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.

March 14, 2012 | 7 Comments »

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7 Comments / 7 Comments

  1. The rag of the Am Ha’artz is on the verge of bankruptcy

    Nice to know , though the worst relatives usually refuse to drop dead.

  2. Sorry my earlier reply was brusque, I don’t have the time. You have some valuable input, but the ‘control’ looks superficial with the system still the same – you have owners with the agendas of the rich. And of course if the rich bankroll the politicians as they do in America that explains your question about Bibi.

    It is the media and the lunatic liberal leftist establishment that controls this country. It explains why no matter what government gets elected, it always adopts the policies of the lunatic liberal left. Unless this cabal is exposed and eliminated, Israel will remain in existential danger.

    The politicians are not terrifies of the media , they are in bed with the owners of the media. They have interlocked interests. What corporations did they work for before politics, what corporations do they expect to work for afterwards – there are some of your answers. Those Businesses have interlocked interests with the owners of the media – it’s all one criminal cartel.

    Ideology does not drive the media – the rich use and empower whatever ideology suits them. Criminal Profiteering drives everything unless ideology controls the money. There is no evidence that any group is even investigating the economic elite, the true leaders or even aware of it, let alone controlling it.

    I don’t really believe the situation is qualitatively different than in any country in the West. I could tell just by reading the papers, almost everyone of them.

    So some food for thought:
    Why aren’t all the Israeli newspapers having these headlines EVERY day:
    America lies about us.
    Britain lies about us again.
    They are lying about us.

    Complete with daily examples.
    The lies empower the rockets.
    The rockets are lunched to empower the lies.
    It is the media that is conducting the terrorism, more than the rockets.
    They are launched to force an Israeli response, then lie and discredit Israel.
    Getting a Palestinian child (martyr) killed is a victory for Hamas.

    Why didn’t Bibi demand an answer from Obama as to why the American Press is lying about Israel and demand to know who is responsible?

    I know the answer to these questions:
    They are all poisoned with the same corruption, They can’t expose the other guy without exposing themselves.

    To go against the authority, to actually challenge the system, to challenge the authority of control – it’s so easy for an unimpaired mind- and yet obviously so impossible for the person socialized by the system. It is easier to believe the sooting lie that the system is ‘flawed but working well and the only one we can get’ than the terrifying truth that the system is an unnatural tyranny and rotten to the core.

  3. The rag of the Am Ha’artz is on the verge of bankruptcy. Its readership is at its lowest in its history. Just stop buying it and tell other people to stop and that will end the problem. The same is true with all the other zenuspapers in Israel. Stop patronizing them or their Websites and they will wither and die. There are more than enough “Kosher” sources of news that no one needs these propaganda sheets anymore.

  4. Only one problem. Israel has benefited fantastically, witness the HoloHoax, for many years. We are going to lambaste a press that has been so helpful to us? How do we separate wheat from chaff here? Oh, that’s right, we expect all decisions to favor us, don’t we? We expect everything to favor us, all the time, forever and ever. Oi, my friends are leaving me and I wonder why?

  5. Israel’s media is state controlled

    No it is not, that is an obfuscation and misdirection. The state is not a person.
    Only people own things. You may think it is state controlled but it is person controlled and person with economic interests and therefore corrupted by economic-political interests controlled.
    State controlled is not population controlled which is the only way to be democratic.
    Still the only solution is:
    The media owners must be identified and brought to trial for crimes against the Israeli Nation and the Israeli people.

    Why does Bibi not squash political media entities such as Haaretz?

    As there is a separate media entity , you just contradicted yourself demonstrating that it is not “state controlled”.

  6. Anomalous amongst democratic countries, Israel’s media is state controlled. So the question must be asked: why does Bibi not squash political media entities such as Haaretz? Why does he continue to outlaw Arutz Sheva? Why does he not open the playing field to new players that display balanced and impartial reporting? The answer can only support the thesis of this article, that he and his government are so afraid of the media that he dares not. You’ll recall the compelling theory that Sharon only supported the “Disengagement” for fear of the media (as well as the lunatic liberal leftist establishment of Israel that threatened to prosecute him). Therefore the situation is even more dire and ominous than this article would have it. It is the media and the lunatic liberal leftist establishment that controls this country. It explains why no matter what government gets elected, it always adopts the policies of the lunatic liberal left. Unless this cabal is exposed and eliminated, Israel will remain in existential danger.

  7. The media is not an abstract entity.

    Media doesn’t kill Israelis, people kill Israelis,
    The Israelis need to find out who the media owners are , and where do they live.
    Do they live in Iran? In Israel?In Australia? Next door to Obama?
    The media is the owners, they are REAL PEOPLE, a very very small group of people.
    The people they hire, the editors, the reporters, etc. are not the people in control.

    Then citizen groups must pressure those owners, protest in front of their palaces and mansions, demand answers from the Government.
    Tough new laws must be passed making media deceit a crime with maximum penalties that can be allowed.
    Deceits should be identified as to all types” Economic deceits, Political deceits and should be punished appropriately.

    The media owners must be identified and brought to trial for crimes against the Israeli Nation and the Israeli people.

    When found guilty, they must face jail time, their assets must be stripped from them and redistributed for free as common stock in equal shares to all Israeli people.
    The new stockholders could then elect CEO’s and executive managers to run an open and honest media that serves the interests of the nation.

    This could then be a model of true democracy to free the Western world and all Western countries from the tyranny of economic and political fascists.