Media Comment: A lack of media memory

We expect reporters and columnists to mine the archives of their newspapers and networks to make interviews more incisive and reportage more accurate.

Former defense minister Moshe Yaalon (photo credit: REUTERS)
Former defense minister Moshe Yaalon
(photo credit: REUTERS)
We depend on the media not only to report and analyze current events but also to remind us of past events so that today’s news is provided with proper context and perspective.
We expect reporters and columnists to mine the archives of their newspapers and networks to make interviews more incisive and reportage more accurate.
This past week demonstrated conclusively that our media does not uphold such standards. Instead of relating to all issues with the same impersonal but professional standard of providing the public with the news, our media manipulates it in accordance with its own convictions and desires.
Our first example is the recent coverage of Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon. Ya’alon was very critical in public of the soldier who shot an incapacitated Arab terrorist in Hebron. Due to his principled stance, Ya’alon has been under considerable pressure from within the Likud as well as outside of it. The result is that Ya’alon has become the darling of the media and those who attack him, the black sheep.
Most mainstream media outlets have glossed over the fact that Ya’alon seemingly is interfering in an ongoing criminal investigation.
By contrast, when Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked criticized the Supreme Court’s recent decision further delaying the implementation of the agreement on the utilization of the offshore gas fields, she was portrayed as interfering with the country’s rule of law.
However unlike Ya’alon, Shaked’s pronouncements came after a decision was handed down which she thought wrong. She did not interfere with the judicial process at all.
Digging a bit deeper, we note that now Ya’alon’s pronouncements are praised as upholding true liberal and democratic values. Not too long ago, the media’s frame of reference was quite the opposite.
In mid-January 2014, Yediot Aharonot broke a story that the defense minister had, in a supposedly offthe- record background talk, made comments in which he called US Secretary of State John Kerry “obsessive” and “messianic.” He was also quoted as saying that Kerry “should take his Nobel Prize and leave us alone.” The media played up his remarks, stressing how damaging they were to Israel’s relationship with its “greatest ally.” The leak was obviously not only breaking the accepted norms of interviews in which reporters respect the wishes of the person interviewed and keep off the record comments private, but aimed at damaging Ya’alon and his political backer, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Under fierce media pressure, Ya’alon apologized.
Two months later, he had to do so again, after criticizing the US for its global weakness. Lecturing at Tel Aviv University on March 17, he said, “If your image is feebleness, it doesn’t pay in the world.” US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel placed a call to protest. Ya’alon was again raked over the coals in Israel’s media.
But now he is being backed, especially by Yediot Aharonot. The difference between then and now? If his judgment was so bad then, how come it has become so good now? We can only conclude that Yediot and the media are not reporting the news, but managing it to fit their own personal wish list. A Ya’alon perceived as not relenting to American pressure is put down. The same Ya’alon, when his actions fit the agenda of the press powers, is bolstered.
Another, related example of a lack of historical perspective is the recent investigative item of Dr.
Ilana Dayan on her Uvda program in which former minister Rehavam Ze’evi was accused of sexual harassment. “Gandi,” as he was nicknamed, has been dead for 15 years, assassinated by Arab terrorists.
Besides the fact that he cannot defend himself, the program cannot change the behavior of the deceased.
If Dayan truly believes that such stories, whether true or not, should be investigated, why doesn’t she take up a long list of suspected public personalities whose dalliances may have been, by today’s standards, harassment? These might include Moshe Dayan, Ezer Weizmann or even David Ben-Gurion, who had an affair with Regina Klapholz, 21 years his junior.
What positive contribution did this segment on Ze’evi make? Things become almost ludicrous when we compare the media’s coverage of MKs Zouheir Bahloul (Zionist Union) and Bezalel Smotrich (Bayit Yehudi). Bahloul, in a statement made in his party’s faction and then again on Thursday in an interview on Galatz with Yaron Dekel and Amit Segal, clarified his views regarding terrorists and freedom fighters. In essence, any attack on Israeli soldiers is considered part of a struggle for freedom, according to Bahloul. Only the murder of innocent civilians may be considered terrorism.
Bahloul was roundly criticized, both within and outside his party.
His party colleague MK Eitan Cabel said Bahloul was no longer a member of the Zionist Union. Indeed, anyone who has followed Bahloul’s programs on the regional Arab-language A-Shams radio or who read the detailed report of Shlomo Daskal and Dr. Tehila Altshuler of the Israel Democracy Institute would know Bahloul considers himself to be first and foremost a Palestinian whose land was taken away by Israel. Bahloul insists on referring to the city of Upper Nazareth as Nazareth, claiming that the lands of the Jewish city were stolen from the Arab city of Nazareth. He is an admirer of Muhammad Bakri, the producer of the Jenin, Jenin film which falsely accuses the IDF of perpetrating war crimes in the 2002 battle in the Jenin refugee camp.
Legislation aimed at preventing any public show of mourning on Israel’s Independence Day was considered by him “a shady and despicable act.”
None of this appeared in the ensuing media discourse. Quite the contrary, on Monday, Razi Barkai devoted almost an hour of his Galatz program to analyzing whether Bahloul’s differentiation between killing soldiers and civilians holds water. He thus legitimized Bahloul’s assertion instead of asking the obvious question which is whether any country in the world would defend someone who identifies with its enemies, let alone allow such a person to serve in its parliament.
Smotrich did not receive such empathy. He was branded a racist.
Haaretz’s Uri Misgav used the term “Judeo-Nazi” – ironically, a term coined by the newspaper’s darling, the late professor Yeshayhu Leibowitz, who employed it to describe IDF troops in Lebanon.
But why provide context? It would only ruin the media’s story-line.
The authors are respectively vice chairman and chairman of Israel’s Media Watch (