On Sunday morning, as news broke that the businessman suspected of negotiating a quid pro quo with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was none other than Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Noni Mozes, one of his employees tweeted out a pathetic message congratulating her news outlet for having the bravery to publish news that could make the boss look bad.
As it happened, the brave article was a short softball piece that was published later than almost every other outlets’ and still placed most of the onus on Netanyahu.
For the last two days the paper has continued to mostly bury the story – justifiably – behind news of the deadly truck-ramming attack in Jerusalem, but on Wednesday morning, a day after excerpts of the tape were reported on by Channel 2 news and with the terror attack a bitter memory without a ton of news value, the gig is up.
This time, Yedioth Ahronoth leads with the affair and specifically the biggest bombshell: a report that Mozes told Netanyahu he would see to it that coverage is slanted so he could stay in power so long as a law is passed that would effectively sink rival Israel Hayom – going so far as to make that quote its headline.
It’s certainly not an easy thing for the paper to publish, essentially substantiating accusations that it is in fact slanted against the prime minister and that it regularly sells positive coverage surreptitiously – two facts that should place it out of the bounds of acceptable journalism.
Readers hoping for a mea culpa, though, should not hold their breath, at least from Mozes (who is conveniently forbidden to speak about the ongoing criminal investigation). In addition, the actual news story takes up all of about 8 column inches (equal to about a large news brief, for those not versed in print layout), much of it dealing with Netanyahus other affairs.
It is also accompanied by a heartfelt front page column by Nahum Barnea that, while indirectly criticizing Mozes, also praises him and his paper and couches it in the idea that there’s plenty of blame to go around.
“The news that was published is tough to swallow for editors and reporters at the paper, who do their work well, without fear and without bias. It’s also tough for me. However, I can only praise the work of my colleagues: in this profession there are no gifts and no deals. That’s how it should be,” he writes, before praising his boss as someone who never asked him to add or subtract a word from anything he wrote.
Most of Barnea’s column, though, is spent tearing down Israel Hayom, writing that the affair proves the paper serves as an illicit propaganda arm for Netanyahu.
What the affair also shows, though, is that Netanyahu was willing to sell Israel Hayom down the river to get in with Yedioth, and one would expect the free daily and its owner Sheldon Adelson to be spitting mad. Whether it’s because it doesn’t have a choice or because it is truly devoted to Netanyahu through thick or thin, Israel Hayom continues to bury the story and paint archenemy Mozes in the worst light possible.
While the tabloid’s two top front page headlines report that “Obama [is] one of the worst presidents ever” (literally, that’s what it says. More on that below) and on a bombing that targeted singer Margalit Tzanani, the Netanyahu-Mozes affair gets only a small front page reefer and a fuller treatment all the way back on Page 7.
The paper’s treatment of the Channel 2 report is matter-of-fact, though it also veers into familiar anti-Mozes territory by reporting, based on an unsourced tweet by a journalist, that in 2006 Mozes tried to torpedo the nomination of Dorit Beinisch as Supreme Court president during a secret meeting with a senior minister “that included enticements and threats.”
Haaretz, which has played up the story all along and been instrumental in exposing certain parts of it, ramps up its coverage with several pages of reports, including one by Gidi Weitz that notes that Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit viewed the tapes “harshly” and that police saw it as “a case of blatant bribery.” While the investigation, which later became two investigations, has taken some time, the paper cites justice officials saying that police are expected to soon pass prosecutors their recommendation on the case.
In a commentary, Weitz, an investigative reporter who been near the front of the pack in exposing the affairs, writes that journalists who see the scandal as an internal industry matter don’t understand the importance of their work or “have Stockholm syndrome.” Netanyahu’s attempt to control the media, he writes, is illegal, plain and simple.
“When a publisher shelves or delays true investigations of prime ministers, finance ministers and the media so they will return the favor with generous government gestures on a rainy day, he is bribing them,” he writes. “When a regulator conditions the existence of a public corporation on planting journalists who are the regulator’s associates and on dismissing senior individuals who have fallen from grace, he crosses the line into a forbidden zone. When an owner of a newspaper treats kindly bankers who have lent him tens of millions and opens an aerial umbrella over them that keeps negative publicity away, he is giving them benefits.”
In another column, Haaretz editor in chief Aluf Benn dispels the myth that his paper is elitist while Yedioth and Israel Hayom are populist, writing that these revelations show how the country’s media barons are playing their readers for chumps for their own games.
“[The 2015 election] wasn’t about the Iranian threat or the replacing of elites. It was about dividing the spoils between two members of the power elite who view control of the country as a protection racket and Israeli citizens as pawns,” he writes. “The election that was brought forward to March 2015 was the peak of a struggle for control. It began with Mozes’ suggestion to divide the loot and ended in a boxing match in which Netanyahu, with the help of Israel Hayom, prevailed over Mozes’ candidates – Isaac Herzog, Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid. The police investigation into Mozes and Netanyahu could reset the whole game if it ends in indictments and a change in government.”
To the same degree that Israel Hayom loves Netanyahu, it has shown hatred for US President Barack Obama. If once the paper’s feeling were held somewhat in check by Netanyahu’s façade of friendship with the White House, it has clearly all fallen apart, with a front-page Boaz Bismuth column declaring Obama among the worst US leaders ever the cherry on top of a night-soil cake.
Using Obama’s interview to Israeli reporter Ilana Dayan aired Tuesday night as a jumping-off point (and without the paper actually reporting on the interview) Bismuth rips into Obama for his unkept promises, for supporting the wrong side in Iran and for thinking he is Israel’s friend no matter what.
“It’s good food for thought for those who swore day and night that we lost America. Obama is convinced he’s our friend, just like he’s convinced that he wouldn’t have changed his Cairo speech, even though reality answered him back in blood and fire,” he writes. “Sic Transit Gloria Mundi, the ancients said. So passes the glory of the world.”