When I wrote yesterday I hoped the incoming New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief wouldn’t be any worse than outgoing chief Ethan Bronner, little did I know that within 24 hours we would learn those hopes were already in vain. As Alana wrote earlier today, Jodi Rudoren had begun exhibiting not only questionable judgment but also an overt bias against Israel even before she landed in the country. Her praise of extremists like the Electronic Intifada’s Ali Abunimah and her laudatory references to Peter Beinart’s book trashing Israel indicated that she saw no reason why the public should have to wait until she started filing slanted stories to understand where she stood on the issues.
In an attempt to do some quick damage control, Rudoren submitted to an interview today with Politico’s media reporter Dylan Byers to explain herself. But it did little to repair her image or to undermine the notion she has already made up her mind about how to report the conflict. Instead, she demonstrated the same naïveté about what constitutes bias on Israel as well as showed herself woefully unprepared for the political maelstrom in Jerusalem.
First of all, Rudoren claimed her tweet to Abunimah was meant to be private, not public. But the Anthony Weiner excuse doesn’t cut it. No matter what her intentions, the idea that she considers Electronic Intifada “important” already shows her frame of reference about Israel. It is one thing to say, as she does, a reporter must talk to all sides. It is quite another to make nice in this manner with advocates of economic warfare on Israel. Her promise to reach out “to extremists on all sides” hardly makes up for the fact that she has already put herself on record as thinking well of one group of anti-Israel extremists.
Even worse is her insistence that her praise of Peter Beinart’s tendentious attack on Israel isn’t an indication she supports his point of view. Indeed, she doubles down on her praise for Beinart:
In terms of Peter Beinart’s book, I will absolutely not apologize for thinking that this is a good book. Peter is someone I’ve known for 20 years, he’s a journalist, he’s written a really interesting book. I don’t agree with everything in the book, I don’t even have an opinion about the arguments in the book, but it’s really well-written, it’s really provocative, there’s tons of reporting in it with things people don’t know. I think people should read it. I think hard-right Zionists should read it and Palestinian activists should read it. And young American Jews, who are really the audience for the book, should read it.
I will not apologize for tweeting about the book at all. Will I tweet about books written by people more closely aligned with Netanyahu? Absolutely. I’m reading one book at a time. I expect to have a long and robust and diverse reading list, and when the spirit moves me I may tweet about it.
The very fact that she thinks Beinart’s book filled with left-wing clichés contains original reporting demonstrates that she has a poor grasp of what constitutes good journalism but also that she has come into this post knowing little about the conflict or the literature about it. Moreover, her claim she doesn’t agree with everything in the book is a weasel-worded excuse that will convince no one. You don’t give a gushing endorsement to a polemic such as Beinart’s if you are neutral about its thesis.
As for her claim she is reading “one book at a time,” that reminds me of Herman Cain’s similar pledge to read up about foreign policy after he was called out for being an ignoramus on the subject.
The Times has clearly made a mistake in appointing someone to this post with a clear bias against Israel. But the fact that she has been so indiscreet about her bias ought to alert her editors to not only her lack of political savvy but also her complete unsuitability for such a delicate position. But given the drift of the paper towards an openly anti-Israel editorial position and its unbalanced opinion pages, perhaps the editors have come to the conclusion there is really no need to even pretend to be objective on their news pages anymore.