No sooner do I admire a column by the NY Times’ public editor, Margaret Sullivan, than she produces one of the truly strange pieces, taking the paper’s Israel bureau chief to task for “improper” tweeting. In her story, she wags her finger at Jodi Rudoren for being carelessly forthright in expressing her opinions about the recent Gaza assault. What really threw me for a loop was the “authority” she choose to bolster her judgment that Rudoren had overstepped her bounds: Jeffrey Goldberg. Yes, that arbiter of all that is good and just in American Jewish political life (and former Kahanist), seems to have pulled the wool over Sullivan’s eyes for her to write this:
In terms of social media, Ms. Rudoren has had a rocky start in her new position. Within a few days of taking the post, she had sent some Twitter messages that brought criticism, and had people evaluating her politics before she had dug into the reporting work before her.
Oh me, oh my, she actually tweeted some friendly tweets to such enemies of the Jewish people as Ali Abunimah. Heaven forfend. The Gray Lady truly got her knickers in a knot over that one. And for my hasbarist friends and readers, Rudoren has actually had the temerity to respond to my tweets. I know, what a shock.
Here’s the Goldberg money quote:
Jeffrey Goldberg, writing in The Atlantic, summarized them: “She shmoozed-up Ali Abunimah, a Palestinian activist who argues for Israel’s destruction; she also praised Peter Beinart’s upcoming book (‘The Crisis of Zionism’) as, ‘terrific: provocative, readable, full of reporting and reflection.’ She also linked without comment to an article in a pro-Hezbollah Lebanese newspaper.” The headline on Mr. Goldberg’s article was, “Twitterverse to New NYT Jerusalem Bureau Chief: Stop Tweeting!”
In the post-Kahanist mentality of people like Goldberg, Abunimah “argues for Israel’s destruction,” which is ludicrous and merely shows how politically and intellectually blinkered Goldberg is. What Goldberg means is that Abunimah is opposed to Israel being a state that grants supremacy to its Jewish citizens. Which is entirely different from the claim Goldberg makes about Abunimah’s views.
But does it mean Sullivan should treat Goldberg as judge, jury and executioner? What has he done to earn such stature? You see, the problem for the relatively uninitiated like Sullivan is that they don’t understand the ideological baggage of many of the so-called journalistic mandarins. If you knew little or nothing about Islam, you might think Bernard Lewis was a distinguished scholar in the field. The same holds true for Goldberg. Before you quote someone you must know what their point of view is. Otherwise, you’re the blind quoting the blind.
To be candid, I’ve criticized all but one of the NY Times Israel bureau chiefs going back almost ten years. And I’ve criticized Rudoren. But I praised her too. Ethan Bronner would never have covered the Gaza assault from within Gaza. That was a gutsy move. True, her coverage of a Hamas sponsored funeral was culturally condescending and tone-deaf, but I never felt that she bristled or bridled at the criticism as her predecessors did (none of whom ever replied to any direct messages I sent them). Rudoren did. And I give her credit for that. She engaged her critics rather than circling the wagons.
Bronner liked to pat himself on the back and tell his readers how tortured he was about his coverage and how his critics didn’t understand the care he took to get it right. His editor protected him and covered his ass despite the fact that he was hopelessly biased and conflicted (in the sense of conflict of interest). Only the prior public editor, Clark Hoyt wrote the unmentionable and suggested Bronner be reassigned. He was promptly ignored and rebuffed.
Is Rudoren perfect? No. How could any NY Times Israel bureau chief be perfect given the liberal Zionist Weltanschauung of that paper? But within the parameters of what can be said and written, she made an effort to be more open than most.
The most disturbing part of Sullivan’s column is the announcement, which the latter thoroughly approves, of appointing a “minder” who will “edit” (read, “censor”) Rudoren’s tweets so they don’t anger anyone over-much. This is the Taming of the Jew. Jews have big mouths. They have opinions. Sometimes the opinions are wrong. Sometimes they’re right. But to muzzle such an important member of the Times reporting staff when her full voice is most needed is foolish and counter-productive.
It shows the Times simply doesn’t understand social media. It doesn’t understand that its entire purpose is to offer an unvarnished, unmediated window into the minds of users. Of course, I don’t mean that concerning psychopaths, serial killers or genuine delusionals. But concerning people of Rudoren’s stature, yes, I want their (relatively) unfiltered views. Appointing a censor to tenderize her tweets defeats the entire purpose of the enterprise. It neuters her. Turns her into a journalist made of stone.
What the pro-Israel right (including Goldberg) says is: Sha still. If Rudoren doesn’t understand how ball is played on the pro-Israel field let her maintain silence until she gets the rules. The Israel lobby does this with all influential figures who venture too far from the foxhole. Speak too candidly, stray from the standard talking points and you’ll be clobbered. People will be calling for your head. Abe Foxman will be calling your editor. Jimmy Tisch will take Arthur Sulzberger aside at a social gala to remonstrate. Rudoren, they all say, this is just not the way it’s done.
So I say to the Times: Free Jodi Rudoren. Let a hundred tweets bloom! If not, just go back to the gray pages of the print edition and stop engaging the digital world. It’s a lost cause for you and one of the reasons the paper will fail in its outreach efforts.