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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The media's dismal failure

I urge you all to read this important column by Evelyn Gordon to understand that the situation with the Leftist media here in Israel is every bit as bad as it is in the US.

Because this column is behind a paywall and I got it directly by email from Evelyn, I am going to post the whole thing. If any of you would like to get Evelyn's columns directly by email, you can email her at EvieGordon@gmail.com.
The media’s dangerous failure

We now know a politicized press fed us false information for years about a vital security issue.

State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss has done the Israeli public a great service. And in so doing, he has highlighted the glaring failure of Israel’s other self-proclaimed watchdog of democracy – the media.

Last week, Lindenstrauss published a draft report on the dysfunctional relationship between two men who headed Israel’s defense establishment for years: Defense Minister Ehud Barak and former IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi. The report wasn’t made public, but media leaks reveal that Lindenstrauss didn’t assign blame equally. Barak, he found, sometimes treated Ashkenazi badly (no surprise; his abysmal interpersonal skills are notorious). But it was Ashkenazi whose staff, with his knowledge and consent, actively dug for dirt about Barak. It was Ashkenazi who for months concealed an explosive document from his civilian superiors, despite believing it revealed a genuine effort to subvert the choice of his successor (it later proved a forgery). And it was Ashkenazi who, after the document came to light, was less than candid with both the public and the police about his relationship with suspected forger Boaz Harpaz, an ex-army officer with a checkered past.

It’s obviously deeply disturbing that the chief of staff, who ought to be devoting himself night and day to Israel’s defense, was instead busy digging for dirt about the defense minister. But it’s equally disturbing that if it weren’t for Lindenstrauss, the public would never have known: Years of media reports about our dysfunctional defense duo put all the blame on Barak, portraying Ashkenazi as simon-pure.

Worse, this wasn’t innocent human error: It was a deliberate choice driven by the media’s ideological agenda.

Put bluntly, Israel journalists don’t like either Barak or his boss, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. They loathe Netanyahu for refusing to make far-reaching concessions to the Palestinians; they loathe Barak for joining Netanyahu’s government and then splitting the Labor Party to remain there; and they loathe both men for their hawkish line on Iran. So anyone who opposes Netanyahu and Barak is guaranteed a sympathetic media ear, especially if he portrays himself as being victimized for his “moderate” political views.

And that’s precisely what the politically savvy Ashkenazi did: He told the media Barak hated him because he opposed a rash attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. And since this fit neatly into the media’s preconceived narrative, journalists lapped it up and sought no further.

Fortunately, Lindenstrauss did: He interviewed hundreds of people and listened to thousands of hours of tapes from Ashkenazi’s office (where all conversations were routinely recorded). And he concluded that the feud had nothing to do with Iran, and everything to do with Ashkenazi’s personal ambition: his desire to expand his own power and unwillingness to submit to his civilian superior.

This egregious media failure is frightening for several reasons. First, Ashkenazi’s political ambitions were no secret. And if it weren’t for Lindenstrauss, he might well have swept into office in another few years on a wave of media adulation. Out of sheer ignorance, Israelis might have elected a power-hungry officer who disdains civilian control over the military and wastes his time and energy on the lowest form of petty politicking.

Second, it precluded any real investigation of the IDF’s capabilities: Having adopted Ashkenazi as its white knight, the media could hardly risk undermining his image by seriously examining his job performance. Hence, for instance, we were assured that he had “rehabilitated” the army after the Second Lebanon War, without any real evidence: Its 2009 success against Hamas in Gaza says nothing about its ability to defeat Hezbollah, a far tougher foe.

Third, the media’s bias condemned Israel to years of an incredibly dangerous situation – one in which its two top defense officials were barely on speaking terms – by depriving Barak of the usual democratic remedy: He couldn’t simply fire Ashkenazi and appoint a new chief of staff, because the media would have crucified him. In other democracies, firing insubordinate officers is standard practice: See, for instance, US President Barack Obama’s dismissal of Gen. Stanley McChrystal in 2010. But by portraying Ashkenazi as a saint rather than the insubordinate officer he was, the media made his dismissal politically untenable, even if it were legally possible (an open question, given the Supreme Court’s 1996 ruling that “apolitical” civil servants can’t be fired without good reason: Who knows whether the court, absent Lindenstrauss’ findings, would have deemed the dysfunctional Barak-Ashkenazi relationship sufficient reason?).

And finally, it raises a deeply disturbing question: What else are we not being informed of due to the media’s ideological bias?

In an unwittingly revealing op-ed last week, Haaretz columnist Ari Shavit wrote that Ashkenazi considered his insubordination legitimate because he was “subordinate to four elected officials that the public considered illegitimate – prime ministers Ehud Olmert and Benjamin Netanyahu, and defense ministers Amir Peretz and Barak.” I have no idea whether Ashkenazi actually thought this. But Shavit clearly does, and so do many of his colleagues.

Yet with regard to Netanyahu (unlike Olmert and Peretz, who indeed hemorrhaged public support after the Second Lebanon War), this assertion is simply untenable. Not only was he elected prime minister in the legally prescribed manner (by assembling a coalition), but almost every poll taken over the last three years has shown that he will also likely form the next government, and that the public continues to deem him better qualified to run the country than any of his rivals. So on what grounds does Shavit conclude that the public considers Netanyahu “illegitimate”?

There’s only one possible answer: What Shavit means is that the media considers Netanyahu illegitimate. It dislikes his positions and doesn’t want him as premier. And therefore, all’s fair in the effort to undermine his government – even undermining Israel’s security by idolizing an insubordinate officer consumed with petty politics, and thereby precluding his dismissal.

As long as this remains true, the public has no hope of getting honest information from the media about any government action, any more than it did on the Barak-Ashkenazi feud. That’s a devastating indictment of Israel’s media – and far more dangerous to the country’s long-term health than any spat at the top of the defense establishment.
I discussed the Harpaz affair previously here.

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At 4:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The whole system needs to be flushed and purged. They're all rotten.

At 4:03 AM, Blogger Captain.H said...

Well, it's cold comfort to read that Israel's leftist MSM is as much a Fifth Column as is America's leftist MSM. It appears pretty standard among Western Democracies nowadays that their respective MSM are the Left's Ministry of Propaganda.

I can't speak about Israel's MSM but I've come to hold most of America's MSM in utter contempt. Professionally incompetent, lazy, biased to and beyond the point of contemptible dishonesty.


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