I’ve got to say this is one of the more puzzling journalistic assignments I’ve come across in a while. The NY Times tweeted earlier today that Ethan Bronner was leaving as Israel correspondent. I don’t know if this was a regular reassignment (I believe they rotate approximately every three to four years) or something more arbitrary. Politico says that Bronner asked to be reassigned and that he’s served four years in this role. His new beat will be covering “national legal affairs” for the Times. I know there was an excellent reporter, Adam Liptak covering legal issues. I hope he’s not leaving as he seemed top-notch.
The new Israel bureau chief will be Jodi Rudoren who, earlier in her career carried the byline, Jodi Wilgoren. When she married she merged her name with her husband’s and became Rudoren. She’s been the education reporter and has covered the tri-state area for the Times. Before that she was the Chicago bureau chief for five years and earlier wrote for the Los Angeles Times. Moving into foreign news and especially covering a beat as complicated as this one doesn’t bode well for someone who’s previous reporting has meant covering much more discreet, and relatively tame subjects.
I can’t say as I expect much from this. The Times has a history of appointing reporters to this beat who will not stray from a liberal Zionist line and I doubt they’re about to make a foray into the unknown on this. You’ll be able to get a sense of where she stands the first time she refers to “Hamas.” If she adds, “the Palestinian militant group seeking Israel’s destruction” or the like, you’ll know it’s going to be same-old, same-old.
The lyric from the old Who song came into my head:
Meet the new boss, same as the old boss…
Of course I remember the title of the song, Won’t Get Fooled Again. Not that Bronner ever fooled us. And Rudoren certainly won’t.
This story she wrote in 2002, dug up by The Tablet, is an out-and-out valentine to the State of Israel written without even any of the cautionary or conditional notes with which Bronner used to throw a sop to Israel’s critics on the left. In fact, I think the Times’ Israel coverage promises to get even worse with Rudoren’s assumption of the job come April. I suppose one can hope that in nine years perhaps she’s become more sensitive to the nuances of the issue and can see it more clearly from the other side. But past history doesn’t bode well on that score.
Returning to The Tablet’s story, I thought this headline (“Meet Your New NYT Jerusalem Bureau Chief) was weird but couldn’t put my finger on why. Then it hit me, the word “your” doesn’t refer to “you” as a NY Times reader, but rather as a Jew and Zionist. So according to this conceptualization, she will be the Times’ new bureau chief for its Zionist readers. Given The Tablet’s heavily neocon funders including Michael Steinhardt, this approach doesn’t surprise me.
To give you a sense of how proud the Times editors were of Bronner’s mediocre reporting:
For those of us who worked with him as deputy foreign editor, it came as no surprise that Ethan Bronner could navigate the Scylla and Charybdis of foreign stories, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as smoothly as he has,” foreign editor Joe Kahn and national editor Sam Sifton wrote in an internal memo, forwarded by a staffer. “Ethan’s deep familiarity with Israel, his unerring sense of fairness, and his nose for what is really new in an exhaustively charted territory distinguished his work.”
It never ceases to amaze me how, for the Times, Bronner has been a wunderkind covering the Israel-Palestine conflict, when to the rest of us he’s a merely a better than average reporter in way over his head covering issues that are far too complicated and troubling for him to do justice. What troubles me is that what is in store may be even worse.