A couple of days ago, I had a conversation with a Jewish official who bitterly complained about the New York Times’ choice for its new Jerusalem correspondent. He didn’t even mentioned the name, as far as I remember, just told me she had no experience in the region and no knowledge of Middle East and Israel matters (late update: Rudoren did write about Israel in the past, something he did not know or did not think was enough to be considered as “experience”). The New York Times’ relations with official Israel are pretty bad already, and sending a rookie writer – rookie on such sensitive matters – will make relations even more troublesome. I thought he was probably overreacting – that’s one’s usual reaction to any complaint from Jewish professionals, isn’t it? – and now I am awaiting his “I-told-you-so” call.
Wednesday, I was tweeting my day through the barrage of reaction to Adam Kredo’s story on Jodi Rudoren’s, well, rookie mistake. “The New York Times’ newly appointed Jerusalem bureau chief played Twitter footsie on Tuesday with some of Israel’s most extreme non-terrorist critics,” he wrote. And later added that Rudoren also “took to Twitter to praise Peter Beinart’s forthcoming The Crisis of Zionism which she called ‘terrific: provocative, readable, full of reporting and reflection’.”
Thus, Rudoren’s stint in Jerusalem ended before it even started. Well, not officially ended. But for all practical matters this is going to be an uneasy assignment for her to successfully navigate. I’m sure she’s a good writer and a fine reporter, I’m sure it didn’t mean much, or maybe she didn’t understand it did. The problem is that “when you have just been named the Times Jerusalem bureau chief, that may be a good time to hold off” tweeting, as Tablet’s Marc Tracy explained. And she didn’t “hold off”, and it is too late to give her such advice.
Yesterday, Jeffrey Goldberg wrote and tweeted about Rudoren’s mistake. She has to stop acting as if she were a J Street official, he wrote, but later tweeted that she “can un-tag herself as a J Street-proxy pretty quickly by doing a good job reporting”.
No, she can’t.
She can write from Jerusalem of course, as I expect she might still do. She can write fine stories from Jerusalem, she can have sources and can gain more knowledge and can even break some news. What she will not be able to do is to pretend to be unbiased. What she will not be able to do is to have good sources at the very top – at the offices of government in which people are already quite suspicious of the Times and will now be even more suspicious. Wouldn’t you be? With these people she’s probably toast, and without them she can’t be as good as a NYT Jerusalem reporter could be.
So here’s what’s going to happen: Rudoren will be told by her superiors to lay low and restart her period of Israel education. The decision to send her to Israel will not be reversed – a matter of journalistic independence and pride. The watchdogs of such matters will be alerted, they will constantly heckle her, every word interpreted, every nuance parsed. Letters to the editor will be sent. Complaints will be filed. No one will ever give her any benefit of the doubt. If her stories are critical of Israel, it will be a sign that she really is biased. If her stories are more positive, people will start whispering that she’s pandering to win back the confidence of official Israel.
All this is probably unfair to Rudoren. She doesn’t seem like the archenemy of all things Israel, she doesn’t seem like someone deserving of all the animosity and the acrimony and resentment. She made one foolish mistake, and can’t take it back since people already know what she really thinks, how she really feels. And she will not be easily forgiven for being honest about it (Rudoren was interviewed yesterday by Dylan Byers and said that “maybe six months from now I’ll decide that you can’t tweet as the Jerusalem bureau chief of the New York Times, but I think that would be really sad, because a lot of people get their news from Twitter”).
If she were to ask my advice (which I do not expect to happen even if she ever reads this post) I wouldn’t know what to tell her. Not to go? To go and do her best under these miserable circumstances? Once in a while a writer would like to be proven wrong – and this is one such case for me. I wish I could write again about Rudoren a year from now, and I hope I’d be able to apologize and take back my prediction about her.
Good luck Jodi Rudoren. And welcome to Israel.