It was called the Editors’ Committee. At the behest of any cabinet member, the editors of Israel’s newspapers (there were many more of them in bygone days) would convene over tea and rugelach at the minister’s office, and the minister, or sometimes the prime minister himself, would divulge some small security secret. The grateful editors would sip their tea, chew their rugelach and go home harboring a secret that only they, their wives and the prime minister were privy to.
This committee was an arm of the government. In return for sharing secrets, the editors published what the government believed citizens had the right to know (in their view, not much). “Trust our elders and betters,” was the word, with “it’s written in the paper” serving as proof of an item’s incontrovertible veracity. There was military censorship then too, but self-censorship was even more effective. Considerations of national security overruled news items in editorial offices even before official censors got their hands on them. These considerations always overruled the public’s right to know.
This committee died 20 years ago, but it has now been revived on television. Under the auspices of our TV channels, you know not what you should know but what they want you to know. They want you to know about the poetic diaries of Natalie Oknin, briefly detained in Turkey, not what is happening at the trial of our former prime minister.
They stick the most important trial of the year between items about alleged sexual assaults by TV personality Gal Ochovsky and Beitar Jerusalem owner Moshe Hogeg. The Netanyahu trial makes them wet their pants. One would think Sara was watching them, making notes in her little notebook, waiting to settle scores when she returns to power. They don’t think we should know how political decisions were made in the Netanyahu household, they care about the detection of the first omicron virus case in Rishon Letzion. Instead of reports they give us discussions. Instead of news they give us squabbling panels.
The Editors’ Committee doesn’t exist anymore, but its spirit hovers over us. All the news broadcasts are the same, all the topics are identical, and by the end of the hour they’re all scraping the bottom of the barrel. The broadcasts toe the line. If you watch one, you’ve watched them all. You want to know what went down at the Netanyahu trial? Go online and read independent journalist Orly Barlev.
Luckily, we still have Iran. Oh, Iran! What would we do without you? Iran brings us back to the Editors’ Committee. Everyone toes the line. Everyone sings the same lyrics to the same tunes. Pravda could not cover the “Iranian threat” with more obtuse patriotism. The reports on Iran are at the level of copy-and-paste. The talking points from the Defense Ministry arrive with the same frequency as the ones from Balfour Street used to. The IDF spokesman has fallen silent. Does anyone know his name? Nir Dvorin, Channel 12’s military correspondent, does a better job of spouting the army line.
We don’t know much about the war they’re preparing for us. There is no public discussion led by the media, our only source of information. The government is the media’s only source of information. About vaccination and the intelligence officer who died in detention, we don’t believe a word the government says. But Iran? Here we have total confidence in the government. Only let them tell us in advance when to clean out the bomb shelters and prepare a stash of toilet paper. According to news reports, this won’t happen; the war will take place on another planet. The missiles will land on Mars. Concern creeps in that TV news editors were hosted by the defense minister over coffee and burekas. And he looked aside and whispered: Listen, it’s all bullshit.
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The only information we do have is about the screaming of cabinet members, the threats uttered by spokesmen and warnings given by pundits. Go trust them. Ten years ago, Ehud Barak estimated that in a war with Iran we’d have “only” 300 casualties. Has the expected toll risen since then? There are no reports, only opinions. Mention the Iranian threat and you’ve said it all. And if you have nothing to say, drag a reserve general to the studio. Just like you, he has read about Iran in the news or seen it on TV. He’ll fill up three minutes of air time. Screeching has replaced the “ambiguity” that made us tag any report available on Wikipedia with the caveat “according to foreign sources.”
The media is erupting in a unified voice of anger and fury. It’s as if the virtual Editors’ Committee on TV has decided that its role in the confrontation with Iran is to yell, “Hold us back, as tight as you can!” We’re the unruly child that Mother America lets scream (he’s only a child, she explains). She doesn’t try to silence him, only holds him tightly by the hand.