7/31/2017 Fox News and Yisrael Hayom- Both Dangerous

Yesterday was the 10th anniversary of the publication of the first issue of Yisrael Hayom, the free newspaper owned by American casino tycoon, Sheldon Adelson, which has become Israel’s leading newspaper. In October, it will be 21 years since Fox News, owned by media mogul, Rupert Murdoch, first took to the airwaves in the US. Both these media outlets have taken an extremely conservative view and both have had significant impact on their respective countries. While Fox News is extremely profitable, Yisrael Hayom’s business-model makes profit unlikely — but that is not the goal. Yisrael Hayom was established, first and foremost, to promote the views of its owner; views that until very recently been identical to the opinions and goals of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

While much has been written about the impact of the Internet, Facebook, Twitter and other social networks on creating the greater divisions between leftists and rightists, in both the US and Israel — along with the new nomenclature of “fake news” — in fact, the real culprits have been and remain, Fox News and Yisrael Hayom. As Gabriel Sherman wrote about Roger Ailes founder of Fox News, in The Loudest Voice in the Room: “His channel is a self-contained universe, with distinctive laws 'fair and balanced' and sometimes its own facts. Ailes' audience seldom watches something else. They have been conditioned by Fox’s pundits to see the broadcast networks, CNN and MSNB as opponents in a grand partisan struggle,” what is known today as “Fake News”. Ailes and Fox News are widely credited with being the most important factors leading to the election of President Donald J. Trump.

Of the two media mouthpieces I refer to above, Fox News is probably the more toxic. Yisrael Hayom seems less inclined to develop alternative facts than Fox has been. In addition, most studies show that television is a more powerful medium than print. However, Israel is still a country in which the overwhelming majority of the population reads a newspaper each morning. Most people can be seen reading the free Yisrael Hayom, which is handed out on corners and available at every coffee shop, train station and bus station. It's nickname has been the “Bibi-ton” (a melding of Bibi, which is the nickname of the Prime Minister and the word “iton”, which is the Hebrew word for newspaper), as Yisrael Hayom has almost always reflected Netanyahu's perspective and almost always publishes articles that reflect well on the Prime Minister and his wife and negatively on the left wing opposition. Until two months ago Yisrael Hayom had one columnist who was critical of Netanyahu, a former Netanyahu supporter and one of the most respected names in Israel journalism — Dan Margalit. Margalit was fired recently, as his columns seemed to become ever more critical of Netanyahu. Yisrael Hayom has been so important to Netanyahu that two years ago he risked calling for new elections just to stop a law that threatened the paper's existence.

Critics of this piece will clearly say — This is nothing new. After all, America had a storied history of Yellow Journalism. The US went to war with the Spanish in 1898, largely due to the Yellow Journalism. Those critics ignore the fact that over the first 3/4 of the 20th century, journalism evolved and tens of thousands of journalists were trained to believe and to hone their craft based on the notion that the most important precept in journalism was truth. Papers learned to separate out editorials from news. TV and radio stations, knowing they were using public wavelengths, strived to prove they were indeed fair and balanced. Ailes threw those rules out the window, as he built Fox News into the powerhouse of alternative news. Israel had originally had a tradition of political party newspapers, but they had slowly died an economic death, as their institutional support became too poor to pay for their publication. In creating Yisrael Hayom to aid his good friend Netanyahu, Adeslon threw economics into the trash, by giving out a free daily newspaper.

The age of social media has only served to provide an additional echo chamber, for both Fox News and Yisrael Hayom. While there are a variety of reasons that led to Trump's election in the US, there are also many reasons why the views of Israelis have moved steadily right over the past ten years. Neither Fox News, nor Yisrael Hayom should be underestimated, regarding their roles in impacting public opinion. Only by correctly diagnosing the problems can we hope to develop their cures. If we want to address the problem of people living in alternative news universe in the US and in Israel, then addressing the problems caused by Fox News and Yisrael Hayom would be a good place to start. Tonight marks the Jewish fast of Tisha B’av, which commemorates the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans. Jewish tradition states that baseless hatred of one another brought about the sacred Temple's demise. The hate purveyed and shared by both Fox News and Yisrael Hayom that we must find a way to stop.