The new, and very acitve, New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan, whose blog post Tuesday responded to my charges about the paper’s front-page caption on a photo of Gaza school kids, returned late yesterday with a look at the uproar over the paper’s Jerusalem chief and her “problematic” tweets and Facebook posts as she covered the recent war from Gaza, which had drawn fire.
Sullivan first recalled that Jodi Rugoren had been accused of anti-Israel bias—by Jeffrey Goldberg, naturally—shortly after she was named to her post earlier this year, after she tweeted that she found that the Peter Beinart book that is critical of Israel had value, and that perhaps she would one day chat with Ali Abunimah, the Palestinian author and writer at The Electronic Intifiada. Then she observed:
More recently, during the Gaza conflict, she wrote one Facebook post in which she described Palestinians as “ho-hum” about the death of loved ones, wrote of their “limited lives” and, in another, said she shed her first tears in Gaza over a letter from an Israeli family. The comments came off as insensitive and the reaction was sharp, not only from media pundits, but also from dismayed readers.
Philip Weiss, the anti-Zionist, Jewish-American journalist who writes about the Middle East for Mondoweiss, his Web site, wrote, “She seems culturally bound inside the Israeli experience.”
Ms. Rudoren regrets some of the language she used, particularly the expression “ho-hum.”
Unmentioned was that Rudoren had also claimed that in the recent air war “it seems like Israelis are almost more traumatized” than the Gazans.
The Times is so concerned about all this, or simply seeking to quell the criticism, that they have taken the rare step of assigning an editor to oversee her use of social networking. However, is that the end of the story? Much of the criticism of Rudoren (left) was based on whether she is, in fact, too biased (politically or culturally) to report on Palestinian-Israeli issues during and after the recent conflict.
Sullivan gives her a pass on this—for now—noting she has done some fine reporting in dangerous conditions. And Glenn Greenwald, a prominent critic of coverage of the Middle East by the Times, and other major outlets, gives Rudoren major points for responding to the critics with blog posts that seem to indicate she is paying attention and trying hard to broaden her horizons in reporting on Gaza and Israel. (Rudoren, by the way, was Jodi Wilgoren before her recent marriage, and drew wide criticism for her coveage of John Kerry’s campaign in 2004.)
I have a feeling that Sullivan’s column and the Times’s naming a social networking “minder” for Rudoren will not fully convince many critics. (Philip Weiss responds here. And Ali Abunimah of The Electronic Intifada strongly objects here and has written a letter to Sullivan protesting her handling of the Goldberg charges). See some of the Comments under Sullivan’s blog post. Some readers say they’d rather see Rudoren express her true feelings on Facebook rather than watch them “scrubbed” by another Times editor.And imagine if the Times Jersualem chief was Palestinian and wrote that “ho-hum” and “limited lives” Facebook post profiling Israelis.
And there’s a deep back story concerning the Times’s coverage of Israel, of course. It deserves a few thousand more words, I suppose, but looking just at the recent past: The paper’s previous Jerusalem bureau chief, Ethan Bronner, happened to have a son in the IDF while serving in that post—which caused one of Sullivan’s predecessors to opine that, while he may be a fine and fair reporter, he should be reassigned. The assistant bureau chief, Isabel Kershner, is married to a prominent Israeli with ties to a leading think-tank there.
Then there’s this painful fact: The Times, many years back, bought the top two floors of a building in Jerusalem for its bureau—which had been built over the home of a leading Palestinian who was ejected from the home by Israelis back in 1948. None of this proves bias. But the back story… well, like I said, we’ll need a few more columns for that.
Check out Greg Mitchell’s exchange with Margaret Sullivan over the Gaza photo controversy.
Greg Mitchell’s latest book on the Obama-Romney battle is called “Tricks, Lies, and Videotape.”