Media Comment: The rare apology

Indeed, an open apology by the media is a rare event; too often it goes the other way.

Microphone (photo credit: INGIMAGE)
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)
Zinor Layla (“Night Pipe” or “Night Tube”) is a daily program broadcast on Channel 10 TV at 10:30 p.m., that previously aired after midnight. But having garnered immense popularity, it earned its earlier slot. The program may be characterized as soft news entertainment.
It typically brings viewers interesting stories of success and failure, including humorous ones, with the platform being amateur video clips. The program, hosted by Guy Lerrer, outdid itself this past March 31.
On March 24, the police in the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) town of Elad discovered a four-year-old boy in a carton in the street.
A microphone always brings out the best in our police officers, especially when it comes to feats of imagination. The police inspector related that they found a boy, in dirty clothes, starved, in a carton. The media had a ball, outdoing each other about the story, as documented on Zinor Layla. Ma’ariv’s headline was “Homeless four-year old from Elad found frightened and disheveled in a carton.” The haredi Kikar Hashabat website ran with “Serious neglect in Elad; a tot has been sleeping for a few days already in a carton.” Even Rino Tzror of Galatz took part in the bash, inviting police officer Ikko Shachar, head of the local police station, to recount the gory details.
Zinor Layla chose not to be lazy and actually sent reporter Ori Even to investigate.
The actual story he found was rather mundane.
The boy’s seven-year old brother had been supposed to take care of him, but managed to lose him. The tot’s father had immediately informed the authorities and the police and within a few hours he was returned safe and sound to his parents. This is something that could happen to any parent, unfortunately, and was certainly not an event unique to the haredi community.
Even interviewed the father, and at the end of the program something very unusual happened: Even apologized. Not once, but a few times. He apologized for the unprofessional behavior of his colleagues.
Aliza Gershon, CEO of the NGO Tsav Pius (which promotes reconciliation between the secular and observant sectors of the populace) showed up at the editorial offices of the program and presented to Guy Lerrer and his staff a special citation for the conciliatory efforts they made, in this instance, to eliminate the badmouthing of haredim.
Indeed, an open apology by the media is a rare event. Too often it goes the other way.
Take Channel 2’s guru Amnon Abramowitz.
He has quite an unrestrained mouth.
During the process of the formation of the new government, Abramowitz had it that the prime minister “opened his legs” to his partners. Complaints flew, and Abramowitz apologized – or did he? No, he did not come on screen and retract his words, he only “apologized” to the ombudsman of Channel 2, David Regev, who passed the apology on.
In January of this year, in the midst of the election campaign, Haaretz journalist Yigal Sarna wrote a scathing article against Education Minister Naftali Bennett, claiming that the latter, while a captain in the army’s Maglan commando unit, lost his cool during Operation Grapes of Wrath and led 100 soldiers into a complicated situation in the Kafr Kana village. The subsequent IDF shelling, it was claimed, directly led to multiple casualties among civilians.
Raviv Drucker, Netanyahu’s nemesis, picked up on this story to further attack Bennett via Twitter, and then a week later supposedly apologized as follows: “I just imagine when you read my twit at midnight how upset you became. You must have exulted, ‘Yeah! Yeah! What a bonanza!’ Since then you have invested boundless energy to convince us how brave you are.
You convinced me. Only, I want to ask where did this bravery disappear when you entered public life?” At the end of this story, Drucker did apologize, but only after the elections and in a one-day meeting organized by the Yesha Council to consider media issues. Sarna, to the best of our knowledge, did not recant.
Nachum Barnea, who received the Israel Prize for his lousy journalism, is another prime example of a star who does not work hard to get his facts right. He quoted then MK Ayelet Shaked as saying: “In the next government I will be the justice minister and will come to them to destroy them.”
Shaked vehemently denied the accusation and in this case, the next day Barnea gave a “clarification” in Yediot Aharonot that “this was not her statement” and shifted blame to a source in the Justice Ministry whom he claimed had given him incorrect information.
Barnea just could not bring himself to apologize for his unprofessional behavior without “buts” and “ifs.”
This was rather typical. Barnea, on another occasion, also related to former MK Orit Struck as “the lawbreaker from Hebron.”
Struck sued and, as is the norm in Israel, the case is still in court. Barnea did not apologize although, to the best of our knowledge, Struck was never even indicted for violating the law.
In the aftermath, the Zinor Layla story is a sad one, and for many reasons. First of all, the non-story about the four-year-old should have never hit the headlines. The police, instead of rushing out with a story, should have first checked the facts and only then gone public, if at all. But no one will take the police to task for this common practice on their part. They do this almost every day, providing journalists with stories which are readily published. The police get instantaneous glory and the journalists a good story without having to work hard.
The public and, first and foremost, the people involved pay the heavy price.
Channel 2’s police reporter Moshe Nussbaum is a good example. Last week, he was all fired up against Yoav Yitzchak for the latter’s “campaign” against senior police officer Ephraim Bracha, who committed suicide two weeks ago. This week, the same Nussbaum received a “good lead” from the police, perhaps even as thanks for his good services last week, and came out with the amazing story that Bracha’s cellphone had disappeared, probably in order to prevent damning evidence from emerging.
Will Nussbaum apologize to Yitzchak for his false reports? Probably only if Yitzchak takes him to court, and even then there is no certainty for Nussbaum would claim that he was just doing his journalistic job on the basis of what he knew at the time.
The story about the four-year-old is also alarming in the sense that it is an exception to the norm. Journalists are human beings and they may, and will, err. But normal people, when aware of a mistake, apologize without reservations. In our media, it takes courage and perhaps even deserves a prize to point out an error and to apologize.
The authors are respectively vice chairman and chairman of Israel’s Media Watch (