Someone in the new broadcasting corporation has quite the sense of humor − guillotine-sharp humor that makes heads roll as a solution is found to the artificial crisis cooked up by the prime minister. Otherwise the timing of the announcement that veteran journalist and anchorwoman Geula Even, who also happens to be the wife of former top Likud party member Gideon Sa’ar, will host the new broadcaster’s main news program is hard to fathom. To Benjamin Netanyahu, nothing could be worse.
His thinking, so it seems, goes as follows. No matter what kind of ratings the new broadcaster gets, its very existence is a danger to the media image Netanyahu has toiled so hard to create via Facebook, the free daily Israel Hayom and Channel 20 – the media outlets where he has a comfortable home and wields near-absolute power.
The hunger for such power corrupts, of course, but the rationale of needing to continually burnish his image ahead of the next election requires Netanyahu to behave precisely the way he’s behaving now. In his mind, his hold on the government is a constant fight for survival.
If you were him, would you choose to champion democracy and media pluralism out of respect for the public’s right to know, or would you threaten to bring the whole house down as he’s doing? Hand on your heart: Would you be willing to live with this sharp thorn in your side night after night?
After all, Geula Even isn’t just any thorn. In the image wars, the leftist label that so frightens Netanyahu regarding others at the new public broadcaster, whose names are scratched in blood on Coalition Chairman David Bitan’s list, has never adhered to her. Her supreme professionalism isn’t in any doubt. Her image as an assertive interviewer who won’t buy spin has long not needed any proof. She has no problem confronting any minister and, during hundreds of hours on her Channel 1 program "Hamusaf," she learned how to knock everyone down a peg or two.
But none of that is of any real consequence, because it’s not her journalistic talents or visual presence that Netanyahu can’t deal with. The real problem is her link to the threat that Gideon Sa’ar poses to him in the next election.
Even though Sa’ar has yet to toss his hat in any ring, his media silence doesn’t mean he’s not a factor in the internal Likud arena. When he attends dozens of dull events hosted by party activists, his wife reportedly accompanies him as an active partner. And she enjoys the automatic sympathy the public shows television celebrities, no matter what their role. This will only grow now and be a notable electoral asset for Sa’ar, while Bibi has to contend with his wife’s public image.
On this front Netanyahu has been a complete failure. All his arduous efforts to win her some of the sympathy she longs for have been for naught. All the media advisers assigned to the task have proved useless, and the frustration is deep.
Netanyahu doesn’t believe that when it comes to investigating, reporting or presenting a text, journalists have the ability to detach themselves from their political views, professional experience or inner desires.
To him, the new broadcaster’s chiefs are dreadful leftists, beyond-the-pale Army Radio types or people loyal to media mogul Arnon Mozes because they once worked for him. To Netanyahu, there’s no way Even could present a fair news report, an unbiased interview or even a reliably bland intro to a piece about anything that involves Netanyahu.
In his view, every moment she’s on screen amounts to extra screen time for his bitter, threatening rival. And if Netanyahu sees no need for a new public broadcaster that he can’t control, how can he let it go on the air with Even, whom he perceives as yet another enemy?
A ruler who wants to survive won’t willingly go around collecting enemies. That’s not the way it’s done. Instead, he’ll create all kinds of spin about the new public broadcaster’s failings even before it has started operating. He’ll convene his most obedient spokespeople on Shabbat to manufacture a crisis. He’ll try to paint himself as the defender of the workers, and he won’t rest until he has lifted the threat. Hand on your heart: Would you behave any differently?
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