Jewish stereotypes to the contrary, I have never ever wanted to be a doctor or a lawyer. For sure not a lawyer. During my life, I’ve dealt in a whole variety of ways with a whole variety of lawyers and have only found two to be decent and caring human beings. The rest I’m not sure were human beings at all. They were all Jews but sure as hell did not act like Jews. And I still need someone to explain to me why of all the professions in the world, lawyers are the only ones with the unmitigated chutzpah to charge you for every single second of their time.
And male stereotypes to the contrary, I have never ever wanted to be a fireman or a policeman or an astronaut or a cowboy. The one and only thing I have ever wanted to be is what I am, a journalist.
I can remember feeling that way beginning about the time I was six years old. I would sit each and every day and reach each and every one of the then four daily Chicago newspapers. And would marvel at those lucky reporters who got to go all kinds of places, talk to all kinds of people, come back and write about it and see what they wrote in the newspaper, with their name at the very top.
I could not, and still cannot, imagine a better way to spend your life.
I had two idols growing up. One was Walter Cronkite, who to me was the epitome of journalism. He played it straight, was incredibly knowledgeable and yet was not afraid to show his heart. Watch how he gulps as he announces the assassination of JFK. You can see the human being reacting there, as well as the journalist doing his job. And watch how giddy he is when man takes his first step on the moon. He is at once a seasoned professional and a thrilled little boy.
And by going to Vietnam and then coming back and telling us that, based on what he saw, the war was not winnable, took amazing courage and showed unbelievable integrity. And it was his focus on Watergate before the 1972 election that gave that story the seal of approval it needed so that Woodward and Bernstein could continue to pursue it. No one but those two thought it was a story worth pursuing, but when Uncle Walter showed he also did, that made all the difference, as Woodstein themselves have said.
My other journalistic idol was closer to home and closer to my essence, since he was Jewish, just like me. It was Irv Kupcinet who wrote six columns a week for the Sun-Times, breaking news and seeming to cover everything going on and everyone who mattered. I imagined the life he led, out every night, going wherever the action was and coming back to tell it to the rest of us. I knew that is what I wanted to spend my life doing.
I felt that way when I was six and have never ever felt any other way. I have never wanted to be, to do anything else. I still think there is no nobler profession, no better way to spend your life, no better way to serve your fellow human beings.
Which is why it pains me so much so that many Jews, for reasons that truly make no sense, so hate the media. A vast number of Jews are sure the media is out to get Jews, out to get Israel, out to make us and it look bad.
The simple truth is that no ethnic group gets more and more favorable coverage in the media than Jews do. Jews are everywhere in the media, things Jewish are covered in the media more than things about any other religion or people. And so because of the sheer volume, sure mistakes are made. Our problem is that we focus only on the mistakes, ignore all the positive stories, all the favorable coverage. We can only see what’s bad and either don’t see or take for granted all that’s good.
And so it is with coverage of Israel. The simple truth is that between 1948 and 1982 the coverage of Israel was incredibly one sided, all in favor of Israel. Stories abounded about the Jews returning home, about the general with the eye patch and the Jewish grandmother prime minister, about making the desert bloom and the citizen soldiers and the miraculous Six Day War. It was all positive, and for all those Jews who make themselves out to be media critics, they might note that if there ever was any mention of the Arabs or the Palestinians, it was uniformly negative, dismissive and belittling. Sure we loved that and so of course thought the media was fair.
Even in recent years, when things have gotten more complicated and so the coverage more varied and yes, more nuanced and critical, Israel almost always gets the better of the media treatment. I know many of you don’t believe that, but it happens to be true.
The point of all this is not to convince you that the media treats Jews and Israel better than it does any other people and any other country, because I know I can’t, which is one of the sadder realities of Jewish life. The point of all this is to stick up for the media which plays a bigger role in your life than you might like to admit and a much more constructive role than you realize.
The fact is that pretty much everything you know, the fact is that you can talk about what’s going on in London and Moscow, know how the Cubs did last night, what the weather will be tomorrow is because of the media. You know what you know because someone somewhere in the media let you know, is there where you can’t be so they can come back and tell you what’s going on.
We all take that for granted, which is dangerous because it is not a given. Indeed, there are many countries in the world where the media is controlled, where you know only that which the government approves of you to know. And I am beginning to fear something like that could happen here if we are not careful.
You may think Trump a clown, an imbecile, a joke. He is all those but he also is dangerous. Him calling the media “the enemy of the people,” is no joke. His constant labeling of stories he doesn’t like as “fake news” is no joke. That kind of talk, that way of thinking penetrates your mind, makes you wonder, makes you doubt.
It is not far-fetched to see Jews who already feel the media is out to get us, deciding any story about Israel it doesn’t like is “fake news,” any story about something Jewish it doesn’t like is the work of the “enemy of the people.”
And as trust in the media erodes, we lose something very precious. I have known a lot of journalists, prominent and not, national and local, Jewish and not. And I can tell you almost all are honorable people who deeply care about the truth and want to do nothing more than gather facts and present them in a clear, understandable way to the rest of us.
If we begin not to trust what they tell us, think they are just making it up, that their sources are not real, that they are just pushing some agenda, we lose an essential source of information, are depriving ourselves of having a place to go to find out what’s really going on.
Are there abuses? Sure. Incompetent or slanted journalists? Of course. But if you watch the three network newscasts, read the New York Times or Washington Post, you are getting in one package that takes an incredible amount of skill to put together, the work of seasoned journalists who have gone out, gotten the facts and the truth, and delivered it to you in a comprehensible and understandable way. So you are then equipped to decide what you think, fully participate as an informed member of this society.
The minute you start doubting it all, lumping everything together as ‘fake news’ is when you lose out on something truly essential to your life. The media is not the enemy of the people, it is the source of truth for the people, it is not fake news but real facts. Don’t let Trump or the reality that there are stories about Israel you don’t like, cloud your judgment.
We can lose something so important the Founding Fathers put in our very first amendment. And we are actually now seeing something going on in Israel that is as scary as Trump’s ‘enemy of the people’ obscenity.
Prime Minister Netanyahu hates the Israeli media, thinks it is out to get him. Fine let him think that, say that. But he just did something that is truly chilling. He killed the Israel Broadcasting Authority.
Yes, after 49 years on the air, Israel’s first and for a very long time, only TV channel is no more. Because Bibi didn’t think it was nice to him.
It is hard to overstate the key role the IBA has played in Israel. For decades, everyone in the country watched its nightly 9 p.m. newscast called Mabat. It was the source of information for the Jewish state. But after a half century on the air and with little warning or ceremony, it recently aired its final broadcast, part of a government plan that also closed down IBA’s sister stations on the radio. Israel Radio, launched in 1936, is also off the air.
Of the IBA, one person wrote, “it offered camaraderie and, above all, purpose. Channel 1 … surrounded you with reassuringly familiar faces who shared a mission: making Israel a better and more secure place.
“And then there was Mabat. We mocked its anchors as remote and pompous, but goodness, they were Walter Cronkite-level reliable. They did not hold back in interviews and irked politicians of all stripes. They stuck to just the facts, ma’am. When Haim Yavin, who anchored the nightly newscast from 1968 to 2008, pronounced in 1977 and then in 1992 that the elections had produced a “mahapach,” an upheaval — well, by golly, it wasn’t just a change in government, it was indeed an upheaval. Yavin was consistency defined, opening with “Good evening and greetings to all of you” and closing with “Good evening and much peace from Jerusalem.
“Mabat’s independence may have helped kill it. Netanyahu has never made precisely clear why he wanted the Israel Broadcasting Authority replaced, but for a politician who chafes at any critical coverage, critical coverage from a government-run broadcaster must have been especially galling.”
And there you have it. The prime minister did not like a trusted source of independent news being critical of him. And so he didn’t just label it “fake news” or an “enemy of the people.” He shut it down, shut it up.
That shouldn’t happen in the Jewish state, which is supposed to be a democracy. And we can only pray that we are not seeing what might be coming to America.