Journalism of the Obvious

The only women who appeared on television during the first days of the war in the north were two ministers, an MK from the right and the spokesperson of the Israel Defense Forces.

The only women who appeared on television during the first days of the war in the north were two ministers (Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Education Minister Yuli Tami), an MK from the right (Limor Livnat of the Likud) and the Israel Defense Forces Spokeswoman, Miri Regev. However, the voice frequently heard − in the category of experts - was that of dozens of male speakers, all of them military and security people, past or present, like Danny Rothschild, Eitan Ben Eliahu, Ron Pecker, Ehud Yatom and Dani Yatom (MK, Labor). Naturally, explain editors at Channel 2 News, "the tendency is toward the more military direction. When there is fighting you speak to all the people who are connected to the matter, army people and Home Front Command people. We are surprised by the expectation that it wouldn't be that way."

For Professor Yoram Peri, the head of the Chaim Herzog Institute for Media, Politics and Society at Tel Aviv University, this phenomenon brings to mind the resonant article by Amiram Nir, "Quiet, There's Shooting Going On," which was published in the mass circulation daily Yedioth Aharonoth at the start of the Lebanon War in June of 1982: "Now there is no opposition," Nir asserted at that time. "There are no Likud and Alignment, there are no religious and secular, rich and poor, vuzvuzim (derogatory term for Ashekanazi Jews) and tchachtchcachim (derogatory term for Jews from the Muslim countries). Now we are all one nation in uniform. Now there is shooting going on. Quiet."

Peri, formerly the editor-in-chief of the now defunct daily Davar, notes that this article of Nir's was a milestone in the history of Israeli journalism, precisely because "this was the first time that such a position was accepted by most of the journalists, right on the day it was published, as a position that was obsolete." That is, according to Peri, many print journalists recognized at the start of the Lebanon War the need to conduct a public and critical debate about the point of the war - the reasons, the motives, the responsibility of the Israel Defense Forces and the government - as well as about the results and the implications of the war and the alternatives. This is the role of journalism in a democratic country. Thus Nir's article was, in its day, an anachronistic article against the freedom of the press.

However, 24 years after that publication, does the majority in the electronic media still hold Nir's position?

"I was astounded to see that they even took heroes of the past like Yitzhak Mordechai out of the deep freeze," says Peri. "On one of the news programs this week Mordechai spoke like an authority on everything. He sat there in the required black shirt and granted commentary on the situation. Up until a moment ago he was not legitimate, and here he is, an expert."

Nevertheless, Peri assesses that this phenomenon of military unity on the screen will not last long. "The immediate rallying around the flag at the start of a war, the immediate reporting for duty behind the army people - which has characterized the media in the entire world but even more so in Israel - will pass and change quickly."

Uri Levy, the head of the news department at Channel 1, also believes that at a deep level the norms have already changed.

"In the coming days," says Levy, "they will wake up at the news desk and will try to be more creative. The total control of the news and current events broadcasts by the military people, the men, will weaken. The panels will be more varied. This will happen within the next two days."

In the age of varied media, the free flow of information and opinions on the Internet, in blogs and in e-mail is more interesting in time of war than the stance of the television, of the mass media, which is passively consumed. There are two especially interesting questions in this context. Why are the TV news desks still lining up with the army and the government in times of war? And, also, will the news broadcasts on television lose or gain strength from this? Will they lose their relevance or will they reinforce their status as "the tribal campfire?"

A general is the national soother

With impressive frankness, Levy suggests an almost prosaic explanation for the phenomenon: "To a fairly large extent, I agree that the military voice is the only voice that has been heard on the news programs in recent days. And this happens because the news desks go into automated mode. Because of the burden of work that has been created, there is less room for thinking and more engagement with production, and then we automatically open the book and work according to it: There is a war - we invite generals. This is automatic. This is easiest. In the book where the phone numbers are listed, in any case, there is an absolute majority of men, and especially retired military people. Usually their agreement to come is very quick. You don't need to make an effort. They come."

Levy notes that "we all grew up with those sacred cows, and there's a kind of habit, that a general is a national soother; it's impossible to disengage from this move."

Dr. Anat Matar of the philosophy department at Tel Aviv University suggests a different explanation for the phenomenon of the takeover of the media by the unified military voice. In a fascinating article, "What Enables Asa Kasher," which was published a few weeks ago in the journal Mita'am 6, Matar asks: What in Israeli society enables the hegemony of military thinking? Or how does it happen that Asa Kasher - a philosopher in the service of the establishment, an Israel Prize laureate and the formulator of the IDF code of ethics - succeeds in giving a public, philosophical and ostensibly moral seal of approval to the Israel Defense Forces' policy of assassinations, house demolitions and roadblock procedures, without Kasher's moral authority being cast in doubt by the public; that is, how is military thinking preserved in the heart of the mainstream of Israeli society?

In reply, Matar describes Kasher's philosophy as a philosophy "of the obvious." That is, the ethical code that Kasher formulated is, according to Matar, full of tautological statements; circular logic, propositions that prove themselves, propositions of the sort: "The army does thus and so because the army assesses that it is correct to do thus and so." And to a large extent, it can be said that this is similar to the patterns of coverage and commentary in the electronic media during times of war and in general: This is a journalism of the obvious. Matar adds: "What has in fact been missing on television and on the radio in recent days - and this connects to what I show in the article about Kasher - is facts." Matar is referring in particular to facts, to details, of what is happening in the territories and in Lebanon as a result of IDF actions.

MK Zahava Gal-On (Meretz) says that the uniformity on television in recent days is evident not only in the choice of the interviewees, but also the interviewers: "On Channel 2 they aren't letting senior female reporters like Rina Mazliah or Dana Weiss speak as commentators, and among the speakers they are also interviewing only those whose views concord with the government position, like Tzipi Livni or Limor Livnat. The only channel that is giving air time to women and somewhat different views is, in fact, Channel 1"(the state channel).

On Channel 10, perhaps they aren't giving women the opportunity to speak, but nevertheless the voices that are being heard on the various current events programs are somewhat more critical than on the other channels.

Avi Alkalai, the editor of "London and Kirshenbaum," says that Channel 2 "has taken an official line, whereas Channel 10, thanks to young and unrestrained editors and reporters, and thanks to the presence of the elders of the tribe, (Yaron) London and (Motti) Kirshenbaum, who have brought the energy of Nikui Rosh (a pioneering satirical program), is succeeding in moving a way a bit form the official line and is voicing criticism." In this context, mention is made of Alon Ben David, the military correspondent who is broadcasting in a critical way about the IDF's embroilment in Lebanon, and also Raviv Drucker and Zvi Yehezkeli. Alkalai also notes that Channel 10 has warmly adopted spokesmen from within the military system "like Uri Saguy, who was the head of Military Intelligence, and Gil Raviv, who was the head of the manpower division, who, in fact, are expressing criticism of the army, courageously."

Making mistakes

About a year and a half ago, Gadi Baltiansky, prime minister Ehud Barak's spokesman during the Camp David period, journalists Akiva Eldar, Ben Caspit and Raviv Drucker, and communications lecturers Peri and Daniel Dor participated in a discussion at the Chaim Herzog Institute for Media, Politics and Society. They conducted a stimulating discussion of the question of "how the perception of the failure of the talks at Camp David and the outbreak of the intifada was created, was spread and took root." A video of the discussion can be found at the Tel Aviv University Internet site (, and it is possible to see there agreement among the speakers that the media gave themselves over to the perception that was spread at the time by Barak, by the spin method, that he had offered everything to the Palestinians and they rejected the offer and because of that everything failed. This, even though, in fact, things were different.

"The Israeli media made a mistake at Camp David," said Aviv Drucker in the discussion. "It didn't report on things that happened, because it didn't know enough. In the Israeli media there is no mechanism of drawing conclusions, and therefore the media will continue to make the same mistakes in the future."

Peri says that with respect to the Israeli media's criticism of the government, it is possible to see, on the one hand, a gradual development since 1948 and, on the other hand, a steep drop in the level of criticism every time a war starts. He believes that the moment the war stops, the journalists - even on TV - will come to their senses and will start to ask questions. But television is a shallow medium by its nature, he notes. Complex answers are always abandoned on TV in favor of simplistic statements, not to mention empty and impassioned cliches, which in any case characterize military thinking.

Uri Levy says that the big challenge now is to bring new voices to the current events programs, to refresh the telephone book, to find women and men who speak differently from the generals.

The Haifa-based Woman-to-Woman organization not long ago produced the "Index of Women" - a list of 200 women who can and should be contacted and integrated into diplomatic negotiations, as is obligatory under a law that was passed recently by the Knesset at the initiative of Yuli Tamir and former Shinui MK Eti Livni. It also includes women from the military field, such as Orit Gal, Amira Dotan, Yisraela Doron and Timna Shmueli, all of them former senior officers in the IDF, alongside many experts in the fields of negotiations, law and mediation. It will be interesting to see whether this prepared list will make its way into the hands of the editors of the TV news programs and how this will affect the contents and character of the public debate.