Needed: Media rehabilitation

The media are generally not fair and for the most part should not be trusted, not in the United States, not in Great Britain and not in Israel.

CAN WE trust this?  (photo credit: REUTERS)
CAN WE trust this?
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Trouble may ensue when the media engage in reporting what will be, rather than what was and why it happened.
On the eve of Thanksgiving, Newsweek magazine’s Jessica Kwong informed her readers, out of pure speculation, that President Donald Trump would be, as the headline proclaimed, “tweeting, golfing and more.” Trump, however, ended up in Afghanistan on Thanksgiving to be with US troops. To her (dubious) credit and even less to that of her editor, the body of the story did contain the word “probably.” but that didn’t halt the deluge of opprobrium she honestly earned.
Kwong was fired. However, that did not contribute positively to any claims that the media are generally fair, factual and objective, nor to any public perception that the media are to be trusted.
The media are generally not fair and for the most part should not be trusted, not in the United States, not in Great Britain and not in Israel. Too often the media are biased, professionally unethical and used as a tool to influence readership, listeners and viewers to accept outlooks and positions rather than make their own decisions based on facts.
Paul Chadwick, The Guardian’s readers’ editor, suggested last month that there are four purposes of journalism: to help civil society to cohere, to facilitate democratic processes, to lubricate commerce, and to make and mix the culture. This idyllic description is just not realistic, certainly not in Israel. Too many of Israel’s media professionals seem to have adopted a special strategy in covering Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. As described by Chemi Shalev in Haaretz last Friday, this strategy is to depict Netanyahu as someone engaged in a “self-centered, scorched-earth war against democracy and the rule of law.”
Shalev went further in his pillorying of Netanyahu. In the wake of ugly actions by a small minority of participants at the rally in support of the prime minister at the Tel Aviv Museum, he accused Netanyahu of engaging in “the indoctrination and exploitation of the masses as a key to gaining and staying in power.” Shalev then gratuitously added, “This was the modus operandi of most of the fascist and totalitarian upheavals of the 1920s and 1930s.”
The past branding Ze’ev Jabotinsky and Menachem Begin with a Hitler-tinged brush was resurrected by Shalev as he called our era a “contemporary Sodom and Gomorrah.” Lower-level media employees of such outlets cannot help take notice of the editorial line and fall in with the prejudicial framework within which they present the news.
Netanyahu, ever since 1996, has served as “He-Who-Must-Be-Hated” (with apologies to Hilda Rumpole) by Israel’s media. We only need recall Ari Shavit’s December 27, 1997, article, “Why We Hate Him [Netanyahu]: The Real Reason.” It opens thus: “I walked up the street to buy a few things I needed for Shabbat, and on the wall near the delicatessen it said “Down with Bibi the detestable murderer.”
He added that the “hatred of Netanyahu [is] a crusade that is gradually taking center stage in our lives.” Shavit’s long article contains dozens of examples of vitriolic abuse expressed by the media. This is the same Shavit who was summarily dismissed by Haaretz after sexual allegations were leveled against him. Today he works for the right-wing Makor Rishon newspaper.
That was 22 years ago when Netanyahu had been in the Prime Minister’s Office a mere one-and-a-half years.
CHIEF POLITICAL analyst and anchor of Channel 12’s Saturday News Dana Weiss was interviewed by Nissim Mishal for Radio 103FM on Friday. Answering a question relating to the prime minister’s reliability, Weiss declared that Netanyahu was a “danger to Israel,” as he might make security decisions based on his personal legal situation. The opinion is legitimate, but Weiss is an anchor and analyst whose veracity and value lie in her keeping her opinions to herself. Given her prejudice, can we trust her reporting or the content of her interviews?
The same Ms. Weiss was described as “one of Israel’s most trusted and decorated journalists” in the recent 71st Annual General Meeting of the International Board of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot.
One way for the media consumer to be apprised of a reporter’s or commentator’s trust quotient is to search their Twitter feeds. As we have noted in the past, these tend to reveal a consistent and persistent vicious critical view of Netanyahu. The slights, the cynicism, the sarcasm, as well as not a little pathological hatred for him, are all there to read.
It is an accepted principle that the media guard citizens against the authority of government. That is what many of our media claim when forced to defend their negativity toward Netanyahu. But something doesn’t pass the smell test. Many of the same reporters also find it necessary to defend problematic sectors of government which are obviously derelict in carrying out the demands of their jobs.
For years the reporters covering the IDF have been accused of simply regurgitating the IDF Spokesperson’s announcements rather than critically following the army’s actions, as if they are an echo chamber. Similarly now, those charged with covering the actions and decisions of the State Prosecutor’s Office are uncritically channeling but one version of the legal proceedings surrounding the prime minister’s various criminal cases. They have become the de facto mouthpieces of the prosecution
To be sure, we do not take lightly the seriousness of the various charges that have been brought Mr. Netanyahu. Nevertheless, the conduct of the State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan and his lieutenants, among others, includes unethically pressuring witnesses to turn state’s evidence, authorizing illegal police actions, and even asking sitting judges to perform publicity acts on behalf of the prosecution – not exactly the model of an exemplary public servant.
Yet, too many legal-affairs reporters and commentators appearing on television and radio panels have been vociferously defending these aberrations of conduct, notably Avichai Glickman, Guy Peleg and Baruch Kara. This is troubling. They are taking sides. Worse, they denigrate other reporters such as Yoav Yitzchak, Kalman Liebskind and Shimon Riklin, who dare point out some of the deficiencies of the Justice Ministry. Such behavior does not help the public understand the issues.
To compound the problem, Case 2000 revolves around the largest, and arguably, the most influential media complex: Yediot Aharonot. It involves recorded conversations between Netanyahu and Yediot Aharonot owner Arnon Mozes. The criminal charge brought was that Netanyahu sought favorable media coverage, for which he would advance legislation that could negatively affect Mozes’s main competitor, Israel Hayom.
The media did discuss the criminal aspects, both pro and con. Yet the fact that the MKs who actually advanced the legislation – led by a Labor Party parliamentarian – were not charged, raises serious questions. As Oren Persico writes in The Seventh Eye, the anti-Netanyahu campaign of Yediot Aharonot in 2015 was a direct outcome of Mozes’s frustration with Israel Hayom’s success. Netanyahu was a victim. His opponents were molly-coddled by the media.
The New York Times’ November 30 editorial read in part, “The press needs to be scrutinized. Its mistakes should be called out, its biases analyzed and exposed.” We agree wholeheartedly.
The media powers have much damage to repair and many social injuries to rehabilitate. They should get busy.
The authors are members of Israel’s Media Watch (