The Jewish sage Ben Zoma famously advised, “Who is wise? He who learns from all people,” so, in that tradition, it may even be possible to learn something from the life of a true monster like Joseph Goebbels.
The infamous Goebbels was the Nazi propaganda minister from 1933-45, and was devastatingly effective in his role.
Most famously he said that “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.” He is also quoted as saying that “the press is like a grand organ on which the government can play.”
It is this final concept that could serve as a pointer to those in the office of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu who are responsible for Israel’s communication strategy. With a little more media savvy and selectiveness in how media communication is approached, the Israeli government can increase its odds of being fairly portrayed.
Many aspiring activists, politicians, artists and budding brands or companies will invest significant time and energy in building recognition for their work by striving to persuade journalists of the virtue of their stories, while heads of state and others in significantly high profile positions are aggressively sought after by members of the news media for statements and interviews. Comments from a Prime Minister will almost always make front page news, and scoring a high profile interview can make the career of any ambitious journalist.
World leaders are conscious of the power of their positions and channel that to drive national priorities and dialogue by selectively empowering sympathetic outlets or prominent commentators to relay their important messages to the public.
For example, the Obama administration’s well documented verbal conflict with the Fox News network and his limiting of appearances on the station is clearly a result of a perceived hostility to his policies. And, on the flip side, it would seem to be no coincidence that outlets that are generally supportive of the President’s policies were graced with the recent spate of high-profile leaks from his office. For example, the recent New York Times story about cyber warfare conducted against Iran, or the exclusive tour of the White House Situation Room granted to Brian Williams of NBC, perhaps the White House’s most supportive American TV network.
In a similar vein, whether deliberate or not, Al Jazeera owes its initial international renown to Osama Bin Laden. Launched in 1996, the network was virtually unknown in the Western world until after the terror attacks of 9/11, five years later, when the world’s most infamous man decided to release his video messages to the world through the fledgling station. All of the world’s major outlets wanted in on the scoop, and gave Al Jazeera the credit. Piggybacking off that renown, Al Jazeera were able to launch internationally.
For years, the effective communication of many an administration has included the selective bestowing of access and releasing of information to those personalities, voices and outlets that they wish to empower and would be most likely to support their positions.
Which makes the behavior in this regard of Prime Minister Netanyahu and his associates most baffling.
For example, last week’s news about Mitt Romney’s upcoming visit to Israel made global headlines. The story was first published by the New York Times, citing confirmation from senior Netanyahu adviser Ron Dermer, who, it is well known, is no fan of that newspaper.
Lat year, Dermer wrote the following, in a letter to the New York Times, complaining openly about its treatment of Israel:
“The opinions of some of your regular columnists regarding Israel are well known. They consistently distort the positions of our government and ignore the steps it has taken to advance peace. They cavalierly defame our country by suggesting that marginal phenomena condemned by Prime Minister Netanyahu and virtually every Israeli official somehow reflects government policy or Israeli society as a whole… Yet instead of trying to balance these views with a different opinion, it would seem as if the surest way to get an op-ed published in the New York Times these days, no matter how obscure the writer or the viewpoint, is to attack Israel.”
So, why Dermer would have handed the golden Romney scoop to a sworn enemy of his government is beyond comprehension.
Similarly, a recent Netanyahu interview was granted to TIME Magazine, the same publication that ran a cover story headlined “Why Israel Doesn’t Care About Peace.” Needless to say, the TIME article was far from complimentary. Another Vanity Fair article was similarly unflattering and even somewhat offensive.
Last year Netanyahu made headlines with his public repudiation of President Obama’s position on the “1967 borders” as a starting point for discussions with the Arabs about the creation of a Palestinian State. His written objection, which was widely cited in many of the world’s most prominent outlets was released, at the value neutral venue of Facebook.
If Israel is to compete effectively in the global battleground of ideas, where today’s masterful propagandists are vilifying the Jewish state, Israel’s gatekeepers of information must quickly learn how to play the “grand organ” of the press like the maestros.