The Makings of History / Pressing Charges

The newspaper editors acknowledged Prime Minister Meir's right to scold them, just as they insisted on the right to publicize their views concerning the war's failures.

On November 6, 1973, a few days after the Yom Kippur War ended, Prime Minister Golda Meir summoned the editors of the daily newspapers to admonish them. At the time the press had already begun criticizing the war's failings and calling for a commission of inquiry.

"I cannot understand what you are doing and what you are writing and publishing," the premier said. "This desire to find somebody, to chop off his head regardless of whether such a one exists - just so long as some head rolls right away ... We are turning ourselves into a lowly people of gossip, where each one says about the other that he is such and such, and this one's a hero and that one's not ... For heaven's sake! What does this do for us? Does this make the country, the IDF, stronger? ... What has happened to us? ... Do I deserve this, and do we? What are you doing? What are you doing and why?! ... There's a newspaper that already knows precisely when there will be a committee of inquiry. Tomorrow is a memorial day for 1,850 victims. Does this console the bereaved?"

Golda Meir

Prof. Zaki Shalom of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, who published the minutes from this meeting in the latest issue of the journal Iyunim Bitkumat Israel (Studies in Israeli and Modern Jewish Society ), wrote that the newspaper editors sounded apologetic throughout the conversation.

"None of the editors dared tell the prime minister outright the simple truth: The job of the press is to report to citizens of the state on the government's failings," Shalom wrote, "so this dialogue does not reflect the finest moment of the press in Israel."

The minutes Shalom published make for interesting reading, but do not support his thesis. Quite the contrary: The newspaper editors acknowledged the prime minister's right to scold them, just as they insisted on the right to publicize their views concerning the war's failures, to cover the wars between the generals, and to give vent to the sense of gloom that pervaded the public. Some of them came across as embarrassed and even confused, but none was apologetic.

At that meeting, Haaretz's editor-in-chief Gershom Schocken said: "If a soldier recounts that he was deployed in a tank that set out against the Egyptians without machine guns, and other things of this sort that soldiers recount - that it was a mess - these are things I don't think can be dismissed as gossip ... I do not think it is such a terrible disaster if the press writes there should be an investigation and a review ... This has a better effect on morale than if we were to lower an iron curtain over it."

Aryeh Disenchick, the editor of Maariv, told the prime minister that she was "out of the loop," and added: "Tomorrow a war could, heaven forbid, break out and the public needs to believe that every victim who fell was not in vain. This feeling, to my great regret, does not exist."

Added the editor of Hatzofeh, Shabtai Don-Yichye: "All of the details here add up to a single complaint: Where were you, why were we asleep on Yom Kippur? That is the complaint."

Meir replied that she was not opposed to an investigation, but left no room for doubt that she meant only an internal Israel Defense Forces probe. "I imagine that the chief of the General Staff has to conduct some sort of review," she admitted. However, the premier claimed that it was too soon to launch an inquiry, since the war might not be over yet.

By this time, a few of the editors had already expressed the feeling that they played a part in the fiasco. Disenchick noted that the newspapers ran official reports despite knowing they were untrue, and Hannah Zemer, editor of Davar, said: "There was too much restraint on our part, which is blatantly anti-journalistic."

Meir, on the other hand, uttered not a single word of remorse: "I will not countenance you wronging me," she warned the editors, and proceeded to give them a lesson in their profession: "A serious newspaper must also be an educational tool, because otherwise anyone can be a journalist."

It seems that Meir's reproach had zero effect: Five days after meeting the editors, Yedioth Ahronoth ran a column on its front page by Haim Bar-Lev, who had taken charge of the southern front during the war, in response to an interview that Ariel Sharon had given The New York Times. "This [giving an interview to The Times] is a grave and wrong thing to do," wrote Bar-Lev.

The press began to learn from the mistakes that it had made before and during the war, but Meir learned nothing. She believed to the end of her days that the press had wronged her.