The Lapid effect

It is the responsibility of newspaper editors and TV and radio producers – not lawmakers – to ensure the professionalism and objectivity of reporters, anchormen and commentators.

Yair Lapid 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Yair Lapid 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The prominent journalist, lecturer, screenwriter and novelist Yair Lapid will soon add another title to his name – politician. Ending years of speculation, Lapid officially announced Sunday that he would be entering the political fray.
Though he probably would have preferred delaying his decision, to put off an inevitable drop in popularity until closer to the national election slated for October 2013, Lapid was prompted to make the transition now, before passage of a problematic bill being advanced in the Knesset to institute a cooling off period for journalists making the move to politics.
Indeed, Lapid had on occasion used his prominent media position to advance his political standing. One blatant example was a column written for Yediot Aharonot in August, at the height of the socioeconomic demonstrations sweeping the nation, in which Lapid put forward his “Social Contract,” a quasi-political platform.
Thankfully, now that Lapid has committed himself, the so-called “Yair Lapid Bill,” which would require a cooling off period of six months to a year for journalists interested in entering politics, will probably not pass.
Though concern for the blurring of lines between politics and journalism is understandable, it is the responsibility of newspaper editors and TV and radio producers – not lawmakers – to ensure the professionalism and objectivity of reporters, anchormen and commentators. And legislation aimed at a specific person – particularly when that person appears to be singled out because of his popularity – is wrongheaded.
Lapid’s plunge into politics has garnered massive media coverage. Undoubtedly, part of the public interest in Lapid is related to the impact he is expected to have on the political order. Kadima, which according to opinion surveys has been steadily losing the support of its voters, is expected to be the hardest hit.
A poll conducted for the Knesset Channel by the Panels Institute that was broadcast Monday found that if an election were held now a party led by Lapid would muster 20 Knesset seats while Kadima, which currently has 28 seats, would shrink to just nine if led by Tzipi Livni.
However, pollster Ma’agar Mohot, in a survey that appeared on Monday on Channel 10, gave Lapid just seven seats, while Kadima fell to 12. Lapid should be lauded for abandoning a highly successive and lucrative career in journalism for the uncertainties and cutthroat life of politics. He seems to be motivated by an honest desire to do good.
And Lapid’s decision has rejuvenated the political scene. Talented and articulate newcomers to politics such as Lapid add color and diversity. And robust competition, whether it be among businesses producing consumer goods or politicians offering new ideas and policies, brings out the best in human endeavor. And Lapid seems to lack the anti-haredi streak that characterized his father, Yosef “Tommy” Lapid, late chairman of the defunct Shinui party.
In a memorable speech before haredi undergraduates at the Lander Institute in Jerusalem, Lapid admitted that the haredi community had “won” the culture war with secular Zionism. But he went on to say that this victory brought with it responsibilities: “If an Ethiopian child in Netivot is hungry it is your responsibility no less than it is mine, if rockets fall on Kiryat Shmona it is your responsibility no less than it is mine.”
Unfortunately, Lapid’s impressive popularity seems less to do with substance and more to do with appearances. He definitely is charismatic and comes off well on TV. But Lapid has yet to put forward a comprehensive platform. His Social Contract, for instance, consisted of vague populist declarations such as the need to “strengthen technological education,” “protect the quality of water and the environment” and “respect democracy, the courts, the IDF and the police.”
Also, Lapid’s decision to create his own party, instead of joining Kadima (according to a recent poll Kadima would garner 32 seats if headed by Lapid), further splinters the political system, which for some time now lacks the stability offered by two large parties – one to the right and one to the left.
As a result, smaller parties are likely to continue to leverage their influence in narrow coalition governments in which any single party’s threat of defection unless its demands are met can trigger a crisis.
Lapid’s bid brings new energies to our nation’s political scene, a decidedly positive development. But it also threatens to further splinter the political system while raising questions about the increasingly blurred line separating journalism from politics.