The Adelson Effect: Billionaire Sheldon Adelson Is Best Known in He United States Nil Is Outsized Contributions to Republican Presidential Candidates. but in Israel, Inhere He Owns Mo Newspapers, He May Wield Far More Whence

By Slater, Robert; Pippert, Wesley G. | Moment, May 2014 | Go to article overview

The Adelson Effect: Billionaire Sheldon Adelson Is Best Known in He United States Nil Is Outsized Contributions to Republican Presidential Candidates. but in Israel, Inhere He Owns Mo Newspapers, He May Wield Far More Whence


Slater, Robert, Pippert, Wesley G., Moment


BY NOW, most Americans have heard of Sheldon Adelson's 2012 ambitions to sway the American electorate and his current efforts to influence the selection of the 2016 Republican presidential candidate. Much less is known about the Las Vegas casino magnate's growing influence in Israel. There, the 80-year-old billionaire has poured a fraction of his considerable wealth not into individual campaign coffers but into the media business, beginning with the creation of a new newspaper, Ysrael Hayom [Israel Today], which hit the streets on July 30, 2007.

The daily broadsheet, handed out for free at coffee shops, gas and bus stations, apartment complexes, supermarkets, hospitals and campuses, was a brash, direct challenge to Israel's paid mass-circulation Hebrew dailies--Yediot Ahronot, Ma'ariv and Haaretz. With Adelson's backing, the paper had the financial resources to have the bells and whistles of a "real newspaper" while selling advertising at bargain rates. It didn't take long for the free publication to find readers among Israel's 7.9 million news junkies and upend the economics of the country's newspaper industry. By 2010, Yisrael Hayom was Israel's most widely circulated paper. In the last half of 2013, the market research company TGI found Yisrael Hayom to have a 38.6 percent exposure rate compared to 38.4 percent for the former number-one paper Yediot Ahronot, and 6.1 percent for Haaretz, sometimes called the New York Times of Israel. The once-prestigious powerhouse, Ma'ariv, had dwindled to 3.5 percent A few months later, Ma'ariv ceased publishing.

"Adelson's great wealth has created unfair competition between the free paper and the papers that cost," says Dan Caspi, a communications professor at Ben-Gurion University in Beer-sheva. "No other publisher can compete with his deep pockets." Caspi, like other Israeli media observers, blames Novel Hayom for the death of Ma'ariv.

Yisrael Hayom has also upset the delicate left-right political balance among Israel's newspapers. In keeping with Adelson's very public conservative political views, Yisrael Hayom is seen as supporting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu so unabashedly that political wags dubbed the paper "Bibiton"--blending Netanyahu's nickname, "Bibi," with iton, the Hebrew word for newspaper. During the February 2009 Israeli elections in which Netanyahu's Likud Party emerged the victor, a study by HaAyin HaShevi'it [The Seventh Eye], a respected online media watchdog that is part of the independent Israel Democracy Institute, found that lismel Hayom 's coverage was biased in favor of Netanyahu and inflated the importance of events that helped to promote him and Likud.

But Adelson, who declined to be interviewed for this article, has scoffed at the notion that the paper's coverage is biased. "Everybody thinks I started the newspaper purely to benefit Bibi," he said in a 2009 interview. "Nothing could be further from the truth. I started the newspaper to give Israel, Israelis, a fair and balanced view of the news and the views. That's all. It is not a 'Bibiton." Using similar language in 2013, he said, "What you read in our newspaper is a fair and balanced viewpoint not only about Bibi but about everyone."

Publishers rarely admit to bias, and Adelson is no different. But his competitors are vociferous in their criticism. "By placing a dagger in the heart of the Israeli media, Yirrael Hayom has thus given Israeli newspapers much more of a right-wing bent--and it is getting worse," says an executive from Yediot Ahronot. "Adelson simply brought ruin to the Israeli newspaper market, and the Israel politicians who benefit from its flattering coverage have allowed this unprecedented phenomenon." Ben-Dror Yernini, a reporter for the now defunct Ma 'any, goes further, accusing Yis-rael Hayom of being "a danger to Israeli democracy."

In March, Adelson took steps to expand his influence. For five million dollars, he bought a small but influential right-wing religious newspaper called Makor Rishon and Ma'ariv's website, NRG. …

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