It was late at night when I happened to stumble upon the opening scene of ”All the President’s Men” on television. My wife fell asleep and I sat there alone in the living room and watched a movie I’ve seen at least 20 times before. There is no line or scene there that I don’t know by heart, yet this time it affected me in a wholly different way.
“All the President’s Men” was produced in 1976 by Alan J. Pakula, with the young Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman playing the lead roles. It recounts the true story of two Washington Post Journalists, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, who exposed the Watergate affair and prompted President Nixon’s resignation.
As expected, the American Administration charged that the Washington Post is acting based on leftist motives, weakens the country and merely tries to topple the government (yes, I know, some things never change.) However, the newspaper believed in its story, maybe because that was its way of believing in much bigger things.
“Nothing's riding on this,” Washington Post Editor-in-Chief Ben Bradlee says in the movie, “except the first amendment of the Constitution, freedom of the press and maybe the future of this country.”
I was 14-years-old when I first saw the movie. I sat alone in the half-empty movie theater and swore to myself that one day I’ll be a journalist.
I wasn’t the only one. The year the movie was aired, journalism faculties across the United States reported a sharp rise in the number of students. Everybody wanted to be like Woodward and Bernstein: Stubborn, fearless and determined fighters on democracy’s last line of defense.
We all believed back then – naively enough – that the role of a decent, patriotic media is to fearlessly criticize the government, expose its failures and remind it that nobody stands above the law. If someone told you that you are serving our enemies and don’t love our country, you would look him straight in the eye without blinking and say that the only way to love a country is to never go easy on it.
The truth may be painful, but the existence of a free press is our way of telling the homeland that it can be better: More just, braver, and worthier of our love.
Blaming the mediaYet all of that was only true in 1976. In 2011 I too, just like any Israeli journalist, sustain on a daily basis heaps of virtual toxic trash in the name of the homeland I wish to protect. As it turns out, the media are to blame for everything: Terror attacks, social protests, undermining the state’s pillars, our negative global image, our negative self-image, and the fact we’re suffering.
Apparently, we love Arabs, are fans of terrorism, serve as the emissaries of dark, malicious organizations, are submissive slaves of evil foundations and crappy people in general. And yes, all of the above is a quote.
I would like, for a change, not to engage (for the umpteenth time) in the debate on whether the media are leftist or not. And even if there is substance to the claims regarding the media’s leftism, the public does not want a rightist media or even a balanced media, but rather, a nice media.
After all, all those people who wished us a thousand strange deaths only want us to be nicer, damnit. They want us to tell them that our country is right in every confrontation it’s involved in, that our army is never wrong, that our ministers are working seriously and that the prime minister leads us in the right direction and is generally a fantastic guy.
This is very touching in fact. These people love their country and fear that if the media say bad things about it, Israel will be harmed. The search for the truth appears to them like a dangerous luxury that can only be afforded by countries that are stronger than us. We are not Woodward and Bernstein, but rather, Cohen and Levy, and people who never heard of freedom of expression are firing missiles at us.
The problem is that instead of strengthening the country, they are weakening it. To Israeli journalists it appears obvious and taken for granted that we need freedom of expression around here, yet in the middle of the night, while watching “All the President’s Men,” I suddenly realized that we may have failed to explain this for so long that people may have forgotten.
Israel is a strong country not despite our freedom of expression, but rather, because of it. Israel is strong because all the parties that affect its fate - the government, the Knesset and the IDF – know that they could find themselves as the lead story in the news should they screw up. Israel is strong because it is willing to sustain harsh criticism. Israel is strong because everyone deserves to be represented.
Israel is strong because all these evil naggers from the media, who you so much love to hate, will embitter the lives of anyone who tries to evade his responsibility towards you.
People tell me that “freedom of expression is important, yet it too has limits and not everything should be written.” And I say “no.” Without reservations and with no buts. No.
Freedom of expression is one of the only decisive choices. If the military censor did not reject it, we can publish it. If this annoys you, go ahead and get annoyed. Israel is home to a million and half citizens from the former Soviet Union - just ask them if they wish to again live in a country where writing annoying things is forbidden. If this truly drives you crazy, open a blog and write the opposite of what I’m saying here. You’re allowed to do so. You live in a country that offers freedom of speech.
And there is no other country you would want to live in.
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