Media Comment: Fangs bared, claws unsheathed

Netanyahu has made the media a target of withering criticism, and that is not new. He and they are now approaching a quarter-century of antagonism and mutual recriminations.

Netanyahu speaking at a recent election campaign event (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Netanyahu speaking at a recent election campaign event
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
With the election campaign for the 20th Knesset entering its last two weeks, it appears that things are getting out of control. Not in the political arena but among the media branja, who supposedly are carefully researching issues, collecting facts, analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of the candidates and their parties, informing us of concerns of which we need to be aware, and at the most elementary level, allowing us to use the facts to reach our own decisions for whom to vote.
This process, called reporting, seems to be in a pitch-and-roll maneuver, usually linked to a ship floundering in a storm. The media’s agenda and focus are less on the elections per se as they are on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. They are less on his achievements and failures than on his personality, and that of his son.
Netanyahu has made the media a target of withering criticism, and that is not new. He and they are now approaching a quarter-century of antagonism and mutual recriminations. The more Netanyahu succeeds, the more intense the hostility. It permeates the commentary – and unfortunately, encourages the media consumer to make choices at the ballot box less dependent on facts than on feelings. This process has led Israel’s democracy to become less a rational system of government and civic action and more one of emotional involvement. Anyone listening, watching and reading Israel’s media is being drawn into a battlefield rather than being handed a scorecard. Whereas in the past much of the visceral hostility was beyond the reach of the public – discussed and pumped up largely in editorial offices, cafes along Dizengoff Avenue, or in TV and radio studios between breaks – today we have Twitter, and all is revealed.
A case in point: Saturday night, Dana Weiss, chief political analyst and anchor of Saturday Night with Dana Weiss on News Channel 12, was filming the prime minister and his entourage as they were boarding the his flight to Washington, where Netanyahu was to appear before AIPAC and meet US President Donald Trump at the White House. Netanyahu’s son Yair’s lateness delayed the flight briefly. Audible for all was Weiss’s over-the-tape comment describing Yair as “this complete zero... this crap.” And despite her denial, we also heard “the auti kid.”
She did apologize – but in February, when Likud MK David Amsalem used the word “autistic” in a pejorative fashion, he was raked over the coals by the media, which then treated his apology that followed with disdain. Either there is a double standard at work or some media people have short memories. And both options are non-professional.
Another example is the usage by Moshe Ya’alon, Blue and White’s #3, of the dreaded and denounced “traitor” term, banned by the media since 1995, and applied solely to right-wingers. Ya’alon commented on what he perceives as Netanyahu’s role in the so-called “Submarines Affair.” A week ago, on KAN’s Reshet Bet radio station, he claimed that, “the ‘Submarines Affair’ could reach a level of treason by Netanyahu.” Later, Ya’alon even denied having used the “banned” treason word. However, in this case, there was no outpouring of rage and no across-the-board denunciations by the media. The public is not stupid, and again the media reduced their self-assigned role as guardian of decency in public life.
WEISS’S REMARKS gave Netanyahu the opportunity to again hang out the media to dry when he tweeted: “Imagine if a right-wing journalist had spoken so of Gantz’s or Lapid’s child. The mask is off, and it is clear that the ‘objective media’ is nothing more than left-wing propaganda.” Here, too, the media allowed themselves to become the ball on the field, being kicked around, rather than sitting in the stands and observing.
To be clear, all is not negative in the media. That same evening, Channel 13 News had a scoop. And it wasn’t based on assumptions or presumptions. There was an audio tape that revealed that Blue and White party head Benny Gantz – who is to be prime minister for two-and-a-half years if that party forms the coalition – was heard informing a group of the faithful that Prime Minister Netanyahu would harm him physically. His exact words were: “If he had a way to have me hurt, to have me killed, he would have done so.” Gantz, perhaps borrowing a tactic from the American Democratic Party – the failed charge of “collusion” – was heard saying that the prime minister might have gotten Russia to hack Gantz’s cellphone in order to interfere in the election. And did the media demand his apology or just an explanation?
Yet, when another commentator, Amit Segal of Channel 12 News, displayed an independent line of thinking, his colleagues all but drew and quartered him. As we noted in our February 28 column, he was pilloried by Haaretz and other papers which devoted critical and nasty op-ed articles against him.
On Saturday night, on his way to the airport, Netanyahu dropped in to Channel 12’s studio for an interview. It was the first time in years that he had done so, and all appeared surprised. The interview was taut, tense and confrontational, on both sides. At times, Netanyahu had difficulty speaking, due to constant interruptions by host Keren Marciano. But indicative of the media’s attitude was that afterward, all her colleagues tweeted their congratulations on her performance. It was as if all had been caught up in some gladiatorial contest, and the cheering was deafening on the social media platforms.
Another recent media outburst of congratulations was directed at fashion model Rotem Sela, who wrote on Instagram that the government needs to be told “that Israel is a state of all its citizens and that all human beings are born equal, including the Arabs.” The Twitter accounts of media personalities went into overdrive, but when Sarah Zoabi, a Muslim Arab resident of Nazareth, declared: “I believe in the right of the Jewish people to have their own state... a Jewish nation-state,” and “with all due respect to Rotem Sela, I think she lives in a Tel Aviv bubble without being aware of what is happening [outside of it],” her words were shunted off to YouTube. She wasn’t pretty enough?
In an Olam-Katan interview on December 14, Amir Ivgi, formerly of IBA/KAN’s Channel 1 and now at Channel 20, noted that he has no problem with journalists holding personal and political beliefs, but “that the final product for the people at home needs be diversified, balanced and representative of Israeli society in a true fashion.” In other words, editors and producers are not doing their job. Without proper supervision or a modicum of regulation – without an insistence that rules and regulations be followed, especially those legislated by law – anarchy will reign.
If the media’s holier-than-thou spirit is not controlled – and if the incessant expressions of personal opinion which invade our news and interviews, whether directly or by indirect means, continues – the public’s trust in the media will continue to deteriorate, and it is our democratic values that will be hurt.
The writers are members of Israel’s Media Watch,