7th Annual Herzliya Conference
The Media and the Dysfunctions of the 21st Century
By Prof Richard Landes, Augean Stables
[..] So far, the bad news. Now to the good news:
– we have a window of opportunity,
– a growing audience, and
– an independent access to that audience.
First, as the Chinese ideogram for crisis indicates: danger also means opportunity. The worse things get, the more people wake up, the more they are willing to reconsider their paradigms and policies, the more they are willing to make sacrifices necessary to survive. And this is true across the boards: When did Pharaoh listen? When it hurt. When did his heart harden? When things got better. So not only are Europeans beginning to awaken to the nightmare they have inherited from their irresponsible leadership, but also to the role of their MSM in blinding them to its onset. Similarly, Jews and Israelis are beginning to realize that we must fight back. Even the MSM may begin to realize that, whatever excuses they come up with for their performance, they cannot, we cannot afford it any longer. And, as Bernard Lewis commented yesterday, maybe even the Muslims, realizing the power of the Jinn they have released from the bottle, and the unhappy fact that they will be the first consumed by its murderous zeal, will also reconsider who the enemy is.
Secondly, there are people waiting to hear from you, waiting for Israel to confront the suffocating dysfunction of paranoid Muslim defamation and MSM complicity, people waiting to hear Israel fight for its honor and dignity. Indeed theyâ€™ll be better equipped to defend themselves with Israelâ€™s example.
Third, the blogosphere, and more broadly, cyberspace offer a means to reach the public without pleading for better MSM coverage. In the blogosphere there are legions of sharp analysts who do not answer to the siren call of political correctness and the pack mentality that has so many journalists cramming every incident into the storyline of the Israeli Goliath and the Palestinian or Lebanese David. Internet sites permit vast amounts of information, including systematic critiques of the mediaâ€™s performance to reach increasing numbers. Every paper, radio program and TV news station should have a blog that monitors it, critiques it, contradicts it where appropriate. In the end, a responsible MSM will thank the blogosphere for the criticism.
The 21st century has begun as an age of information affluence. We have access to seemingly limitless amounts of information. The real premium in the coming years and decades, will be on reliably accurate and relevant information. And although itâ€™s the traditional job of the MSM to determine that, it will be in cyberspace that the issue will sort itself. Just as early modern science emerged in the city of letters created by print, not in the parchment culture of the medieval universities.
And so, let me conclude with some advice from a deeply troubled historian.
My advice to the Israeli and Jewish people: Know who you are. Do not become blinded by a compulsive self-criticism, in which it is always, it must always, be your own fault. Do not allow the narcissism of small differences between left and right wing, between secular and religious Jew, blind you to the exceptional range of shared values that have made Israel the sociological and historical miracle that it is. Take the occasion of the collapse of the Oslo paradigm â€“ land for peace â€“ and the revelation that the conflict is today land for war, a clash of theocracy with freedom around the world, to reexamine all the misconceptions that have plagued your political thinking for decades now. Cast off both your false sense of agency â€“ we control this process â€“ and mistaken finger-pointing at your Israeli foe â€“ if only they would stop doing what theyâ€™re doing, things would be okay. Cast off the ridiculous language of political correctness that cannot distinguish between race and culture, between genes and education. Wake up to the open vistas and immense challenges of a new paradigm, a massive reinterpretation of whatâ€™s going on in our world, both inside and outside Israel. Rediscover your sense of moral outrage, your ability to fight back against a morally insane world.
My advice to the Israeli government: Open a mouth. Go on the offensive. Stop beating your breasts in agony over civilian lives that your enemies happily sacrifice into the maw of their death cults in front of an eager media that can turn the grotesque parade of dead children at Kafr Qana into a tale of Hizbullah resistance to Israeli aggression. Get yourselves a review committee to look over all the footage of the â€œlethal narrativesâ€ that come out against you, from Muhammad al Durah, the first blood libel of the 21st century and clarion call to global Jihad, to, most recently Gaza Beach and Qana. Challenge the fakes, the pervasive staging. And demand that the media do their own reviews before rushing, breathless, before their public with the latest tales of Israeli sins. Remind them of how often and how destructively they have been wrong. Hold journalists who work here to their own professional standards. Feed information to the blogosphere, not the MSM. Coordinate with the army of grass roots hasbarah organizations that have arisen, especially since 2000, to meet this tidal-wave of hatred and incitement. Identify and address, in every language you can muster, audiences of people who, instinctively, know that something is terribly awry, and want to hear your side. And spend a great deal more money on the effort: There is no theater of war on which you do not expend billions of dollars. And here you spend 10 million!? Hizbullah alone outspends you threefold in Hasbarah.
My advice to Jews in the diaspora: Stop being embarrassed by the media-driven image that you get of Israel. Stop trying so hard to please your liberal friends with your compassion for Palestinian suffering. Stop apologizing and start blaming the key contributors to that Palestinian suffering â€“ the Arab elites who pointedly make the Palestinians suffer in order to blame Israel, and a media who present that suffering to us, just as that elite wants them to. Your fellow Jews in Israel have done wonders in the world of civil, open society; they represent the farthest outpost of civilization in a region still gripped by a typically medieval combination of theocracy, exploitation, and tyranny. In this global war, Israel is an invaluable, an irreplaceable ally to the forces of democracy and freedom.
My advice to Jewish leaders (this includes Israelis as well), especially the men: Stop the ego-battles, the cash-cow manipulations, the competitive, zero-sum career strategies, the monopoly on the podium, the hostility to new voices. Learn not the ways of sibling rivalry like Josephâ€™s brothers, but those of fraternal cooperation, like Moses and Aaron. We cannot afford to play by the old rules.
My advice to Europeans: Get over the politics of resentment in which you so want to see George Bush forced to leave Iraq that you donâ€™t even think about the impact that will have on arousing your own Muslim populations against you, including those who will come from triumphant Iraq to your continent. Rediscover the Atlantic Alliance, your origin and geographical base, and work in concert against the Muslim worldâ€™s global pretensions, especially Iranâ€™s nuclear ambitions. Get over your addiction to moral Schadenfreude about the Jews, in which being able to point the finger at Israel, blinds you both to the nature of an enemy who despises us all, and to the value of your natural ally, Israel. Start addressing the problem of Islamic theocracy now, and at all registers of the political spectrum, so that it is not a problem delayed until itâ€™s too late, and left in the hands of the right-wing parties. Awaken! And soon! And sanely.
My advice to journalists, especially to the young ones. Be true to your profession â€“ a noble one â€” not to your guild; to your standards and your readers â€“ not your editors and your peer group. You move today in a drama akin to The Emperorâ€™s New Clothes, where your guild plays the role of courtiers, insisting that the politically correct, post-colonial garment fits the situation magnificently. Your job is to provide information, as accurate and as relevant as possible. We, the citizens of a free society, will make our individual and collective decisions based on your reliable information. Do not prepackage and predigest our view of the world.
Break out of the pack. Pay attention to the compromises that violent intimidation demand, and be as honest as you can with your readers. And above all, blow the whistle. Break the shameful silence of omerta that has made of your â€œfourth estateâ€ a rogue power that neither self-regulates nor accepts regulation.
The fundamental freedom, the one we can exercise at any moment in our lives, is the freedom to speak honestly, to challenge, no matter what the danger, the embarrassment, the ostracism, the economic hardship, the physical aggression. So this I say to all those who believe in the effort to establish a just and free society: Speak up!
Moses had God and Aaron on his side to convince Pharaoh despite his â€œuncircumcised lips.â€ But now, especially in the age of democracies, lo bashamayim he: matters are no longer in the hands of heaven, but bephicha uvilvovcha, in your mouths and in your hearts. So all we have is each other â€“ our fellow Jews, our fellow humans around the world. And when that moment of truth arrives, as it has now, we can pass the test of freedom and speak with the voice of honest indignation