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by Yisrael Medad and Eli Pollak


CBS television's 60 Minutes is one of America's most popular news magazines. And CBS anchor Dan Rather, who also appears on segments of 60 Minutes, is one of America's most prominent news personalities.

Rather was in Dallas on November 22, 1963, when president John F. Kennedy was assassinated. His broadcasts from the scene propelled him to instant celebrity.

During Richard M. Nixon's administration, Rather regularly tangled with the president, who once quipped, "I am sure Mr. Rather thinks the best kind of press conference is one with him alone."

On September 8 60 Minutes aired a story about supposed preferential treatment President George W. Bush received when he served in a National Guard unit during the Vietnam war. CBS asserted that Bush had been suspended from flying for the Texas Air National Guard because he had failed to meet its standards.

It turned out the report was based on forged documents or, as CBS asserted in its eventual apology, on letters they could not "authenticate."

By September 15, the program had been completely discredited. CBS apologized, but argued it had every reason to believe the veracity of its sources. "We made a mistake in judgement, and for that I am sorry," Rather said.

But Rupert Murdoch, head of the rival cable network FOX, said he'd have terminated Rather if the veteran anchor had worked for him. Murdoch says, "The traditional media in [the US] is in tune with the elite, not the people."

THIS IS not just a riveting American story. It has ramifications - the liberal-conservative political-cultural divide - that go beyond the specifics of this case. Moreover, Israeli media consumers can learn a lot from the Rather incident, even if our media itself probably won't.

There is a media elite. It's usually liberal and often behaves unprofessionally.

Former IBA director-general Motti Kirschenbaum, responding to a complaint we once lodged, said in a radio interview that it's only natural for most media people to be liberal. After all, he said, liberals are inquisitive and suspicious, qualities that make for good journalists.

This admission opened the floodgates. Over the years many media stars admitted that their politics were nowhere near the Right, and some - like Shelly Yechimovitz and Aviv Lavie - said they voted for the communist-oriented Hadash Party. And what about the middle-of-the-roaders in the media elite? "Middle-of-the-roaders" don't have any real presence. As one media star once quipped, "put a ballot box in any newsroom or studio and the vote will be way left-of-center."

One frequently suggested remedy is for the mainstream media to make it a point to employ journalists who are not all cut from the same cloth. Regrettably, the idea of distinguishing news from views and reporting professionally is considered by some in our elitist media as naive and impractical.

While media sloppiness is lamentable, there are also cases of unscrupulous journalists who are not above fooling their readers and viewers.

Recently, Yediot Aharonot columnist Nahum Barnea wrote that the car of Othniel Schneller, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's original choice to head the office charged with implementing his disengagement plan, had been vandalized. The incident allegedly took place in his home community of Michmas, east of the Green Line. The implication clearly was that his own "settler" neighbors were the perpetrators of the crime.

There was no crime even though the stigma of "violent settlers" continued in the minds of Barnea's readers. Schneller denied the story on Kol Chai radio. But Barnea has not apologized for having demonized the foes of disengagement.

Another example. A few months ago, we documented how Israel Radio military correspondent Carmela Menashe misrepresented relations between the IDF and residents of the Gaza community of Netzarim. (Carmela Menashe proudly admitted to Dalia Ya'iri back on May 24, 2000 that she was one of those who created the media atmosphere which led to the hasty retreat from Lebanon.) Last June, she claimed it was the fault of the residents of the local Gaza Jewish communities that soldiers had to place themselves in danger unnecessarily. Ignoring the fact that soldiers serve there precisely because danger, from Arabs, exists, Menashe allowed advisors and aides to political figures who served in that specific unit to mouth off without letting her listeners know that these soldiers were not some plain old "G.I. Joes," but persons with a political agenda.

An apology by Menashe - or her superiors - has yet to come, nor have any disciplinary actions been taken.

Part of the solution is to give Israelis access to a more politically varied media menu.

That's why closing down Arutz 7 and sentencing its owners and operators to jail (while dozens of other non-licensed stations continue to broadcast) smacks of ideological animosity at the offices of the state prosecutor and attorney-general. Editorially, Arutz 7 supports nationlist camp issues, but it has always been accurate and reliable in presenting the news, and, balanced as well, much more so than other state-sponsored networks.

The public deserves to hear Arutz 7, and nothing justifies keeping it off the air.

The media belongs to its consumers, and this is particularly the case in Israel where tax-funded public broadcasting dominates.

Another possible remedy is for consumers to have constituent representation on such governing bodies as the Press Council. That might also help ensure a more balanced media. Unfortunately, Israel's "liberals" and "progressives" cannot see or hear beyond their own "space". Their calls for free expression is all too often limited to their own kind, to those from the Left for, as we witness, they considered themselves the only ones who deserve the full rights of a democratic state.


Yisrael Medad and Eli Pollak are vice-chairman and chairman, respectively, of Israel's Media Watch. Eli Pollak is a professor at the Weizmann Institute.

An earlier version of this article appeared October 2, 2004 in the Jerusalem Post. It is archived at ShowFull&cid=109670052056531&p=1006953079865


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