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NY Times Public Editor Slams Jodi Rudoren for Allowing Israeli Security Apparatus to Co-Opt Reporting

There’s a fascinating drama playing out at the NY Times thanks to public editor, Margaret Sullivan.  Sometime after the Shin Bet removed the gag order on the reporting of the Majd Kayyal case, Jodi Rudoren appointed her beat reporter, Isabel Kershner to write about the story.  She did a rather decent job and even interviewed Kayyal to add his perspective to the story.  I was rather surprised by this element, because the Times rarely interviews Palestinians who aren’t considered political leaders.  It almost never interviews those accused of security offenses.

Now, after Ali Abunimah complained about the Times’ collaboration with the Israeli security apparatus on gag orders, Sullivan’s column was published excoriating Rudoren for abiding by the gag order.  Thus it becomes more clear why Kershner’s reporting was so careful and comprehensive.  Undoubtedly, Rudoren knew she was under scrutiny and had to ensure the story would be fully reported and balanced.

I’m rather shocked by the entire brouhaha because it’s obvious to anyone with half a brain who follows Israel reporting by domestic Israeli and foreign media, that they all abide by gag orders.  I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve approached reporters for both the Times and other foreign papers with stories under gag, asking if there was any way they or a non-local reporter could cover the story.  Specifically, in one case where I offered a gagged story to a U.S.-based NYT reporter he specifically asked me if I’d brought the story to Rudoren’s attention.  Which seemed either a naive response or a way of getting himself off the hook.  Of course I wouldn’t offer the story to Rudoren because she wouldn’t or couldn’t report it.

At any rate, all reporters inside Israel are bound by gag orders.  Technically, as a non-Israeli you are not bound by a gag, but since you are physically within Israel’s jurisdiction, both the censor and courts consider you subject to Israeli gags.  If a locally-based foreign reporter violated a gag by writing a story, not only could their own personal credentials be yanked, but the existence of an entire bureau could be jeopardized.

But why wouldn’t a paper like the NYT assign a non-local reporter to cover such stories?  After all, there would be no jeopardy for such a reporter since he or she is not based in Israel.  However, despite the separation between the Israel-based and U.S.-based reporters, the Israeli security apparatus would take such a violation as a breach of domestic journalistic protocol.  It could either refuse to renew the bureau chief’s credential or it could make the bureau persona non grata and refuse to cooperate on any stories.

All this is written from the perspective of the Israeli government and the news agencies.

But what would happen if a number of the foreign bureaus united to announce they would refuse to abide by gags in future.  They wouldn’t have their local staff write these stories, but they’d be written by foreign-based reporters.  They could even say they wouldn’t rely on any locally-based reporting.  This of course would still anger the government, but what could they do if there was a united front presented by major foreign presses like the Times, Washington Post, Guardian, etc.?

self censorshipAs anyone who reads this blog knows, my major beef with the Israeli and foreign media is that they’re too quiescent regarding authority.  They view themselves more as conduits for official policy statements than as investigative reporters breaking stories.  While the Times staff does some feature writing that has some interest, they almost never do original investigative stories which break new ground.  So given this level of collaboration and back-scratching it seems unlikely the foreign press would stand up for such a principle.  Though it’s wonderful for Sullivan to hold Rudoren’s feet to the fire.

After all, what Rudoren and the Times are practicing is a form of self-censorship.  They won’t report a story they could report because they know it will inconvenience their professional lives.  But if the Times had followed the same rule regarding the Pentagon Papers, it would never have published them.  If the Times China bureau followed the same rule it would never have reported the amazing Pulitzer Prize-winning stories of high-level Chinese corruption, which caused a huge uproar and the expulsion from the country of one of the NYT reporters who wrote it.  In that case, the fear of repercussions didn’t deter the Times.  What’s the difference between Israel and China?  The difference is the Special Relationship.  Times reporters simply will not take an adversarial position to Israeli authorities.

I was tickled by Jodi Rudoren’s explanation of her choice to abide by gag orders as a simple agreement to abide by the local laws of the land, just as you abide by traffic laws.  As if issues like press freedom and censorship are as insignificant as jaywalking or speeding.  This shows not only Rudoren’s faulty grasp of the big issues involved, it shows her absolute buy-in to her role of journalistic cipher for the national security state.  She spoke hopelessly in this passage quoted by Sullivan:

If there had been a major story and a longstanding gag order, Ms. Rudoren said, she is convinced that The Times would find a way to publish, despite the legal restriction.

Indeed there have been many such longstanding gag orders which the Times did not violate including the Anat Kamm and Ben Zygier stories.  Especially in the former case, the Times had no excuse since I’d been reporting the story for months while the gag was in place.  The first U.S. reporter who broke that story was not Jodi Rudoren or Ethan Bronner her predecessor, but Judith Miller, who reported it for the Daily Beast and FoxNews.

It was also delightful to read the hypocritical statement by the managing editor that he “wasn’t aware” that the Times abided by Israeli gag orders.  Of course you weren’t aware if you chose to make yourself unaware.

You’ve heard me here excoriate the media who have finally reported this story, for forgetting that the only reason they are reporting it is because of the work of blogs like this one (and Electronic Intifada, who wrote its first report a day after mine) which first broke it.  Zvi Barel, writing in Haaretz never mentions the international campaign to free Kayyal.  Even Phil Weiss in sloppy fashion credits Ali Abunimah with “repeatedly scooping” the Times with its story.  My thanks to a number of those readers in the comment thread who linked to my reporting and offered credit.  Weiss also credits Matt Lee’s questioning of the State Department about Kayyal incarceration as instrumental in raising the visibility of the issue.  If he read this blog, he’d know that I tweeted such a request to Lee, who graciously acceded to it.  Abunimah himself didn’t link to my own original report until I’d tweeted to him about the omission.  He was so defensive about my tweet and our subsequent debate that he’s declared me persona non grata.  Which I suppose earns me excommunication from the anti-Zionist left caucus, another branch of which has drummed me out of the corps for being a racist.

All of which is my way of saying that while the Israeli national security state has much to answer for in its egregious violation of press freedom, the progressive left media often does a less than stellar job at research and reporting these stories as well.  Just as the Rudorens and Kershners of the journalist world rely on their pre-selected group of analysts and talking points in doing their reporting, so the left often reports stories according to its own prepared script.  Though outlets like Electronic Intifada and Mondoweiss add a great deal to our knowledge of the issues, their own prejudices and omissions are evident, but often unacknowledged.

My own quarrels with both blogs don’t prevent me from crediting their work.  I wish they’d return the favor.


{ 18 comments… add one }
  • carl April 19, 2014, 4:21 AM

    sure you’ve seen it but the comments by ckg, henry norr, and james canning on the mondo story


    gave you full credit for breaking and pursuing this story with a hound’s tenacity.

    • Shoshana April 19, 2014, 9:24 AM

      Full credit?

      Yes, media outlets abroad took the lead on ignoring the ban, with Electronic Intifada posting the classified transcript of the remand hearing, which prompted a question on the arrest at the State Department hearing on Monday. On this occasion, a growing number of Israeli independent publications also chose to defy the ban.

      “The trend began with Adalah’s own Facebook page, which posted the fact of Kayyal’s arrest immediately after it took place and before the imposition of the gag order the following morning, prompting breaking news coverage on the site Arab48. Arab48 continued its coverage even as the ban was imposed, and several Hebrew blogs picked up on the story – with the blog OR139 even titling its post “Gag order.” Al-Ittihad, the Haifa-based printed newspaper of the Communist Party, went even further, printing news about the arrest during the week.” –972Mag

      • Richard Silverstein April 19, 2014, 8:11 PM

        @ Shoshana: Everyone who campaigned about this first heard about it via Adalah. This was how Jamil Dakwar of the ACLU first infomred Ali Abunimah & I.

        Did you notice what’s missing from the 972 passage you quote? First, I told the author of O139 about the gag & he bravely broke it. Rotter broke the gag as well as another Israeli site. I don’t read Ittihad & so didn’t know about its efforts. I doubt the Israeli authorities cared much about an Arabic language media outlet since they knew it would have limited presence outside Israel. Those were the only Israeli sites that broke it.

        There was also a protest by Israeli activists against his detention which helped. But a huge part of this project originated in foreign efforts, with Matt Lee’s question at the State Dept press briefing, which I asked him to do, being instrumental as well as Electronic Intifada & this blog.

    • Richard Silverstein April 19, 2014, 8:17 PM

      @ carl: Hats off to them all. I thank them. Had they not linked to this blog in their comments I wouldn’t have even discovered the MW omission myself. I think it also helps for MW to understand there are readers who read both our sites & will point out these lapses if they happen.

      BTW, if I ever fail to credit MW reporting that breaks a story I’m reporting, I’m open to readers letting me know that. But my general approach is that if I see MW or EI has already broken a story, I try to look for material no one else, or few others, have reported.

  • pabelmont April 19, 2014, 6:59 AM

    The whole issue of state secrets and state-protected-secrecy are certainly coming into public sight, aren’t they? This small matter and the much larger matter of the Snowden Papers.

    So, what exactly IS an Israel-court-issued “gag order”?

    What does the text of the gag order forbid? How did you or Ali Abunimah know about the gagged events? Does your knowledge indicate (res ipsa loquitur) that someone violated the gag order? that YOU did?

    Regardless of the intent of the gag order, how can it operate in USA? The NYT and your own blog are both on the internet and therefore observable inside Israel. Does the gag order purport to forbid publication by a website observable inside Israel? Part of the internet must operate on computers (routers) located inside Israel. Did the owners, operators of THOSE computers violate the gag order?

    Does the “gag order” forbid actions WITHIN ISRAEL such as mentioning the event by voice? by email? Scribbled on the back of an envelope? Or only “in print” or “on air”?

    Just curious.

    I can well understand that Israel (or the USA for that matter) can (attempt to) make a “secret” unpublishable within its own jurisdiction (hmmm: USA has a habit of defining its “own jurisdiction” for some-but-not-all-purposes as something akin to the solar system if not the-universe, but I digress), but how can it presume to forbid publication outside its own jurisdiction?

    The publication of the Snowden Papers ought to offer a case in point. Snowden seems to have delivered information regarded by the USA as State Secrets to folks such as the Guardian, which published some of them. Snowden may well have violated USA law, but did the Guardian?

    And on and on the questions roll. If it is merely a matter of how BIG the piotential violator is, surely NYT is “too big to jail”. so why did it observe the gag order in the first place? (Oh, that’s easy: NYT has a foreign policy and regards what it publishes much as SecState Kerry regards what he utters in public: public speech is limited in either case to what the speaker believes will move an agenda forward. Neither has any interest in reporting “all the news”. Or informing the public in the public’s interest.

  • pabelmont April 19, 2014, 7:12 AM

    RS: Your idea of the foreign news orgs getting together to jointly ignore gag orders (or, more broadly, to STOP acting merely as megaphones for power) is a wonderful idea. It assumes that the majority of the press do not regard themselves as prisoners. And, of course, they are not prisoners, are they? At least not prisoners of Israel.

    However, some may believe themselves to be prisoners of BIG-ZION (AIPAC, BICOM, et al.) and others may actually be owned by owners who are (in effect) part of BIG-ZION. These would have little interest in reporting general news rather than repeating government-issue and military-issued press releases.

    (Query: What would happen in the USA if (on a given day, say next October 1) all Congressmen and Senators stopped acting as conduits for AIPAC? For the BIGs — BIG-BANKS, Monsanto, BIG-OIL, Kochs, etc. ?)

  • ckg April 19, 2014, 11:49 AM

    RS: “My thanks to a number of those readers in the comment thread who linked to my reporting and offered credit.”

    You’re welcome!

    • Richard Silverstein April 19, 2014, 8:06 PM

      Thanks so much. I saw your comment first in the thread, but didn’t notice how many others followed you & offered the facts. Phil wrote to me and acknowledged the omission and said he would “try” to correct it “when he got a chance.” Would’ve been nice to hear something more definitive than that. But I’ll take what I can get.

      • ckg April 20, 2014, 8:36 AM

        Phil has now written an update to the story that mentions you.

  • Reg Vernon April 20, 2014, 1:43 AM

    It is a sad fact that in the UK a large amount of political reporting relies on official PR output from central and local government agencies. There is some original reporting but nowhere near enough independent investigation. The scandal of people in high positions in politics, the police and judiciary involved in paedophilia is widely discussed in blogs but rarely taken up seriously in the press and broadcast media. So the blogs have it, which is why I read Tikun Olam. Keep up the good work.

  • Oui April 20, 2014, 4:11 AM

    UN envoy Serry says Israel tried to bar him from pre-Easter rites

    Robert Serry, the United Nation’s peace envoy to the Middle East, said in a statement Israeli security officers had stopped a group of Palestinian [Christian] worshippers and diplomats in a procession near the church [of the Holy Sepulchre], “claiming they had orders to that effect”.

    Last month UN envoy Robert Serry was harassed in Crimea by pro-Russian forces and told to leave immediately.

  • Shoshana April 20, 2014, 4:45 AM

    Self congrats and gag orders aside, can you tell us whether or not an Israeli with an Israeli passport can enter Lebanon?

    • Richard Silverstein April 20, 2014, 5:40 PM

      I presume that Israelis trying to enter Lebanon would have to use non-Israeli passports to do so. Majd entered Lebanon with PA travel documents.

  • Henry Norr April 20, 2014, 1:53 PM

    Couple of points, Richard:
    a) Just want to express my general appreciation for your work, on this and other stories.

    b) I also want to congratulate you on the way you’ve responded to the other sites and pubs failing to credit you on this – – forthright but not at all petty. I jumped to raise this issue at MW, but CKG had already beaten me to it. This isn’t the first time I’ve noticed a reluctance on the part of Palestinian solidarity sites (not this one) to credit one another, and I don’t like it. I wish they’d all take the last line of your post here as their watchword!
    I also pointed out your role in a comment I tried to make on the public editor’s piece at nytimes.com, but for some reason the moderators refused to publish it.

    c) I’ve tried a bunch of times over the last two or three days, using current versions of both Safari and Chrome on a Mac, to make a donation to this site, but it never works – a box gets drawn, but the cursor just spins indefinitely. I suppose the problem could be at my end, but I’m not having trouble with anything else. You might want to check it out at your end.

    • Richard Silverstein April 20, 2014, 5:33 PM

      Henry Norr: Thanks so much Henry for your support. I saw your comment at MW.

      The problem with sites like MW & EI is that they’re echo chambers. They have external sites which they monitor and generally don’t widen their sights to incorporate other media outlets. I use Feedly to let me scan a large number of media sites, even ones I don’t usually use as sources for posts. Every so often, you find a great story you wouldn’t have known about. I include MW & EI in my Feedly feed so I know what they’re writing about. That helps me by allowing me to avoid stories they’ve already reported (unless I have something new to add). Clearly, this isn’t important to MW or EI. They know what they know. They also have good sources which sometimes permit them to break fresh stories generated by them.

      I’ll try to e mail you about the donation issue & see if I can fix it for you.

      • Henry Norr April 20, 2014, 8:21 PM

        I personally have no problem with MW, EI, and so on picking up stories other sites have already run (and I wouldn’t mind if you did that too, though I certainly appreciate it when you come up with original or otherwise obscure stories). After all, each site has its own audience – while there’s some overlap (like me), I know that a lot of the people who follow MW, say, don’t read EI, and vice versa, and it seems that few of them read you. In some cases it’s because people are stuck in a rut or in some sense narrow-minded, but it’s also a reality that everyone’s time is finite and for many it’s very limited, so it’s inevitable that people rely on a few sites as their primary news sources..

        So when one has a good story, it makes sense for the others to pick it up and bring it to attention of their particular readers. Ideally, each site would add some value – additional research, or just its own particular spin – but I think it’s useful even if they don’t add anything. But whenever they pick up something from another site, to me it’s basic netiquette – and just simple civility – to give credit and a link to that source.

        • Richard Silverstein April 20, 2014, 9:00 PM

          Agreed. But the problem is that no one running either site reads my blog. So how would they know I broke a story & link to it?

  • ckg April 20, 2014, 5:24 PM

    Richard– Here is another case from 2011 on MW where a scoop of yours gets uncredited, except by two commenters: “The escalation: ‘Time’ says Israel attacked Iranian missile base” http://mondoweiss.net/2011/11/the-escalation-time-says-israel-attacked-iranian-missile-base.html

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