The torrent of alleged misdemeanors pouring out day after day against Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, across the front pages and prime-time news broadcasts of Israel’s mainstream media, this week developed a new angle: Predictions from the same quarters of a summer election.
If the heavily biased media were counting on the police to produce hard evidence to support their charges, they were premature. No evidence of criminal conduct has yet come to light, despite leaked innuendo to favored reporters. Police investigators continue to dig hard, spurred on by the insatiable media appetite for sensational “revelations.”
Known for his penchant for the good things of life, Netanyahu’s fondness for Cuban cigars, paid for by good, very rich, friends, is no crime; nor is imbibing expensive champagne in their company – even if both are provided as gifts in lavish quantities.
Equally, even in democratic countries, politicians are not accused of criminal activity when they engage senior newspersons in hush-hush, give-and-take swaps of favors. It is pretty much par for the course.
However, Netanyahu’s secret conversations two years ago with his arch foe, Arnon Mozes, the publisher and editor of the wide-circulation tabloid Yediot Aharonot, are being branded by the media as “extremely serious.” According to tape recordings leaked from the same police investigation, the deal on the table was this: Mozes offered to tone down his paper’s virulent campaign against the prime minister. Netanyahu would in turn “arrange” to cut down the circulation of the free tabloid Israel Today, which was established by the Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson as a platform for the prime minister to counter the systematic media campaigns against him.
Mozes was - and still is - in serious financial trouble: his paper can’t’ stand up to the competition by Israel Today. But the bargain he hoped for was unlikely to take off for three reasons:
1. The prime minister doesn’t own Israel Today. The paper’s editorial and business staff is not compelled to obey him - only the proprietor. So if Netanyahu did indeed strike a deal with Mozes, which is not proved, he would have been selling a favor that was not his to sell, and liable to be sued, if by anyone, by the real owner.
2. According to the recordings, Netanyahu repeated that he needed to discuss the issue with Adelson. It sounded as though the prime minister was willing to consider a deal, but deferred to the owner for the final word. He even suggested that it might be possible to persuade Adelson to buy Yediot from Mozes and merge it with Israel Today.
3. Yet in their daily “revelations” on this affair, senior reporters doggedly maintain that Netanyahu calls the shots in the free tabloid. They refuse to back down from the picture they have built up in one false report after another that Netanyahu dictates editorial policy at Israel Today.
What would they say if Adelson got fed up with Netanyahu and decided to turn the paper against him? He is perfectly free to switch the paper’s editorial support to whomsoever he chooses without consulting the prime minister.
Therefore the firestorm around the “Netanyahu affair” is focusing increasingly on the pack of attackers snapping at his heels. The publications which hammer at his culpability are being exposed themselves as far from being practitioners of the neutral, honest, professional, ethical and honest standards they preach for others.
It is common knowledge in the industry that, for years now, the leading news media have habitually sold out to various political and financial interests. The names of the pens, editors and publishers for hire are known to their colleagues.
But the general public is clearly in on the secret. They know which paper or reporter is the hired mouthpiece of a politician or business interest. They are not fooled by the sanctimonious protestations of “values” and “ideals” by the pundits and columnists promoting government critics.
Rather than being scandalized by Bibi’s ways – which are no secret –many have given up reading newspapers and following TV and radio news programs – and not just because they prefer the Internet. Stacks of newspapers on offer for free at cafes, supermarkets, or gas stations are left untouched.
The paucity of readers is countered by a large print to jack up advertising rates. In a flagrant breach of ethics, some newspapers deceitfully hide advertising plugs in regular editorial content, while TV “consumer” programs may be “sponsored” for pay, without informing the public that the “advice” on offer is tainted. In some magazines, cover stories are on sale to the highest bidders, as are prominent interviews in other media.
Certainly, not a few professional journalists who plied their trade honestly have quit the media and given up writing in disgust. The Press Council, which was founded originally as an independent forum for adjudicating on matters of ethics, has held silent in the face of flagrant violationsfor the past 11 years -- ever since the appointment of retired high court judge Dalia Dorner as its head - and slept soundly when the Israeli communications media descended to the pits.
Opposition rivals seeking to topple Israel’s third-term prime minister have found a ready bludgeon, the corrupt mainstream media which is more than willing to push its ferocious onslaught on Netanyahu, confident that he can be railroaded into throwing in the towel – either by stepping down or calling an early election.
Netanyahu has so far shown no sign of weakness. He insists that the charges against him are trumped up and he will outlive them all.