Media Comment: The media's double double standard

It’s never too late to apologize and to make amends. That is true even when a media outlet makes a mistake. Or rather, it should be.

Fire near West Bank village of Jalud 370 (photo credit: Courtesy Rabbis for Human Rights)
Fire near West Bank village of Jalud 370
(photo credit: Courtesy Rabbis for Human Rights)
It’s never too late to apologize and to make amends. That is true even when a media outlet makes a mistake. Or rather, it should be.
This past week, The Harrisburg Patriot News, 150 years after the fact, published an apology for an article that appeared in its pages on November 24, 1863. It apologized for what it acknowledges now was “a judgment so flawed, so tainted by hubris, so lacking in the perspective history would bring, that it cannot remain unaddressed in our archives.”
The newspaper was referring to its reaction five days after president Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.
The apology read in part: “Our predecessors...called President Lincoln’s words ‘silly remarks,’ deserving ‘a veil of oblivion,’ apparently believing it an indifferent and altogether ordinary message, unremarkable in eloquence and uninspiring in its brevity.”
Yes, media people do make errors. There are factual errors, poor judgment and personal prejudice. There are errors of omission and commission. If journalists want us to relate to them as professionals, they should act like professionals.
Carl S. Stepp became a journalist in 1963 and went on to be a national and then senior editor for various newspapers and news organizations in more than 30 US states. He decided to share some insights he gleaned from 50 years in the media business.
A sample is repeated here for the benefit of our readers, and might just be also transmitted to your favorite unreliable and unethical journalists.
Consider the following:
1. Reliable information is a primal human need, and providing it is a noble service.
2. Do not shortchange organizing and revising.
3. Nothing is more important than accuracy.
4. There is always something you don’t know.
And our favorite: 5. Journalists who dish it out should do a better job of taking it.
We can only presume that even Israeli journalists are aware of these truths. But if so, this implies that infractions and violations of media ethics are more serious than it might appear.
Media consumers are being cheated and even betrayed. The product they are being provided with is faulty and unreliable.
Bob Dylan, in his “I’m troubled and I don’t know why” song, gave voice to the confusion caused by unethical media: “What did the television squall? / Well, it roared an’ it boomed / An’ it bounced around the room, / An’ it never said nothin’ at all.”
Here are some examples of our media’s problematic behavior: On TV Channel 2’s program on consumer affairs on October 23, Liad Modrik finished off a segment devoted to an Israeli-made safety table for schools intended to provide protection during earthquakes by noting, “but they’re so expensive.”
One of us complained that without factoring in elements such as insurance payments, physical and psychological treatment expenses, loss of work days, etc., her personal opinion was uncalled for, prejudiced and not permitted on air. The ombudsman, David Regev, as is his habit, passed the buck and transmitted the complaint to Modrik and her superiors without taking a position himself.
On November 5, Channel 10’s Rafi Reshef aired a news item on the entrapment of Internet pedophiles. The language, while not adult, was quite descriptive. The use of explicit photographs, although fuzzed out, was enough, in our judgment, to cause a child to become inquisitive and get interested. The show was aired just before 5:30 p.m., much earlier than permitted by law. In this instance, even Ombudsman Regev found the complaint justified and admitted to an “uneasy feeling” as he watched the photographs being played over and over.
On the bright side, Haaretz’s Chaim Levinson informed the public that the basketball which appeared in a photograph snapped in the house near Sinjil that was torched last week, allegedly a “price-tag” action, was a prop used for effect, to gain sympathy. He testified that an Arab TV crew took the ball from outside and placed it strategically in the room offering the best photographic angle.
Unfortunately, his revelation was solely to his Facebook friends.
Asked about the non-publication in his paper, Levinson replied, “you are obsessively involved in esoteric media issues which lack all substance, unlike me.”
His “real” media consumers were thus kept in the dark.
This past week has seen an ever-increasing level of confrontation with the United States (and The New York Times editorial board along with Thomas Friedman) revolving around the weighty issue of Iran’s nuclear enrichment program. But as if following the script of an inane, lowbrow reality show, the Israeli media are in a frenzy over a “very famous singer,” and his social media-reported dalliances with underage teenage girls.
This dumbing down of the news is dangerous.
The justice department decided this week not to prosecute Emmanuel Rosen and Guy Sharon, media stars pilloried in the press for suspicion of sexual misconduct. The initial brouhaha over these allegations was all but a military field court, all of course in the name of the media’s responsibility to the public. In fact, the media was a partner to the near lynching of these men.
On November 14, Alastair Campbell presented a public lecture on “How journalism can rebuild its reputation” and the nexus of journalism and democracy at Cambridge University. He expressed his frustration over the fact that “great [investigative] journalism requires time... today’s newspapers lack patience and investment.” He further asserted that the way “the press were defending their freedoms from the modest changes proposed by [the] Leveson [Report]... after revelations which disgusted the public... [was] absurd self-serving bilge that would not have survived a moment’s analysis had any other industry put something like it forward.”
He noted, as we have done, that while the press campaigns for regulation of all sorts of institutions, “only newspapers, it seems, despite trust ratings lower than [all other institutions]... consider [themselves] exempt, and allowed to design their own regulation, despite so much evidence of their failure and untrustworthiness to do so.”
What can be particularly infuriating in trying to apply rules and regulations to the media is the escape method the media applies to itself.
As Campbell pointed out above, the media excels at applying a double double standard.
For example, the political and economic connections of media owners, senior editors and columnists are not for public consumption, nor are the deviant shenanigans in their personal lives. At the same time there has been a push for political correctness as a replacement for traditional media values.
The new buzzwords are inclusiveness of race, gender, ethnicity and cultural “outsiders.”
Groups very much on the “inside” find themselves marginalized by this new corrective prejudice. In Israel, haredim, Russian and Ethiopian immigrants, as well as the national- religious camp, all of whom are very much central to coalition politics, are far from being “accepted,” while feminist, homosexual/lesbian, pro-Palestinian and anti-rabbinic groups are over-exposed. Fringe minorities supersede Israel’s mainstream, demoting and coloring the public discourse. Media ethics are not to be ignored and the media should be held responsible for their less-than-adequate standards.
The authors are respectively vice chairman and chairman of Israel’s Media Watch (