“Regarding the article on the apartheid poll, which never existed, a normal editor would call the writer and suspend him until further notice,” says the news-desk editor cited earlier. “That’s how it works at a normal paper when a journalist almost deliberately does something very wrong. In some cases, the editor that gave Gideon Levy the assignment to write about a poll like this would also be sent home. It’s like leaving a wolf to guard the hens. And then, to make matters worse, after the hubbub around the issue, they tried to use it to show how Haaretz was a shining example of press freedom.”
In our interview, that editor described the apartheid poll affair as indicative of a broader problem. He cited additional examples of unprofessional decisions which, he believes, have harmed both Haaretz’s reputation and the high journalistic standards it set and adhered to in the past. Perhaps not surprisingly, Amira Hass stars in many of them. “Amira Hass receives priority for any nonsense she writes, including nonsense irrelevant to any self-respecting paper… She published a document that allegedly recorded a government discussion on how to prevent a famine in the territories in case of an Israeli siege. The document showed precisely the opposite of what was reported in the paper. Instead of reporting that Israel held a completely theoretical discussion of how to prevent a famine in Gaza, the paper portrayed it as if Israel were allocating such and such many grams and calories per person. It’s another example of how there is no responsible hand on the steering wheel.”
An even more pointed criticism of the editors’ objectivity came from another staffer familiar with the news desk. “There is almost no one who is not on the radical Left, or more precisely, who hasn’t accommodated themselves to it and suddenly become a Leftist. Except for Amos Harel and Haim Levinson, there are almost no journalists I would allow myself to call trustworthy. The rest are sycophants who suddenly joined the extreme Left. Israel Harel is the token Rightist in the opinion section, but if you look at the section in its entirety, it’s obviously getting systematically worse.” The same staff member also took issue with Benn’s decision to dedicate time to giving public lectures and writing opinion pieces for the paper.
Of course, Haaretz is not the only newspaper in Israel facing hard times. While the Israeli public has grown increasingly unwilling to pay for print, the pace of innovation in digital media—and the willingness of the public to adopt new ways of consuming news—has progressed haltingly at best. While other papers have turned to populism and fluff to sell digital ads as a supplement to falling print revenues, Haaretz’s new blend of sensationalism and radical politics has made the newspaper risk prone and strikingly unable to self correct, even in the most clear cut of cases.
Though the newspaper has always taken a progressive political line, even its ideological detractors once recognized the benefit that a newspaper rooted in quality journalism and rigorous about its standards provided Israeli society. As Hanoch Marmari, who served as the paper’s editor-in-chief for close to 50 years after being appointed by Amos Schocken’s father, Gershom, put it: “Today Haaretz is not in the playing field. Rather, it is morphed from a player to a spectator in the bleachers. When you are a distant observer you do not necessarily see the complicated dynamics of the game—and you definitely exert less influence.”
Haaretz’s editor-in-chief, Aluf Benn, offered the following response, reprinted here in full:
Haaretz always seeks to reach new audiences, whether in print or through digital channels. According to statistics from the Internet Rating Commission, the Haaretz website enjoyed a substantial growth in traffic in 2012. This year, at the beginning of March, we instituted paid subscriptions for our digital journalism. Thousands of readers have already signed up. These accomplishments are the result of efforts made by our staff to learn the language of digital journalism, as well as a reorganization of our news desk and our Hebrew and English websites. Not only have our professional standards not been harmed, but our reporters must be even more careful today because of the constraints of digital media, which updates continuously. There is no doubt that this is a difficult change for some journalists, but it is positive for any media outlet that wants to flourish in the digital age.
Amira Hass was and is one of the best journalists I have ever met in my 27-year career. I am happy to discover that, to many of her former colleagues, including those with extensive knowledge of the issues she covers, she has not lost her relevance and her writing continues to arouse a great deal of interest and bring us new readers.
Sadly, we parted from around a hundred of our friends this year. They resigned or were laid off because of cuts forced upon us by the precipitous drop in our advertising budget. In certain cases, employees stayed on staff at a reduced salary. Not only have these cuts not hurt the quality of the paper, but the opposite is the case: They have forced us to develop and renew ourselves, first and foremost through the publication of the new “Musaf”—the best journalistic publication in Israel, as well as the redesign of the daily and Friday “Galleria” supplement, the publication of “Haaretz Ha’Shavua,” whose contents were previously split between two supplements, and an upgrading of our digital content.
At Haaretz, we sometimes make mistakes, and when we do, we correct them. The headline given the apartheid poll article was a mistake, and when the issue was clarified we published a correction. In the article on Dennis Ross, there was a mistake in a marginal and unimportant detail. Unfortunately, those who complained about the mistake chose to insult and slander a Haaretz writer, and I was not and am not prepared to accept rhetorical violence against our reporters as a basis for discussion. In spite of this, we published a front-page interview with Ross conducted by Natasha Mozgovia (our former Washington correspondent), in which it was made clear that there is no secure telephone in his office. The post subsequently published by Barak Ravid was excellent and put the issue in its correct and appropriate context.
I have not stopped writing political analyses since I became the editor-in-chief of Haaretz, and there is and does not have to be a conflict between the two. Writing requires me to “take the pulse” of things, and this serves as a personal example to other writers. I sometimes give paid lectures, but this has caused no damage to my work on the staff, and I have not prevented other journalists from writing books, lecturing, or teaching alongside their work as writers and editors.