WATCHING ISRAEL'S MEDIA: Pseudo-journalism
Jerusalem Post, May 16, 2004
John S. Carroll, editor of The Los Angeles Times, spoke on May 6 to a group of University of Oregon students.
"The media industry has been infested," he said, "by the rise of pseudo-journalists who go against journalism's long tradition to serve the public with accurate information. They view their audience as something to be manipulated."
Carroll referred to these journalists as a "breed" who mislead while claiming to inform and who have strayed from the legacy of respect and care for media consumers. We welcome him, then, to the media scene here in Israel.
Dan Margalit is an elite member of Israel's media. A journalist since 1960, when he worked at Haolam Hazeh, he was a member of the editorial board of Haaretz and is currently a commentator for Ma'ariv.
On television, he hosted the Erev Hadash afternoon news program for the Educational TV Network, was the founding moderator of Popolitika on Channel 1, then moved to Channel 2, taking with him Amnon Dankner and Tommy Lapid; he went back to Channel 1 and now appears on Channel 10 with Politika Plus.
In the years following the Oslo Accords, Margalit's Popolitika program was heavily biased in the accord's favor. Nonetheless, he was also moderator of the famous Netanyahu-Peres debate preceding the 1996 elections, a debate seen by many as pivotal in the downfall of then prime minister Shimon Peres.
Most recently he was the moderator of the TV Channel 10 Begin-Olmert debate on the Gaza withdrawal plan.
He earned an MA in Jewish history and penned an autobiography entitled Those I Have Seen. In his book, Margalit describes how he crossed the line from journalism to political involvement when he supported Moshe Dayan for premier.
It was Margalit's revelation of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin's secret bank account in 1976 that led to the collapse of the government – quite a journalistic feather-in-his-cap.
As reported recently in the Makor Rishon weekly, our colleague Moshe Kovarsky, a member of Israel's Media Watch's executive, recently researched Margalit's professionalism and found him wanting. Reviewing his articles in Ma'ariv over the past four months, Kovarsky found Margalit prophesized falsely, assumed no responsibility for his failures, moralized, and fudged the facts.
For example, on January 2, Margalit commented on Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's Herzliya speech: "This whole disengagement plan will turn out to be nothing more than an insignificant footnote."
On January 23, Margalit wrote in frustration: "In comparison to the regime Sharon has forged, George Orwell's 1984 seems an innocent republic. He demanded: "Go, Sharon, for the sake of God go!"
TEN DAYS later, Sharon announced his plan for a unilateral withdrawal from Gaza and the dismantlement of all Jewish communities in the Strip. On February 3, Margalit heard the beating wings of history and conveniently ignored his own demand that Sharon leave office.
He wrote: "One must hope Sharon will pursue this approach he declared in the Likud Knesset faction." Hello? What happened to 1984?
Another fortnight passed and Margalit was derisive of the Likud's ideological position. On February 13, he had this to say: "Likud Central committee members are willing to push and shove to enter the Knesset's Finance Committee session – their minds are on the economy, not the integrity of the homeland."
On March 12, he informed us that "the day before yesterday it became known that Sharon is leaving Ariel outside the separation fence." That quickly proved wrong.
A week later, on March 19, he addressed Israel's negotiations with the United States and knew that "Israel has never before conducted such a disorganized negotiations effort," a statement he would retract a month later, when he praised Sharon's campaign to obtain presidential approval.
Following the Ahmed Yassin elimination, Margalit saw nothing but dark clouds ahead. On March 26, he wrote: "A public figure will be murdered or kidnapped; buildings will collapse in Tel Aviv and Buenos Aires, and planes will be hijacked and blown up."
So far as we are aware, this has not materialized.
While wary of a mega-terror operation, Margalit was very confident of the Likud poll outcome. Writing on April 20, he knew that "the Likud's popular poll has already been decided – not just decided but with a mighty majority."
Waking up to the reality of the impending loss, Margalit, in a column published two days before the poll, became borderline hysterical: "A no to disengagement means an internal breakup, a step toward a split in the kingdom, even to the extent of mass legitimization of army service refusal."
He then informed us that "voting against will bring us apartheid."
Margalit's colored writing makes him eligible for successful nomination as a member of the Israeli pseudo-journalists' club.
Yisrael Medad and Prof. Eli Pollak are vice- chairman and chairman of Israel's Media Watch (www.imw.org.il)