October 30, 2014

Middle East Media Sampler for February 16, 2012


1) Now the Washington Post is against daylight

Last week Richard Cohen of the Washington Post wrote America’s red lines in the sand on Iran. Now the editors write about The U.S.-Israeli trust gap on Iran.

For now, several top Israeli officials are skeptical. That is where Mr. Panetta and Mr. Obama should be making an effort. Rather than publicly arguing with Israel, they should be more clearly spelling out U.S. willingness to take military action if Iran is discovered taking steps toward bomb-making, such as enriching its uranium beyond present levels or expelling U.N. inspectors. Saying “all options are on the table” is not enough; the Obama administration should be explicit about Iranian actions that will violate its red lines — and what the consequences will be.

2) Don't cry for Jodi Rudoren

Soon to be New York Times Bureau Chief Jodi Rudoren was interviewed by Dylan Byers defending her tweeting.

The first was what I wrote to Ali Abuminah [the editor of Electronic Intifada]. I meant to write him a Direct Message and I instead hit reply. That isn’t an excuse — I don’t mind that people saw it — but it wasn’t intended to be for the public, it was intended to be for him.

But yes, of course I will talk to him. And I will talk to extremists on both sides. And I will talk to moderates. I will talk to lots and lots of people from all sides of this conflict… I will not apologize for reaching out to Ali Abuminah; he seems to be an important person to me. Anyone who thinks that I shouldn’t talk to him doesn’t understand how we do our jobs.

Hypothetically, then, if she were reporting on politics in Louisiana in the 1990's it would have been her responsibility to reach out to David Duke outside of her regular reporting? (I don't buy the Direct Message excuse. Messaging is a different mode from a reply.)

Of course she has to say that she'll talk to extremists on both sides. But who does she think is an extremist? Does she believe – as she implies – that Abunimah is an extemist?

Jeffrey Goldberg had the best analysis of Rudoren's tweeting, Twitterverse to New NYTimes Jerusalem Bureau Chief: Stop Tweeting!

Jodi Rudoren, the Times editor just chosen to replace Ethan Bronner in as Jerusalem bureau chief (Bronner's four-year tour is up), finds herself in a pickle because of a series of tweets she issued yesterday. She shmoozed-up Ali Abunimah, a Palestinian activist who argues for Israel's destruction; she also praised Peter Beinart's upcoming book as, "terrific: provocative, readable, full of reporting and reflection." She also linked without comment to an article in a pro-Hezbollah Lebanese newspaper.

All of this is fine, of course, if she wasn't stepping into the most sensitive job in journalism. Reaching out to Abunimah is normal, of course: He's a player in extremist circles, and someone she might wind-up covering. But it would have been better if she had twinned this reach-out with one to a Kahanist or some sort of radical settler rabbi, for balance. Praising Peter's book is fine, if she weren't meant to be an objective reporter (I haven't read Peter's book, just a propagandistic missive about it, and for all I know I might like it). Imagine how the Left would feel if the new New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief called one of Benjamin Netanyahu's books "a terrific and provocative read, full of reporting and reflection." It's all excusable as beat-sweetening, I suppose, but still queasy-making.

Forget about Netanyahu though. What if she had linked to an article at Israel21c about an Israeli advance in fighting cancer? Many of the same people who'd have jumped on her for promoting Netanyahu, would have branded her pro-Israel for something as innocuous as mentioning Israel's contribution to medical technology. (The reliably unreliable Richard Silverstein even described her as "Known for Pro-Israel Reporting." On what basis I have no idea.)

Shuel Rosner made some good points too, though I don't agree with everything.

Barry Rubin recently wrote Are you right wing or left wing? Hopefully I'm honest and accurate wing:

Forget about your political view or the view of the writer/speaker. Is their description of reality accurate? Does it take the facts into account and provide evidence? Does it ignore or conceal evidence that undermines their thesis? Is the argument persuasive? Does it successfully answer criticisms of the claims being made? If so, then that person is right. You may then proceed to draw some conclusion about the proper response.

The question isn't whether Jodi Rudoren is pro- or anti-Israel, it is whether she will be accurate or not.

I'll disagree with the sympathy expressed by Jeffrey Goldberg and Shmuel Rosner for Rudoren. Getting the job of Jerusalem bureau chief is a huge professional accomplishment. The reporters who hold that job for American newspapers become superstars. Thomas Friedman whose cliche riddled columns and pronouncements pass for wisdom among the elite is the most prominent example. Serving as Jerusalem bureau chief is often followed by a book deal or a promotion to the editorial board. Don't cry for Jodi Rudoren.

The question is why this is such a plum assignment. My impression is that reporters see Israel as a canvas and their ability to find the shades of grey (usually criticisms of Israel) is their chance at literary greatness.

Neil Lewis explained it like this:

In the first phase, the early decades, Israel was depicted in the newspaper often as a struggling nation trying to thrive while surrounded by implacably hostile Arab neighbors. This reflected a picture of Israel that was probably prevalent in America, one that could be called the "Exodus'' view, after the novel by Leon Uris and film starring Paul Newman and Eva Marie-Saint in which the post-Holocaust Jews of the nascent state were heroes and the Arabs were treacherous, dangerous characters.

But, over various points beginning in the late 1960's through the next dozen years, the narrative began to change to a second, more equivocal phase. The template of the small nation as a David battling a Goliath composed of its enemies no longer fit after Israel prevailed handily in the 1967 War. And gradually, the situation of the Palestinian refugees began to emerge.

It's interesting how the narrative about Israel has changed that begs for a reassessment, but that the Palestinian rejection of peace in 2000 called for an explanation as to why Israel didn't do enough for peace.

That's besides the point. Jodi Rudoren's public tweets have shown that she is interested in finding that nuance; those shades of grey in the Middle East and not accuracy

About Daniel Goldstein

Daniel Goldstein is a media critic and recovering blogger. He has been critiquing media bias against Israel since his first letter to the editor in 1987.