Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Truth and Consequences in the Public Domain

By Tuvia Brodie

Last week, Israel’s media was euphoric. Gilad was free! The Jerusalem Post published a report that 79% of Israelis backed the prisoner exchange deal that freed both Gilad and 1,027 Arab terror prisoners. Eighty-six per cent of women were said to back the deal. A second poll reported that 69% of Israelis supported this exchange. Gilad’s home!

Have 69% -79% of Israelis ever agreed on anything? It’s wonderful, isn’t it? According to the media, the face of our national identity could not contain its smile. There was joy everywhere. Gilad’s parents waited to hug him. All of Israel waited to hug him.

This was the happiest day of Gilad’s life. It was the happiest day for his parents. All of Israel felt their happiness. Gilad’s five years and four-months of imprisonment and isolation had ended. Israel’s national psyche, having been exhausted by the ordeal of the Shalit family’s pain, now sighed with relief. Finally, it was finished. Jews everywhere celebrated. The Jerusalem Post even ran an editorial linking the joy of the current Jewish holiday of Succot with the national joy over Gilad’s release. Could there have been greater national joy than that moment?

But wait. Not everyone was so happy. Not everyone shared the media’s joy—and not everyone believed that 79% of Israelis--or 86% of women-- thought this deal was a good one. The media had been very quick to present a picture that a supermajority supported this prisoner exchange. But the feeling on the Israeli street was different. What was going on here? Were the naysayers simply professional grumps, the kind who find something wrong even at their own birthday parties?

Maybe. But then, maybe not. There is a real—but troubling--problem here: the Post headline had misled us, for underneath the Post’s exuberance lurked an ugly truth. If you looked deep enough into the article about the poll (‘Between 70 and 80 per cent of Israelis, 86 per cent of women, support prisoner swap’, Gil Hoffman, Jerusalem Post, October 17, 2011), you would have discovered that 62% of respondents thought that this deal would ‘worsen Israel’s security’—a euphemism for a national fear that, with this thousand-killer trade for one soldier, Jews would suffer.

Such a concern was only enhanced by pictures of Arabs celebrating the release of the terror prisoners--and calling for more kidnappings.

So what were the polls telling us? Could our nation simultaneously support this ‘deal’ and fear its consequences? That’s like saying, ‘happy birthday-- you’re sad!’ Isn’t that contradictory? If this is what the polls showed, shouldn’t the Post have analysed the apparent contradiction? Interestingly, instead of discussing, highlighting or analysing the negative side of the poll response, the Post chose to headline ‘support prisoner swap’ and to ignore what might be the most important public significance of the poll results—fear, not happiness (yes, the Post mentioned the negative numbers; but simply mentioning them does not release the Post from the responsibility to analyse such an unusual result).

Do we have a problem in this country? Are we so afraid of the truth that we have to lie to ourselves—or distort reality like a Reality TV producer? The statement that 79 per cent of us are happy with this prisoner exchange is so extraordinary that it suggests that survey questions were either badly written or purposely structured to elicit a manipulated response. Either way, a result this unusual should have prompted a ‘red flag’ for the Post. Instead, they ran it as news--that is, as ‘truth’. But like all lies, this story distorted what was correct and distracted us from the truth. In the existential war we fight, that is dangerous. Do you know what happens to college students who lie to themselves about their study skills? Do you know what happens to dieters who distort facts? They fail. Is that what we want—to fail?

In case you have forgotten, we cannot afford to fail. We must fight to win--and as we fight, we must remember our Jewish values: be very careful how you deal with truth.

Does the Post not realize that truth and consequences are related—that ignoring public truths has too often led to disaster for Jews? Ask the Jews in Germany in the 1930s what happened when they ignored the truths of Hitler’s public speeches. Ask the Jews in the years leading up to the destruction of the First Temple about the consequences of ignoring the public truth of G-d’s prohibitions against idol worship.

To understand fully the role of the media in proactively slanting Israel’s public policy issues—instead of reporting and analysing those issues--take a look at Caroline Glick’s essay, ‘Column One: marketing Gilad Schalit’, Jerusalem Post, October 21, 2011; if you want a look at how Israel’s news has been continuously manipulated, read, ‘Another tack: A sacrifice in vain, Sarah Honig, Jerusalem Post, October 21, 2011.

The Jerusalem Post has a problem. By focusing so exclusively on Gilad’s release while ignoring its consequences, the Post has neglected its ethical and/or jpournalistic responsibility to its reading public, and surrendered to a concerted marketing campaign to free Gilad (Glick, ibid). The media’s role in this effort had nothing to do with truth or public welfare. The Jerusalem Post can play an important role in Israel’s future. But it is not doing that right now. Relegating ‘truth-telling’ to opinion-pieces (see the Glick and Honig essays above) doesn’t cut it. The truth is not an 'opinion'. The truth starts in the news department and today, the Post’s headline-writing, editorial oversight of article content, editorial policy—and activist philosophy-- do not present the truth about Israel's reality or Arab intention. Right now, the Post is behind the proverbial curve, not ahead of it. Right now, the Post is just another activist gunslinger in the business of slanting and marketing public policy in Israel ( Honig and Glick, ibid).

This country deserves better. We are Jews. We are supposed to know the difference between lies and truth. We invented the codified morality that supports the Western world. Where in our Torah does it say we are to lie to ourselves? Does the Post know we have a Torah? We are obligated to be sensitized to truth, in order to assure that our human relations—and our relationship with G-d—remain intact. Self-lying does not make the grade. Manipulating the public does not pass muster.

This country deserves better because we as Jews do not survive by lying to ourselves. Want proof of this? Ask the Jews of Germany, 1933-38, about Jewish public lies. Is this the road the Post wants to travel?

The Jerusalem Post is an important newspaper. It has a role to play here—and an ethical obligation to fulfil. It should be the voice of our nation, not a shill for the highest-paying marketing firm. Its obligation is to tell the truth about the realities we face.

Today, our Gilad is free. But killers are also free. Arabs dance in the street. They call for more kidnappings. Do we have the courage now to speak the truth? Does the Post?

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