Pic: Yaki Assaig

The interview I turned down

Yair Lapid, an accomplished journalist, explains why he hates his profession

A young reporter for one of the local papers called and asked to interview me. She made every effort to be pleasant but I turned her down. The reason: I know that whatever she writes will be negative.


How do I know? Because that is her job. Even if she wanted to, (and she doesn’t want to,) she does not have the option of handing her editors an article describing me as a positive, upbeat kind of guy. They will tell her that that is not journalism and will send her to do a rewrite.


They do have a point. What is more boring than reading 3,000 words which conclude that the subject is a nice guy, unless of course the subject is a ‘was’ rather than an ‘is’.


There is the possibility that I am far from nice, rather obnoxious in fact, deserving of a lashing in the media but it’s irrelevant. Even if I was a combination of Angelina Jolie and Rabbi Grossman of Migdal Haemek, it would still be a malicious article.


It’s not her fault really. She doesn’t set the standards. The poor girl (oh no, I am beginning to feel sorry for her.) is living in the grips of one of the world’s most vicious and aggressive media.


I read newspapers from around the world and I joyfully inform you that there is no where on this earth – from Washington to Bombay – where journalists permit themselves to say even one-half of the disgusting things that we write on a daily basis. If the young lady from the local paper turns nice she will be canned, without severance.


The next question is how will she write the article after I refuse to talk to her? The standard answer is that I had better be careful because she’ll probably work ‘around’ me – that is talk to people who will talk about me.


In order to achieve this goal, she will turn to my close friends and colleagues at work. Most of them will slam the phone down on her. The more cautious and thoughtful will call and ask me whether to cooperate with her. I tell them not to talk to her as at this stage I am already a little paranoid and frightened and secretly hope the paper will move on for lack of material.


Yeah, right.


The reporter is already determined and fueled by ambition. If no one will speak to me, she tells herself angrily, obviously they have something to hide. Meanwhile her editor calls to ask how things are going. “Don’t worry,” she reassures him, “he doesn’t know who he is dealing with.”


She hangs up the phone and is already finding it hard to breathe. Well, if she can’t talk directly to me or to any one who knows or is close to me then she needs to find someone who knows nothing about me but is ready to talk about me with great authority.


Me, the 'chauvinist'

She exerts great efforts to locate the phone number of a woman who worked with me as a researcher for two weeks 20 years ago. She tries to remember what the hell I look like. “He was always very nice,” she’ll tell the reporter. “I once spilled coffee on him accidentally and he didn’t even get mad.”


“Male chauvinist,” thinks the reporter furiously scribbling in her notebook, “asks his female coworkers to make coffee for him.”


It dawns on my former researcher with whom she is dealing, so she asks not to be quoted by name. That actually makes the reporter happy because the researcher has just been promoted to the rank of ‘a source close to the subject’.


A source close to me who thinks my behavior towards women is degrading.


Afterwards, our reporter visits the archives. She will find footage from the Friday night news show where gossip columnist Gil Riva tells the audience how I asked for an invitation to Arkadi Gaydamak’s party.


“Hypocrite,” she will scribble in her notebook, “sucks up to the wealthy.”


The truth is that I never asked for an invite to Gaydamak’s party or anyone’s and Gil Riva even apologized to me for his mistake. I forgave him gladly because I have a weakness for people who make me laugh. But it doesn’t change anything, because the reporter is now using the best-known journalist’s tool in the world: Other journalists.


To sue or not to sue

Yeah, I know. We don’t usually share our trade secrets with readers but the truth is that 90 percent of what we write is based on what others have written before us. If an article turns up in the archives that says I asked for an invitation, then the fact will be perpetuated and recycled. If the first journalist who published the item was wrong, it’s his problem as he is the only one who will be sued.


Or, no one at all will be taken to court. I didn’t go nuts. If I end up suing her I will spend three years of my life in the court system. Paparazzi will be waiting at the court house entrance to snap my picture and every article about the trial will remind everyone of the fact that I treat women abominably and I am Gaydamak’s sycophant. At the end of this humiliating saga I will be awarded NIS 350 (about USD 80) not including my legal fees.


The reporter – who also knows this – is feeling pretty confident. She called a retired television critic who called me a ‘shmuck’ a few years ago. She asked him for a few words about me. The critic – who has been interviewed at least 60 times about this incident – tries to explain to her that he doesn’t even remember why we argued. It was a long time ago and the truth is he has never met me in person. But the reporter insists and insists and in trying to satisfy her he confirms that to the best of his knowledge, I am still a ‘shmuck’.


And the article is ready. The headline: “Headed for Politics?” is in huge letters because two years ago someone asked me if I ever considered going into politics and I said that first I needed to pick my kids up from nursery school. A silly joke that hasn’t stopped following me around but relative to my reputation as a serial abuser of women and a bribe taker, it’s a lot easier to tolerate.


At this point let me say for the record that I indubitably, emphatically support investigative journalism which I believe is the core essence of the profession. It’s just that journalists are supposed to investigate corruption at the tax authority and commissions who are assessing the war, not embitter the lives of singers, writers, television personalities, actors, soccer players and the shmuck who did call Gaydamak and ask for tickets.


Do you know why you’ve been feeling that things are deteriorating, that everything is corrupt and there isn’t one good thing left in this country? It’s because of what they are feeding you. Are there no good people in the country? Of course there are. It’s just that no one bothers to write about them. And if they do write they have to find the negative angle. If there isn’t one, they make one up.


The conclusion is that that once the train leaves the station it has to arrive at its destination. Our poor reporter has no choice. She has to produce these baseless, revolting so called investigative stores about people. If she doesn’t she will be fired.


The newspaper also has no choice. The modern day economic reality is that no Israeli paper, and especially not the local ones, has the possibility of employing the reporter full time including car and telephone expenses, for copy that will never see print.


And the reader? Well, he surely has no choice. For years he’s been fed this garbage so he’s become accustomed to thinking like a fly.


פרסום ראשון: 01.17.07, 17:53
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