June 21, 2017

MEDIA COMMENT: A pen for hire

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:49 pm by yisraelmedad

Media Comment: A pen for hire
The first edition of the free daily Israel Hayom hit our newsstands on July 30, 2007, almost 10 years ago. Its founding editor, Amos Regev, was replaced last month by Boaz Bismuth, who had served for nine years as the foreign news editor of the paper.

A new boss brings with him change and in this case, a spectacular change. Dan Margalit and Mordechai (Motti) Gilat, both long-time columnists, were summarily dismissed.

When it started, Israel Hayom was embarking on a revolution.

Its goal, which it met, was to replace the left-wing Yediot Aharonot newspaper and become the most widely read newspaper in Israel. To reach this goal, it had to prove that it was serious and had a stellar set of journalists.

Dan Margalit and Motti Gilat fulfilled that purpose.

The 79-year-old Margalit has had a stellar career.

While he began at Herut, the organ of Menachem Begin’s party, he went Left and wrote for Haaretz from 1964 until 1991 and continued at Maariv. His most famous scoop was the revelation in 1977 that then-prime minister Yitzhak Rabin maintained an illegal bank account in the US. Forced to resign, Rabin’s replacement, Shimon Peres, lost to Menachem Begin.

Margalit’s career has been mainly that of a pundit and commentator and he has hosted numerous talk shows, notably Popolitika and Erev Chadash.

Margalit likes to portray himself as an ethical journalist, noting that when he realized that former prime minister Ehud Olmert was corrupt, he ended his 20-year friendship with him and started to regularly attack him in his articles. Indeed, Margalit is so enamored with himself that his tweet upon being fired was to characterize his job loss in terms of near-martyrdom: “My livelihood fell today in defense of freedom of speech.”

Margalit had been fired previously. Back in September 7, 2010, it was reported that his contract with the publicly funded Educational TV (ETV) network had not gone through the normal tender process. The Finance Ministry ordered Yaffa Vigodski, at that time the CEO of ETV, to terminate Margalit’s employment immediately since his contract did not conform to the norms of proper administration. His salary was reported to have been NIS 70,000 (Margalit claimed it was only NIS 35,000). Even Nahum Barnea of Yediot Aharonot could not refrain from asking in his column why Margalit received such a high sum from the state.

Globes reporter Eli Tzippori took Margalit to task over his freedom of speech comment. On June 16, he published an op-ed titled, “Dan Margalit is only concerned with Dan Margalit.” Tzippori, a recipient of Israel’s Media Watch’s prize for quality economic journalism, noted that Margalit was one of Israel’s richest journalists, who had made a small fortune from Israel’s public broadcasters, whether TV Channel 1 or the Educational TV. He added: “the attempt of Margalit to take for himself the defense of the freedom of expression is a sad symptom of the situation of a very elitist and limited group of journalists, which is very happy with itself and drunk with power, who thinks it has to govern and that it is responsible for liberalism, democracy and freedom of speech. The opposite is true.”

In this context, we should recall that Margalit had very little respect for the law of this land and its Supreme Court. In 1996, prior to the elections, he was the moderator of the Channel 1 Popolitika news show. Fairness was not his motto. Freedom of speech for those who disagreed with his view was not on the agenda. He used the show to consistently support the Oslo accords and to help Peres win the elections.

So much so that Israel’s Media Watch had to appeal to the Supreme Court to order the show to stop violating the law which prohibited such electioneering via public media shortly before elections. The court ordered an injunction but to no avail. Margalit used the show, after the court’s decision, to deride the court and of course continue his illegal and unethical usurpation of the public microphone.

Margalit is nine years past the age of retirement for government employees. Supreme Court justices and professors are pensioned at that age and do not complain. It is perhaps characteristic of Margalit that instead of being grateful to Israel Hayom for providing him a podium for the past 10 years, way beyond the normal pension age, he left in anger.

He accused the paper of preventing him from criticizing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and indeed upon his dismissal he tweeted (on Friday, June 16): “I do believe Bibi [Netanyahu] that he decided not to be photographed in the ‘Herzl pose’ in Basel [a revelation of Ma’ariv journalist Ben Caspit]. But the fact that this possibility was even deliberated indicates megalomania. Maybe he should send Yair [Netanyahu’s son]?” Graciousness and fortitude seem not to be his forte.

Incidentally, Haaretz promptly rehired him; so much for his “sacrifice.”

A week after Margalit’s dismissal, another columnist, Motti Gilat, was also fired. Gilat worked for Yediot Aharonot from 1976 until 2008 when he joined Israel Hayom. He was an investigative journalist, highly regarded by Yediot, and was given a staff of investigators.

Indeed, while at Yediot he had some major successes. These included revelations concerning Shas leader Arye Deri in 1990, the sexual misconduct of former defense minister Yitzchak Mordechai in 2000, the illegal presents given to former Police chief Rafi Peled in 1995 and many more. Upon leaving Yediot for Israel Hayom he accused Yediot of censoring him and preventing criticism of politicians such as Olmert, who was supported by the paper. He sued Yediot and in a compromise agreement received NIS 600,000 from the paper.

Interestingly enough, during his nine years at Israel Hayom there was not one major revelation to his credit.

Perhaps this is why Israel Hayom fired him. Like Margalit, Gilat did not move out graciously, although he will be 70 years old in October, an age at which most people have already retired. Like Margalit, he too faulted the management of Israel Hayom for caving in to the paper’s owner, Sheldon Adelson, and asserted he had even been warned, via corridor conversation rumors, that his critical writing against Netanyahu would cost him his job.

Gilat was replaced by Akiva Bigman, the editor of the Mida website, which describes itself as “a news and intellectual daily magazine, which aims to present the public with information and opinions not common in the Israeli media” and has openly declared itself part of the national camp, as does Bigman.

The release of Margalit and Gilat, both left-wingers, and the hiring of Bigman are a sign that Israel Hayom no longer feels the need to strengthen itself with the aid of left-wing journalists who can be bought, but has become mature enough to hire who it wants.


June 7, 2017

MEDIA COMMENT: The brainlessness of the media

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:28 pm by yisraelmedad

The brainlessness of the media
There is no alternative but for the media consumer to be ever vigilant.
Journalists and the media in general may be able to disregard criticism they earn from media critics, such as ourselves, but they have not been getting favorable reviews recently in scientific publications, polls (one we noted in our immediate previous column), by serious pundits and even fellow media people.

And that should be cause for alarm.

A study conducted by Oxford-educated Tara Swart, a neuroscientist who lectures at MIT, in association with the London Press Club, analyzed in depth 40 journalists from newspapers, magazines, broadcast and online platforms over seven months. Ninety originally signed up but over half couldn’t persist, itself an ominous indication.

They had to take a blood test, wear a heart-rate variability monitor for three days and keep a food and drink diary.

The object was to review their lifestyle, health and behavior patterns and to draw conclusions. And those conclusions, published mid-May as “Study into the Mental Resilience of Journalists,” were that those journalists’ brains revealed a lower-than-average level of executive functioning. They had a below-average ability to regulate their emotions, suppress biases, solve complex problems, switch between tasks, and show creative and flexible thinking. To top it all off, those journalists drank too much.

But there’s a caveat in the study: the tendency to self-medicate with alcohol, caffeine and high-sugar foods.

In other words, it is inconclusive as to whether there is a correlation between the type of person who gravitates to the media profession and the lower than average level of functioning, or whether this is a result of the unhealthy lifestyle of the journalists once they are on the job.

On the other hand, the journalists sampled did display high mental resilience, which Swart viewed as a distinct advantage in dealing with the work pressure of tight deadlines. They also were better at abstraction, which she defined as the ability to deal with ideas rather than events, to problem-solve and to think outside the box. In other words, they should be aware of their wrongdoings.

Oddly enough, the test results showed that the journalists were on average no more physically stressed than the average person. Their levels of cortisol – known as the stress hormone – were mostly normal.

Researchers Michael McDevitt, Perry Parks, Jordan Stalker, Kevin Lerner, Jesse Benn and Taisik Hwang reported this past month in the Journalism Journal a study which demonstrated that journalistic anti-intellectualism is condoned by emerging adults in the United States. This is perhaps no surprise; young people, perhaps having no other choice, knowingly accept non-professional performances by media people.

Their article asserted that “anti-rationalism and anti-elitism as cultural expressions of anti-intellectualism correlate as expected with approval of corresponding news practices.”

Instead of the news affecting their views, it is their views affecting the news. The brainless leading the brainless may be an exaggeration, but nevertheless, something is not working correctly and the media is deeply involved.

With this background, one may well ask: why do so many journalists reject or shrug off complaints that too often they are woefully unprofessional, extremely biased and bereft of values that would bring honor to their responsibility to provide media consumers with fair, balanced and correct news content? Why do they get angry when their errors are pointed out? Interestingly, support for a very critical attitude toward the media came last week from one of Britain’s veteran and admired former BBC interviewers, Jeremy Paxman.

He is well known for his combative interview technique, grilling public figures on television, as he did with British Prime Minister Theresa May and Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn on May 29. At the Hay Festival of Literature & Arts a fortnight ago, he termed journalists “a ridiculous, vainglorious bunch of clowns” and added, “I don’t like these media class sneerings about Trump.”

Too much of the media, despite its self-portrayal as society’s knight-on-horseback, is acting in an insular fashion, assuming elitist tendencies, demanding it be above criticism, while refusing to acknowledge its own political and cultural agendas. At the same time, they continue to steadily lose the public’s trust and, perhaps, are staffed too often by inadequate personnel interested in themselves, their societal standing and their salaries only.

Perhaps a prime example of this attitude was the astonishing decision taken this week by The New York Times to eliminate the position of public editor, their ombudsman.

While admitting that “we must all seek to hold ourselves accountable to our readers,” the paper’s publisher, Arthur Sulzberger, argued that the public editor is now superfluous because “our followers on social media and our readers across the internet have come together to collectively serve as a modern watchdog, more vigilant and forceful than one person could ever be.” A “Reader Center” is to be created to “engage readers about our journalism.”

Sulzberger thus gives us the prime example of the idiocy of the press.

Does he really believe that the public does not see through his words? After all, it was his own ombudsman who forced his paper in mid-April to properly describe Marwan Barghouti as a murderer, not a “parliamentarian.”

Could a reader force the paper to retract false and misleading details? His move is nothing but an attempt to deflect criticism, sending it to the Internet junkyard.

Our over two decades of experience in Israel has been that without an independent oversight structure, without a known scale of punishment and without reports and decisions published for public consumption, a media outlet like the New York Times is simply uncontrollable and unreliable.

Ron Ross, writing in The American Spectator last week, could have been referring to the behavior of Israel’s media when he wrote, “The media have decided that reporting the news is no longer sufficient for them. They’ve decided they want to participate rather than just observe and report… they have taken upon themselves the negating of the results of the 2016 presidential election… [and] arrogantly concluded they’re entitled to greater responsibilities and influence.”

And he added, “[T]raditionally, the role of the press is to bring transparency to the government, to shine the light of day on politics and politicians. Ironically, the press is not even being transparent about its own objectives and motivations. There’s a fundamental dishonesty about what the media are up to,” an observation we have made numerous times in our columns.

There is no alternative but for the media consumer to be ever vigilant about the “product” he is presented, and he or she should never think a complaint is worthless.

We must assure that feedback tools exist for otherwise, journalists will turn us brainless.