Israel’s Ugliest Export: Journalists as Decision Makers
There are some exports that a country would rather do without. As far as Israel goes, the Israel Mafia would be one. The concept of a media fully mobilized on behalf of one side of the political spectrum would be another.
Senator Barack Obama owes the mainstream media (MSM) credit for a big assist in his election victory. And the U.S. media will, in turn, owe a round of applause to the Israeli media for its pioneering efforts to determine the outcome of national political debate and elections.
In the 1996 election pitting Binyamim Netanyahu against Shimon Peres, Ha’aretz‘s political reporter Orit Galili described the press as “completely mobilized for Peres.” On the eve of the elections, Peres responded to Israeli Arab criticism to Israeli bombing in southern Lebanon, “Those stupid Arabs.” Given that Peres’ chances of being elected depended on a large Arab vote in his favor, the spontaneous outburst was tantamount to political suicide. Realizing that, the large cohort of journalists present decided among themselves to kill the story and it went largely unreported. Suppressing damaging utterances of its favorites was by then already reflexive on the part of the Israeli media. When then Court President Aharon Barak told a group of reporters that the Supreme Court could not add more Sephardi justices without diluting it professional quality, the slur went virtually unreported by the mainstream media.
After Binyamin Netanyahu was elected prime minister in 1996, Maariv‘s Ron Meiberg confessed “as journalists and as opinionated people, we were never so mobilized to bring down the Prime Minister and to hold up him up for ridicule.” Those efforts included the Israeli Broadcasting National News editing almost a minute out of tape of Netanyahu speaking to Betar Jerusalem fans to make it appear that he was smiling and waving in response to chants of “Death to the Arabs,” even though those chanting were out of his hearing range.
But by then faked tapes were almost a habit with Israel’s media, including public broadcasting. Just prior to the Rabin assassination, the Israel Broadcast Authority broadcast what purported to be an initiation ceremony for a radical right-wing group. But as the Shamgar Commission investigating the assassination determined, the swearing in ceremony was entirely staged “and anyone who was there had to be aware that it was staged.” Yet the journalist responsible for filming the ceremony continued to be employed by the IBA long after the Shamgar Commission Report, and the fake clip to be shown by the IBA as an example of right-wing incitement leading up to the assassination.
What is most astounding about the Israeli media is the total lack of shame of journalists about their efforts to use their positions to determine the public debate. Veteran IBA news presenter Chaim Yavin once boasted, “Without the Israeli press, there would have been no peace process. Without the Israeli press the Intifada would not have led to Oslo.” Prior to the Gaza withdrawal, Aharon Avramovitz, one of IBA’s principal commentators, said publicly that the media must protect then prime minister Ariel Sharon like “an esrog” from the various corruption charges swirling around him.
For more than a decade, the Israeli media set the gold standard for journalists seeking not just to report the action but to be major players. But the American MSM has far outdone the “mobilized” Israeli media in this election campaign. Ever since CNN’s Christopher Matthews confessed to experiencing a tingle in his leg upon hearing Senator Barack Obama speak, the MSM has acted virtually in unison to ensure Senator Obama’s victory. The story line of an eloquent, striking black man rising from the statehouse in Springfield, Illinois to President of the United States in four years is just too irresistible.
As a consequence, the United States has now elected not only the least inexperienced president ever, but also the least vetted (despite two years on the campaign trail.) All the investigative instincts thought to characterize journalists have been as if magically stifled.
One’s thoughts turn to the realm of fiction in the search for some parallel to the Obama phenomena. In Jerzy Kosinski’s 1971 novel Being There, a middle-aged simpleton raised all his life in isolation watching TV and tending a garden, wanders outside for the first time after his benefactor’s death. Through a concatenation of chance events, he is propelled to fame and his observations on the garden and repetition of phrases from TV treated as oracular by a broad public, including the president of the United States. (Let us stipulate that Senator Obama is very bright, and bears no resemblance to Chance the Gardener.)
The MSM probably did not determine the results of the 2008 presidential election. The global economic meltdown over the last two months was a much bigger factor. But the fact that it tried so blatantly to do so, through the news stories it pursued and, more importantly, those it did not, has badly damaged another major American institution, at a time that the incumbent president and Congress already suffer from record low levels of public confidence. The United States is a weaker, less good country, as a consequence of the journalistic malfeasance.
Let us start with the sins of commission. Here the MSM treatment of Sarah Palin stands out. Governor Palin’s experience and intellectual capabilities were certainly entirely legitimate subjects. Rather than examine those subjects, the MSM snarled. For its initial profile, the New York Times found every defeated political opponent or naysayer, in Alaska, where her favorable ratings run around 84%.
Maureen Dowd sneered at Palin’s B.A. from the University of Idaho (while never mentioning Senator Biden’s graduation from the University of Delaware Law School, not exactly a national law school, in the bottom 15% of his class.) Dowd show-cased the ugly side of liberalism: its snarky contempt for those members of the lower orders – the guns and religion crowd – whose interests it claims to champion. Women who spent their entire adult lives seeking to break free from the shackles of the patriarchy suddenly rushed to print with op-eds pondering the irresponsibility of Palin serving as governor with a Downs Syndrome infant at home. (Some of those implicitly questioned the irresponsibility of bringing a “defective” child into the world at all.)
Then came the interviews with ABC’s Charles Gibson and NBC’s Katie Couric, both of whom set out with a clear agenda to make Palin look like an idiot – something, by the way, ridiculously easy for any interviewer who has prepared in advance to do. How do you think Biden would have done with an interviewer who popped a question about Article III of the Constitution or Ninth Amendment jurisprudence without telling him to what he was referring. Charles Krauthamer, who coined the term the Bush Doctrine, pointed out that he would have responded exactly what Palin did when asked by Gibson whether she supported the Bush Doctrine – i.e., ask what aspect he was talking about, since there are at least four meanings to the term. Finally, ABC edited and posted on its website, the Gibson interview in a manner that made Palin’s answers far less cogent than they actually were. And when that deceipt was revealed, ABC posted yet another misleadingly edited version.
Every mistake Palin made or evidence of a lack of substantive knowledge was taken as proof that she is congenital idiot. But Saturday Night Live had no skits on Senator Biden talking about FDR’s television speech to the nation at the outset of the Great Depression – three years before FDR was elected president and more than two decades before commercial TV. No one dwelled on Biden’s law school plagiarism or his even weirder appropriation of the biography of British Labor Party leader Neil Kinnock.
The vitriol directed at Sarah Palin has been unprecedented, with op-ed writers resorting to epithets that were once not uttered in polite society. Conservative columnist Suzanne Fields reports of a hospital conversation with a distinguished professor of English at an elite university who described Palin as a “someone beneath contempt, an ignorant vicious woman who would have been ideal for the Hitler rope lines in the Sudetenland.” What about the sunny, upbeat Palin, who has a pretty compelling life story of her own, could have produced that description? I can think of nothing about Palin that calls to mind Hitler, ym”sh, but I can well imagine the woman professor as a Soviet commissar.
(Note to American Jews, who polls showed fleeing from the Republican ticket because of Palin’s presence: Continually giving expression to your loathing of devout Christians and expressing your worries that they are busy plotting the next pogram or the imposition of a Christian theocracy, on no evidence, is a pretty fair recipe for alienating Israel’s strongest supporters in the United States and creating anti-Semites where none were previously found.)
The MSM’s greatest contribution to the Obama victory, however, had less to do with its attacks on Palin, which were so over-the-top that they triggered a backlash against the MSM. Rather it lies in its sins of omission. The MSM showed no curiosity about the tabla rasa named Barack Obama. President Harry Truman famously said of the Oval Office “the buck stops here.” So what were those 120 occasions that Obama voted “present” rather than choose a side while in the Illinois state legislature? Was that typical for Illinois legislators?
When a previously unknown Joe the Plumber confronted Obama on the campaign trail and was repeatedly cited in a subsequent presidential debate, the MSM successfully uncovered every aspect of “Joe’s” private life in a matter of days. But they’ve had no such luck with Obama’s college records, law school records, college thesis, birth certificate, law firm billing, or daily log as a state legislator. Indeed the MSM does not seem to have tried to obtain any of these documents. Nor is it particularly curious about why the Obama campaign has suppressed those records or what might be in them.
The most telling issue for Senator Obama has been the economic meltdown. Unless one reads the Wall Street Journal editorial page, one would have no clue as to how off-base is Obama’s description of the meltdown as a consequence of the GOP’s deregulation mania. He could not point to a single relevant example of deregulation in the past eight years: Indeed the Bush administration has greatly expanded the regulatory state.
To the extent that deregulation played a role, it was the Democratic refusal to undertake serious oversight of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, when the Bush administration requested it, and the Clinton era regulations pushing banks to offer mortgages to those lacking the requisite credit. How many times has the MSM examined the Obama narrative of unfettered capitalism run amok to ask why a freshmen senator was the biggest recipient of campaign donations from Fannie Mae? Or why was Frederick Raines, who walked off with $90 million in bonuses from Fannie Mae, even as he ran it towards insolvency, was serving as a housing advisor to Senator Obama.
But the media’s greatest cover-up of Obama concerns the radical associations of a life time. Why were the records of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge Grant, a proposal developed by unrepentant terrorist cum professor of education William Ayers, and administered by a board headed by Barack Obama, suddenly unavailable to researcher Stanley Kurtz ? Those records are housed at the University of Illinois Circle Campus, where Ayers teaches.
How did Obama get away with dismissing Ayers as “some guy from the neighborhood” and the rabidly anti-Israel professor Rashid Khalidi as someone “whose kids go to school with my kids?” These three were part of a hard-Left Hyde Park clique. Ayers cites Khalidi in his books as a good example of how to politicize students in the classroom – incidentally, radicalization of black students in Chicago schools, not the improvement of their test scores, was the purpose of the Annenberg Grant. And Khalidi thanks Ayers for letting him use his dining room table to write his tracts, suggesting that Ayers helped write those books. At a farewell dinner for Khalidi as he decamped from University of Chicago to the Edward Said chair at Columbia University, Obama reminisced about their many discussions of the plight of the Palestinians over dinners together, and urged that the conversation should be conducted in front of the entire world.
Why has the coverage of Obama’s radical associations been so muted? Why so little curiosity about what services he rendered for convicted racketeer Tony Rezko that led Rezko to pay for part of the lot on which Obama built his Hyde Park mansion, with money Rezko received from a sleazy Iraqi-born billionaire, who frequently fronted for Saddam Hussein? Could it have had something to do with a desire not to scare elderly Jews in Florida away from the Democratic candidate? Even they know that there are not too many haters of America, like Ayers, who are big fans of Israel’s existence, and none who formerly worked for Yasir Arafat, as Khalidi did.
Rather than investigate these matters, the MSM treated Obama as an “esrog,” and accused anyone who raised these issues of racism. Frank Rich of the New York Times enunciated a new type of affirmative action for black candidates: Any criticism of a black candidate, any questioning of his “palling around” with terrorists is racism. Never mind that John McCain had foolishly taken the most potentially racially explosive issue out of his campaign – Obama’s twenty-year membership in a black separatist church, a church which honored Louis Farrakhan with a life-award for his truth-telling and which was the largest recipient of the Obamas’ pitifully low charitable giving (at least pitifully low for someone who believes that income redistribution is the neighborly thing to do.)
I cannot fathom the complicated hermeneutics by which criticism of Obama’s association with lily-white heir William Ayers is racism. But it did not take an academic to find the traditional anti-Semitism in the comment by one of Obama’s top military advisors, Tony McPeak, that the failure of American Middle East policy can be attributed to Jews in New York City and Miami. Not too much was made of the latter, however, in south Florida publications so as not to scare Jewish voters.
The Israeli media may have pioneered in enlisting journalist in the cause, but the American MSM in this election has proven itself a Frankenstein far outstripping its creator.
This article appeared in the Yated Ne’eman November 5, 2008