In a democracy the news media need to follow critically the workings and failures of the parliamentarians, the government, the courts, but also the civil servants, the police and the army. This is most important. If all other checks and balances failed, there is still the nosy reporter, who will spoil all abuse of power by anyone. When the weak and the powerless have no one else to turn to anymore, there is still the media. And – of course – they will protect the reporters and the editorial staff and anything else that is needed for a free press.
However, there is one powerful institute in any democracy that will not be scrutinized by the press. No political analyst will investigate the honesty of that organization. It could be the most powerful lobby in any democracy but it is above inspection and criticism. You got my drift already from the title: the news media themselves.
Sure, there are some toothless watch groups and consumer organizations that may complain when the lies become too blatant. Then the editors might modify their message (for once) to keep up appearance of decency. Sure, plagiarism and slander can be costly as the rich can start legal procedures. But lying and manipulation of public opinion is the prerogative of the free press. No court in the Western world will even begin procedures against press lies, because of the preciousness of Free Speech and the Free Press. They can write whatever they want, and they do.
The situation is actually worse than that just no one checks them. If the powerful would not give interviews to some news outlets, boycotted them, they still would not need to close shop. There is plenty of news around without cooperation from makers and shakers. Yet, the opposite is not true. Many of the powerful lick up to the press, to be able to spread their messages. Want a scoop? But be nice to me. And many reporters are. This way they don’t only spread their own biases but also become accessory to the unchecked words of the powerful.
Isn’t it strange that such a powerful club as the news makers is above scrutiny? If all the powerful need to be checked all the time, that means that power corrupts and that in principle no one should be above suspicion. So tell me, why would journalists be an exception to this distrust? Are they superhuman or saints? If they answer to no one, for eternity, then it should follow that their institution must be completely corrupted. I don’t say that it is, but logic demands such conclusion.
In The Netherlands, from where I hail, which has a fine old democracy, there is a gentleman’s agreement between the news media not to attack each other. It’s probably the same everywhere else in the Western world. This way they can quote each other freely (with reference) and pretend that they are all friends and decent. They are free to compete with each other, but they won’t throw mud on their colleague news gatherers. However, that is not just a matter of decency. If they would begin to highlight the lies in other print and electronic media, in no time, everyone would understand that it’s all a bunch of baloney – all around. So they don’t.
Many people assume that most of what’s on the news and in the papers must be true. One of my rabbis is not so naive. He says: it’s 90% lies and 10% mistakes.
I read the same daily printed paper, now for over 20 years. I like it. It clearly separates news from commentary on the news. It often brings both points of view in a conflict. It goes against unfair treatment of the oppressed and powerless. It does have a capitalist slant, but I know that and so I try to take the economic reporting with an extra grain of salt. However, the strangest things happen – and it will never tell you why. Examples?
- Everyone’s favorite reporter on Arab affairs disappears from the columns, never to be heard from again. Other outlets will also not tell you what happened, because – remember? – they won’t attack each other. Was there a fight? Was it about money, honor, opinions, racist treatment? Who knows – not the readers.
- They had many international news reports from Associated Press. Its local reporting they also used, heavily edited to take out the intense anti-Zionist angle and lying. “AP contributed to this report” kind of thing. Suddenly the readers only see Reuters’ reports. AP has disappeared from the paper. Why? They won’t tell you. Was it for cuts backs, was it because of the its slant, had they begun boycotting the Zionist paper? If it’s up to the papers, we will never know.
- There’s a national doctors’ strike. Less people die. The doctors defend themselves: because we did not treat emergencies that we normally do of hopeless people, who then die a little early because of our extra effort. If that’s true, the months after the strike should show an increase in deaths, to exceed the normal figures. I asked the medical reporter to investigate that. No answer. I request again. No replay. What would be simpler that exposing this assumption? Then I realized: no way. If she accuses the physicians, they will not give her scoops anymore.
- You try to contact the paper with a request to publish something controversial. Or you write a letter to the editor. No answer. You try some other editor. And yet another. No answer. They do not need to answer you. And they do not need to report what you think or know. They’re not your Congressman/woman. They are not elected, they are not appointed. They fall directly under G^d, and answer to no one else.
- The vision of the paper shifts – sometimes for the good (they became alert on racism), sometimes for the bad, sometimes it’s just different without moral difference. The paper will not tell you. They will only tell you when there is a new editor-in-chief, but not when there is a new political wind blowing through the editorial office. And they will never ask the readers what they would want. Suddenly the lay-out changes. The typeface. The printing press. Some editors replaced. Chances are that you’ll never know. They don’t want to alarm the loyal readers. If they notice an improvement – good. If they don’t notice the changes and it still feels as their old trusted (sic) paper – good. They will let sleeping dogs lie.
President Trump has started a big fight with the media. He doesn’t need them – he won the elections through twitter. Minister-President Netanyahu is very angry with “the press.” Attack is always the best defense. However, they won’t win these fights. The journalist is above scrutiny. Good luck changing that. But it should change – one day. Such a powerful lobby without others keeping it in check is not from this time. It will happen, but don’t hold your breath.
Let’s end with something positive. I’m very proud of the Times of Israel for exposing the binary options fraud. Billions are stolen with these schemes over the past nine years and counting. And the theft is mainly from naive people outside of Israel towards Israel based thieves. What would have been easier than not publicizing this for fear of being sued for slander by these billionaires or of being seen as washing Israel’s dirty linen in public? But no, the Times of Israel won’t give up and fights for truth and honesty. After this binary options fraud will be outlawed, the crooks will have been stripped of their booty and sentenced to serious jail time, and victims or surviving family members will have gotten most of their moneys back, the Times of Israel should be up for a price for this – the Israel Price? Such journalists do Jews, Israelis and reporters pride!