Publicly, American media elites often deny that they attempt to influence the national agenda. They're professionals, so the story goes, and completely capable of not letting their personal viewpoints intrude accidentally into their stories. It's laughable given the mountain of evidence to the contrary and the fact that journalists support affirmative action on the grounds that white reporters can't cover minority issues as fairly.
Every so often, however, you hear journalists privately say the complete opposite--that not only do they have the ability to influence news, they also choose to influence it. Such statements are usually more common among the non-American press where the sham of "objectivity" is not perpetrated on the public.
With that in mind, I was still quite surprised to see the following statements said at a panel discussion in Israel on the influence that country's media has had on its foreign policy:
A former Israel Broadcasting Authority news editor admits: "We slanted the news towards a withdrawal from Lebanon - because we had sons there."
Speaking at the Haifa Radio Conference on Monday, several former and current news broadcasters on Voice of Israel and Army Radio discussed the tremendous influence they nearly all agreed they had on Israel's national agenda.
Dr. Chanan Naveh, who edited the Israel Broadcasting Authority radio's news desk in late 1990's and early 2000's, was particularly bombastic about his pervasive reach: "The morning audience, stuck in traffic jams or at work, is simply captive - they're ours." He also mentioned, with no regrets, two examples in which he and his colleagues made a concerted effort to change public opinion:"Three broadcasters - Carmela Menashe, Shelly Yechimovich [now a Labor party Knesset Member - ed.], and I - pushed in every way possible the withdrawal from Lebanon towards 2000. In our newsroom, three of the editors had sons in Lebanon, and we took it upon ourselves as a mission - possibly not stated - to get the IDF out of Lebanon... I have no doubt that we promoted an agenda of withdrawal that was a matter of public dispute."At this point, Army Radio broadcaster Golan Yochpaz interrupted, "In my opinion, that is just super-problematic - super-problematic." Naveh did not miss a beat and said, "Correct, I'm admitting it, I'm not apologizing, I'm just saying this is what happened. It came from our guts because of the boys in Lebanon, this is what we did and I'm not sorry... I am very proud that we had a part in getting of our sons out of Lebanon."
It is widely accepted that the withdrawal from Lebanon in May 2000 under then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak and the lack of attention paid to the northern border since then led to the Second Lebanon War of last summer and its accompanying 160 military and civilian casualties.
Naveh's boast came towards the end of the panel discussion and was not widely addressed. However, just seconds later, retired Supreme Court Justice Dalia Dorner, the president of the Israel Press Council, summed up and said that the journalists must show courage and not allow outside influences to affect their ability to influence public opinion:"You determine the daily agenda and you have the power; the problem is that in your profession, it can't be dealt with properly and ethically without civil courage... You have the power, so use it also to ensure that there is freedom of speech - of course, with the limitation that you must act ethically and not create hostile public opinion, because there is nothing that affects freedom of speech more than hostile public opinion."