THE POSTMAN KNOCKS TWICE: The rating madness

I often think, in response to situations we find ourselves in, “About this, Eshkol would have said….”

THEN-PRIME MINISTER Levi Eshkol (left) with David Ben-Gurion at Lod Airport before the latter’s departure to London for Winston Churchill’s funeral in 1965 (photo credit: FRITZ COHEN/GPO)
THEN-PRIME MINISTER Levi Eshkol (left) with David Ben-Gurion at Lod Airport before the latter’s departure to London for Winston Churchill’s funeral in 1965
(photo credit: FRITZ COHEN/GPO)
Over a year ago, I was invited by a star TV reporter who is also a regular in the pages of Haaretz, to give an interview about Levi Eshkol. A member of an pioneering kibbutz, Deganya Bet, and a leader in the Labor movement, Eshkol carried the initial burden of absorbing the influx of immigrants right after the creation of the state. Eshkol was so vibrant and human that as I write this column on the 49th anniversary of his death, I feel his personality almost tangibly. I often think, in response to situations we find ourselves in, “About this, Eshkol would have said….”
Since this article is not about Eshkol, I’ll refrain from extolling his virtues and enumerating the positions he held.
Suffice it to say that I was his English speech writer from 1955, when he served as finance minister and when he became prime minister in 1963 I was appointed his secretary for public affairs.
The interview was conducted by Raviv Drucker, whose name at first I didn’t “get,” because I don’t watch television news and investigative reports, but then I recalled that I do read his Haaretz columns from time to time and generally find them well written and often original in thinking.
Drucker is a very personable man, quick of thought and widely experienced. The interview took place in the Levi Eshkol Museum in Jerusalem, the home prime ministers lived in until Golda Meir moved to Balfour Street, where the Netanyahu family now resides. The venue made me certain this would be a chance to relate some of my experiences with Eshkol.
As the TV interview unfolded, I asked to make a personal remark, adding: “You can stop the cameras if you wish.”
There was a director, whom I spotted out of the corner of my eye, hiding behind my back. She used hand language to tell Drucker either to speed up, slow down or take a different line of questioning; she must have given him the okay, “You can continue on camera.”
Basically I said, quoting from memory, “I thought when you asked me to be interviewed about Levi Eshkol, you wanted to know about the man and his work. But now I see you are only interested in trying to find out whether and with whom he had love affairs. I know nothing about that, and if I did, I would certainly not discuss it.” Actually, I knew nothing, but wanted to make clear my sense of having been misled.
The sound man blurted out, as they cut the camera, “I like this man!” Drucker said, “Okay, let’s go on.” I took this to mean he had abandoned the search for a skirt.
After an hour of off-and-on interviewing under strong lights, I was tired. Drucker walked me over to Eshkol’s bookshelves and I picked out a book he, Eshkol, had written. This reminded that there was something else I wanted to say. I said words to the effect of “Though Eshkol was not a very good speaker, he had a beautiful writing style.”
Drucker: “Like the love letters he wrote to XYZ?” Since love letters are private, and no one in his right mind shows them to his subordinates, I thought he was referring to published letters to Eshkol’s first wife, whose name I did not even know, since they separated some 40 years before my time with the PM.
“Yes,” I said.
The camera had been following us. Probably prearranged.
I said, “Raviv, why are doing this?” I meant why do a series about the love lives of Israel’s prime ministers, of which my interview was a part.
He looked at me and said, “Have you never heard of ratings?” Ratings! I am sorry that a man of such talent is part of that game.
This column is not intended to offend him, but to show what counts in this TV and social media generation. (Had I wished to offend, I would have written in Haaretz in Hebrew, which would be on his home ground.) This is the way of TV journalism today. That is why I do not watch TV news or even investigative reports, and certainly not talk shows, where three men and – perhaps – a woman or two scream at one another. I do watch the occasional historic interviews, like the one Dr. Clinton Bailey did with David Ben-Gurion. Or breaking security news.
To keep up, the print media, in a losing contest, have been infected by the same rating madness. For example, in Haaretz, once a staid and stately newspaper, there was a long interview with Dr. Tom Segev recently.
I am now about in the middle of Segev’s new 800-page biography of David Ben-Gurion (in Hebrew) A State at All Costs.
I find it excellently researched and very well written; he also shows the human side of this great man as he traces his way to achieving power. Thus, Segev, an historian, writes about BG’s moods, his role as a husband and father and, en passant, mentions some of his documented love affairs. These occasionally take up a paragraph and sometimes just a sentence or two.
Segev’s interview in Haaretz in English bears the headline “In Bed with Israel’s First Prime Minister: Historian Exposes David Ben-Gurion as You Never Knew Him.” That manner of rating-reporting distorts the whole sense of this serious biography.
The reporter is not to blame. He needs to keep his job.
Drucker is not to blame; rating is a determining factor of his TV profession.
Could it be that we are to blame? Could the breathless prurience with which we welcome scandal – especially sexual scandal – be the cause of this rating competition? Let’s look at ourselves in the mirror, and answer the question truthfully.
Maybe it’s because of us that the rating madness has become the rating madness.
The writer welcomes comments: [email protected]