Swami says (JERUSALEM POST OP-ED) By JEREMY RUDEN 05/07/12)
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What do people around the world spend billions on every day? What
need has spawned more professions, both real and fraudulent, than any
other? The answer isn’t so obvious but becomes clear once you start
thinking about it.
Predicting the future has been one of mankind’s primary concerns
since the beginning of civilization. It is essential for us to try
and be in control of our destiny and hedge our bets against the
inevitable changes are part of our existence. If you’ve ever
considered why people purchase stocks, insurance or even a lottery
ticket, you know where I’m coming from.
Before you start thinking that I’ve decided to write a column on
philosophy, let me assure you that this need is playing an ever
growing part in the delicate balance between the Israeli government
and the media.
Let me start by going back to October. Right after the Tishrei
holidays, a leading Israeli newspaper published an op-ed, a portion
of which ran on the front page. It basically discussed how Prime
Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak might be
planning to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities without the backing of
the heads of security forces and, no less importantly, with zero
public discourse. No sources were quoted.
The day after the piece came out I wrote a column criticizing the
paper for running the story, especially on the front page, as I felt
it did not serve the citizens of Israel. I argued that there are many
other parties interested in having the Iran nuclear issue shoved to
the forefront of the public agenda (I even named a few of them) but
that it was counterproductive for the country as a whole.
My editor at the time decided that I was too critical of the
newspaper and killed my piece despite my objections. Sure enough,
within two to three days everyone was talking about Iran. Just to
clarify, I understand that Iran poses a huge threat to Israel. That
said, I believe that publicly discussing all of the different
scenarios designed to put an end to that threat is playing a high-
stakes game of “Swami Says” – a phony attempt to predict the future.
The Iran agenda has made top headlines not just in the Israeli press
but in international media outlets as well. But why do they all go
along with it? Simply put, it makes for an endless supply of stories.
A highly regarded individual of any party involved in the situation
can say something and it can make the front page. Who knows, maybe
another piece of information or opinion will give us a clearer vision
in our crystal ball.
The problem domestically is that the saber-rattling has been so loud
it has drowned out the cries for other important causes. Looking
back, it seems to have particularly hampered the message from the
throngs of Israelis who last summer took to the streets demanding the
government change our economic priorities. Who would want to lead a
newscast with a lopsided tax system or the high price of housing when
you could be talking about a possible war or nuclear annihilation?
Now, just in case the Iran rhetoric is quieting down, the Likud has
orchestrated yet another game of Swami Says for the Israeli public in
the form of elections. It started, once again, immediately following
the holidays. The Friday after Independence Day, an interview with
Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin was published saying that the upcoming
parliamentary session will likely be the last of this Knesset. Sure
enough, on Sunday that’s what everyone was talking about and the next
day, it was all but set in stone.
The period leading up to elections is when media outlets are
hypersensitive. Knesset members running for office are out there
campaigning and trying to raise money. That means massive press
presence. Every news outlet wants to get a headline via extensive
coverage. We’ll all be occupied as they look for every mistake, every
fight and every juicy tidbit and report on it.
If we are to believe today’s polls, Likud will win this election and
the status quo will be preserved. But news outlets can’t just leave
it at that. There needs to be suspense and plotlines. Some parties
will lose out while others will gain power. Which ones? We’ll be
taken down the road to the elections. Meeting and revisiting with the
people and their stories. Analyzing every twist and turn and what it
might mean for the upcoming vote. Four or five months of tales from
the campaign trail. We’ll be spending a lot of money to finance a
gamble in which Likud has heavily hedged its bets.
That should keep us all busy until after the elections when, like it
or not, at the end of the holidays, we’ll all tune in for another
nail-biting episode of Swami Says. That chapter has yet to be written.
The writer is an independent media consultant and a former producer
at the Fox News Channel in New York. (© 1995-2011, The Jerusalem Post
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