THE MEDIA COMMENT: How reliable is the media?

Benjamin Rhodes, US President Barack Obama’s adviser for strategic communications and speechwriting, and his team created a media “echo chamber.”

Is Israel winning the social media war? (photo credit: INGIMAGE)
Is Israel winning the social media war?
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)
Do you ever question whether the media is really doing its job as a watchdog of the powerful government and private sectors, providing an objective picture and verifiable facts? Or do you think media monitoring groups are too aggressive?
As we now know, during the negotiations with the Iranians, Benjamin Rhodes, US President Barack Obama’s adviser for strategic communications and speechwriting, and his team created a media “echo chamber.” The Washington Post’s Richard Cohen termed Rhodes a “master manipulator of the moronic media.” Politico’s Jack Shafer wrote that “the Obama administration’s propaganda machine... [has a] cold, casual style.”
Rhodes attempted to take back his words but the reality was that most of the media actually did not adequately analyze the Iran deal and most importantly, the media’s liberal bias provided the White House with an advantage.
In Israel, reporters play an important role in presenting the government’s positions, but here, the more they criticize the government and its institutions the more famous and honored they become. Their colleagues heap praise on them, award them prizes and they become celebrities. Certain standards, usually those the media criticizes when government or tycoons fail to meet them, are, however, not applicable to themselves.
Let us recall: it is the media that sets the agenda of how the news is reported, how it is framed and, through repetition and multiple presentation forms (interviews, films, studio discussions) how important we media consumers should think an item is.
The media hullaballoo over the indiscreet words of IDF deputy chief of staff Maj.-Gen. Yair Golan – that “the Holocaust should bring us to ponder our public lives and... if there is one thing that is scary in remembering the Holocaust, it is noticing horrific processes which developed in Europe – particularly in Germany – 70, 80 and 90 years ago, and finding remnants of that here among us in the year 2016” – conveniently ignored the fact that significant sections of the media are responsible for twisting the terminology used to describe the IDF’s behavior to fit a post-Zionist perception.
Only Ma’ariv’s Kalman Libeskind had the honesty to point a finger at the media itself.
It is the Haaretz newspaper in particular which, for the past few years, has used the Nazi analogy to describe processes within Israeli society with which it disagrees. Yediot Aharonot’s Yigal Sarna is another “Israel is akin to Nazi Germany” proponent, as we have pointed out in our columns. We could even go back to the radical Left’s darling Professor Yeshayahu Leibowitz’s description of IDF soldiers as “Judeo-Nazis,” first made in the early 1980s. Only Israel’s media could aid and abet Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, who called on army officers to comment on civilian affairs, in violation of one of the basic tenets of democracy: army officers do not participate in politics while in uniform.
Incidentally, Sarna is currently involved in a lawsuit with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s wife, Sara, concerning a post on his Facebook page. His line of defense includes the statement that “social media allow less meticulousness... than the traditional media... the post [is] not necessarily an accurate reflection of actual reality, but a possible reality.”
In our opinion, as well as according to normative professional journalism guidelines, that standard of ethics should get him fired immediately. Who would trust a journalist with those views about his profession? Which editor would continue to employ him? To earn the trust of consumers, media outlets cannot assume they will always be above criticism and able to hide their faults. Take, for example, our complaint that the IDF’s Galatz Radio network, in employing many civilians, does not reveal their salaries as well as much of its operating budget.
Now, in England, for example, a group of BBC stars may be forced to declare how much they are paid as part of plans unveiled in a white paper on the future of the corporation. In Israel this does not seem likely to happen.
In Israel, any overhaul of public broadcasting is treated as a fascist onslaught on the country’s democracy.
In the UK the BBC’s future is a matter of major disagreement and anxiety, but also a subject of healthy discussion. There, a former chairman of the BBC Trust, Sir Michael Lyons, spoke forthrightly on a BBC radio program and declared: “I can understand why people are worried about whether some of the most senior editorial voices in the BBC have lost their impartiality....”
There, the bias, it is claimed, is against the Labour Party. Its leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has even told supporters that the party needed to use social media to communicate with the public. When our own prime minister makes a similar claim, the media ridicules and reviles him. When was the last time any senior Israel media executive admitted that perhaps his staff could be biased and unfair? The BBC also compels producers of natural history shows to sit through a fakery prevention course, after shows were found to have broken editorial guidelines.
Do diplomatic/political/military journos here in Israel undergo similar courses in their own fields? Can we trust our media? Is it indeed reliable? Isn’t it high time that it was improved? The authors are vice chairman and chairman respectively of Israel’s Media Watch (