Wanted: A New Journalistic Language

The derisive attitude toward Tzipi Livni also teaches us something about how wars are created.

What kind of leader, male or female, does Israel need and where can they be found? For a moment there, it seemed as if an interesting, practically revolutionary answer was emerging to this question, which usually occupies the press, but has done so with added urgency since the final days of Ariel Sharon's government.

The spirit of the Winograd Committee's findings would seem to indicate that the nation is ready, even longing, for a new leadership: one that is level-headed, moderate, creative and responsible. Because, at the very least, Israeli society will not consent again to be led by leaders who are quick on the trigger, who prefer displaying military might to talking, who are willing to send soldiers to their deaths without hesitation.

One minor obstacle remains: the political commentators. Those who are conveying the committee's findings and shaping popular opinion have neither changed, nor altered their language. Herein lies the problem: There cannot be a new leadership without a new journalistic language.

Thus, last week, Ben Caspit wrote in Maariv that Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni is fit only to head Na'amat, or, "at best, WIZO." He wrote that to lead the country one needs "a cool-headed, calm temperament, nerves of steel and the ability to cope with dangerous situations and to make difficult, fateful decisions quickly." Ehud Olmert apparently excels at this, while Livni was too hesitant and didn't resign, and thus at best "could make an excellent mediation lawyer."

Such pronouncements are usually deemed interesting only in an immediate, relatively narrow context: namely, the difficulty for women like Livni in integrating into male politics, a realm covered by sexist journalists: men (and women) who, like a pack of frightened dogs, go after anyone who threatens the male hegemony. On Channel 2, Amnon Abramovich mockingly referred to the foreign minister as "Mitzi" and "pretty girl." In Yedioth Ahronoth, Sima Kadmon wrote that she "has no balls," and that she "fell so in love with her own image that she decided she could and should be prime minister." And in Haaretz Yossi Verter opined that Livni "collapsed under the pressure."

The arrogant attitude of Caspit and company toward Livni is indicative not only of the way in which the male-run system pushes women away from positions of power. (This system includes women like Kadmon and Ayala Hasson of Channel 1, who have adopted this journalistic ethos.) It also teaches us something about how wars are created. Caspit's writing perfectly encapsulates two kinds of intertwined chauvinism: the derivative meaning of the term, male condescension toward women, and the original meaning, of overweening national pride. This is the weakness manifested in excessive contempt for the enemy that characterized Nicolas Chauvin, Napoleon Bonaparte's patriotic, faithful and foolish soldier, who soldiered on after being wounded 17 times.

How was all this expressed in the media coverage of the war? On the second day of the fighting, Caspit wrote in Maariv: "Hezbollah must come out beaten, battered, crawling, bleeding and screaming in agony. Hezbollah must not be allowed near the border. Its rocket arsenals must be wiped out. This threat must be erased. [Hassan] Nasrallah must die."

Alex Fishman, in Yedioth, described his hope for continued fighting: "The second chapter will be more painful, bigger, noisier than the first chapter that ended last night ... The operation should perhaps have been called ?Ten Plagues,' since the idea is that each blow must be more painful than its predecessor, up to the ?death of the first-born.' Until they ask, and we agree, to stop."

Shimon Shiffer, also of Yedioth, wrote admiringly about how the Olmert-Peretz-Halutz trio "demonstrated levelheadedness and is prepared to fight back on a scope never seen in this region." And in Maariv, Amnon Dankner launched the "Yisrael hazaka" ("Strong Israel") campaign, proudly declaring: "The government of Israel has shown a backbone of steel."

As the war neared its end, with diplomatic negotiations at their peak, Ari Shavit in Haaretz struck the final chord: He called on Olmert to keep fighting to victory, because "the day Nasrallah comes out of his bunker and declares victory to the whole world, Olmert must not be in the prime minister's office."

The commentators are thus no different from the politicians they cover. Indeed, their writing indicates a secret wish to replace them in the positions of power. They speak the same language. They share the same value system.

This is not a new phenomenon. In "Moses," Martin Buber wrote about the leader as a historic figure, invented and shaped by biblical narrators (the journalists of ancient times). He talked about how the forces that created myth were identical to those that dominated history: They were the forces of faith. Buber explained that the leaders and those who told their stories shared the same beliefs and norms.

The Winograd Committee's incisive interim report calls on Israeli society and journalists to change the faith and norms, to shape a new type of leadership: one that consults, that reflects, that has a broad field of vision. A leadership that does not see the military option as the sole, or best, path to solving national problems. A leadership that thinks carefully, that hesitates.

The report calls on us to elect a prime minister who is perhaps more like Moses, who was "heavy of mouth and heavy of tongue" - that is, not a "strong leader" in the simplistic sense. It implies a desire for a leadership that uses a mature and creative language, and which can recognize a complex reality.

In other words, the report essentially recommends eradicating the language of Ben Caspit and many of his colleagues. Its conclusions show that there is no longer any place for the language of sexist journalists who venerate old-fashioned male power, for journalists who speak about a prime minister as though he were a general whose job is to bring them a victory. This language of force and humiliation has grown obsolete. The writing of Caspit et al is better suited to internal military publications.

Israel is ready, even crying out, for a new journalistic language.