Media Comment: When the ‘fringe’ becomes mainstream

Media Comment: When the ‘fringe’ becomes mainstream.

Newspaper (illustrative). (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Newspaper (illustrative).
Paul Farhi, The Washington Post’s media reporter, wrote two months back about “a kind of self-reinforcing information loop” that affects the media. He sees this as a problem found in the “fringe,” which is “the murky swamp of rightwing, libertarian and flat-out paranoid sources” of the social media’s “alternative information ecosystem.”
In Israel, the problem is not in the “fringe” but the mainstream.
Here is a recent example of how those who possess a radio microphone or who stare at you from the television screen control and slant the news we receive.
On the morning of May 26, Kol Yisrael’s veteran news anchor Aryeh Golan referred almost a half-dozen times in three different items and interviews to what he claimed was the US State Department’s opinion on the result of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s negotiations to form a new government, which was that it was “the most right-wing coalition in Israel’s history.”
Golan is surely aware of the makeup of Yitzhak Shamir’s government, Israel’s 24th, from June 1990 to July 1992.
It included the Likud, the National Religious Party, Shas and Techiya. And when Techiya bolted, Tzomet and Moledet filled in. But more importantly, he misquoted the State Department spokesman. What Mark Toner actually said was, “We’ve also seen reports from Israel describing it as the most right-wing coalition in Israel’s history.” Golan first misquoted his source, then, based on that, asked the politicians he was interviewing for their opinion. Their statements then provided further headlines.
Golan seems to be a good student of strategic communication adviser Ben Rhodes, who did the same for the White House, pushing the Iran Nuclear deal. Golan impugned Israel’s government without any factual base.
This is a corollary of what we termed the “media boomerang effect” in our December 21, 2011 column, where we related to local media figures who exploit their connections with the foreign press to impact Israeli society.
Golan, we presume, was convinced no one had actually read or listened to Toner’s statement and felt free to “interpret” it to suit his own personal world view.
This was a prime example of a media “misquotation maneuver.” The main difference between this and the phenomenon Farhi spoke of is that Golan is not a “fringe” character but firmly in the mainstream of Israel’s media.
As is Roni Daniel.
Daniel, Channel 2’s veteran military correspondent, whom many of his colleagues consider part and parcel of the IDF’s spokesperson’s unit rather than an external observer, was distraught on the Friday weekly wrapup show on May 20. He was so upset about the resignation of defense minister Moshe Ya’alon and the expected appointment of MK Avigdor Liberman that he found it necessary to share his personal feelings on the matter with his viewers.
In a live broadcast, Daniel stated, “After this week, I’m not sure I want my children to remain here... [Israel] is not a pleasant place to be.” He was uncomfortable with the existing “culture of government,” he said. He named four politicians that particularly galled him: Ze’ev Elkin, Yariv Levin, Miri Regev and Bezalel Smotrich.
Daniel’s colleague leftist Amnon Abramowitz attempted to cool things down with some humor, but Daniel slammed his fist on the table.
Abramowitz then informed him that Netanyahu’s rule “will eventually end,” urging Daniel to “look at this as an intermediary period.” Daniel remained unmoved, declaring that if his children do emigrate, it wouldn’t be such a disaster for him.
When Barbara Plett, who was reporting on the funeral of Yasser Arafat back in 2004, started to cry, an outcry went up. Eventually, the BBC’s Programme Complaints Committee upheld part of a complaint against her. Their decision was that her comments “breached the requirements of due impartiality.”
In view of his outburst, can Daniel’s future reporting or his commentary ever be considered impartial and objective? Is it ethical to continue to employ such a person? In Plett’s case, the BBC’s director of news, Helen Boaden, apologized for the “editorial misjudgment” as it “unintentionally gave the impression of over-identifying with Yasser Arafat and his cause.” Daniel’s statement, however, was by no means “unintentional.”
Twice he was given the opportunity to recant, yet repeated himself, even when Likud Minister of National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Resources Yuval Steinitz was later present.
Last week, Channel 2 news broadcast a “scoop”: a poll commissioned by Israel’s ambassador to the UN , Danny Danon, in the lead-up to the anti-boycott conference he convened with American Jewish organizations, and conducted by the IPSOS agency, found that one-third of Americans believe boycotts against Israel are justified and a legitimate means of applying political pressure against Israel.
The implications of that figure are devastating. However, within a few hours, it became apparent that Channel 2 had left one key word out of the report: the one-third figure referred to American students, not the general public. This may not be much of a consolation but at least it is the truth; Channel 2’s broadcast was not.
These examples highlight how badly our media lacks self-regulation and cannot be trusted. In Israel, it is the mainstream which remains at the fringe.
The authors are vice chairman and chairman respectively of Israel’s Media Watch (