest media story in the US this week was The New York Times' Judith Miller's about-face, just days before her jail sentence was due to end, after refusing to name a source. Miller owned up that she had heard the name of an under-cover CIA agent from Vice President Dick Cheney's Chief of Staff Louis Libby. Miller, who had become a poster-girl for journalistic ethics, has since been widely attacked for trying to shore up her flagging career by martyring herself, while Libby had actually allowed her to use his name over a year ago. The Israeli press also reported extensively on the latest development in the Miller saga but the revelation of new information in a local case of source-naming attracted less attention. Liora Glatt-Berkowitz, the attorney who was fired and put on trial for leaking details to Ha'aretz of the investigation into an allegedly illegal loan by South African businessman Cyril Kern to Ariel Sharon, gave her first interview to Yediot Aharonot's weekend magazine last week. The report on the investigation against Sharon, on the eve of elections in 2002, prompted then attorney-general Elyakim Rubinstein to order a controversial witch-hunt which quickly flushed out Glatt-Berkowitz. She was accused of violating an obligation to confidentiality as a state prosecutor, as well as fraud and breach of trust. The investigation included a court order which enabled the police to seize a reporter's phone records. In last week's interview, Glatt-Berkowitz dropped a bombshell when she accused the reporter she had taken into her confidence, Baruch Kra of Ha'aretz (who has since moved to Channel 10), of negligence and not adhering to the agreement between them, which led to her indictment. She claims that part of the information she handed over to Kra was expressly meant for background only and that she was surprised it had been used in the paper and also given to a Channel 2 news show. In addition she accused Kra of calling her from his personal cellphone, instead of an unidentified phone line. Glatt-Berkowitz is convinced that these lapses helped the investigators reach the conclusion that she was the source. Kra strenuously denied that there was any agreement between them and said that all the information he received was designated for use. He also countered Glatt-Berkowitz's phone-line accusations with the claim that the call that had been traced was one the attorney herself had made to Kra. I don't have enough information to decide which side is telling the truth (and I must admit that Kra is a friend and former colleague) but the way that Glatt-Berkowitz used her interview to shoot in all directions, blaming everyone besides herself, makes it a bit hard to accept everything she says. Her bitterness is understandable. She lost her job, her reputation, was indicted and now faces a disciplinary hearing by the bar association, while Kra gained fame and professional kudos. But I still find it extremely difficult to believe that an experienced reporter like Kra made rookie mistakes that would have endangered a source that gave him the scoop of a lifetime.