February 17, 2012
Looking Before Leaping….and Pandering
This week The New York Times announced its new correspondent in Jerusalem, Jodi Rudoren. A Times’ staffer who has had a long career as a domestic reporter for the paper and with no discernible experience or expertise in foreign affairs or the Middle East.
Inevitably, given the interest in the Middle East and press coverage of that region, there are numerous articles (including a blog on the Jewish Journal website by Shmuel Rosner) purporting to assess Rudoren’s competency for her new job.
Rosner writes that Rudoren is sunk before she has even set foot in Israel because of some tweets she recently sent out, “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.”
He’s not alone in reaching a conclusion as to Rudoren’s future work and her capacity to offer fair and unbiased reporting from Jerusalem. By Tuesday, Commentary’s Jonathan Tobin had already concluded that Rudoren had exhibited “not only questionable judgment but also an overt bias against Israel even before she landed in the country.” There must be others who are opining on Rudoren with practically no evidence to go on. A simple Google search of “Jodi Rudoren and Israel” turns up 18,200 results and the appointment was just announced on Monday.
I don’t know Rudoren, I don’t presume to be familiar with her journalistic skills (but then I suspect neither do Rosner nor Tobin). But what I do know is that the reflexive anticipation of bias and lack of professionalism from a career professional is an often wrongheaded approach.
I distinctly remember the hue and cry that came from some leaders of the Jewish community when George Shultz was selected as Secretary of State by Ronald Reagan after Alexander Haig’s resignation in 1982. You might have thought that Yassir Arafat would be running American foreign policy by the tone of the commentary.
In fact, there was more to arouse suspicion about Shultz than there is today. Shultz was coming to office after serving as president of the Bechtel Group, a company that was among the largest, if not the largest, contractors in the Arab world. He would serve alongside Caspar Weinberger, the Secretary of Defense, who had been vice president and general counsel of Bechtel. There were ample grounds for suspicion as to where Shultz’s sympathies might lie. The smart voices in the Jewish world kept quiet and decided to give Shultz the benefit of the doubt. The yellers and demagogues who wanted to impress their constituents and donors with their cojones—let loose on Shultz.
The error of the critics’ attitudes became apparent in fairly short order.
Shultz was among the most sympathetic American leaders on matters related to Israel, Soviet Jews and a slew of other topics. His historic six and a half year tenure as Secretary of State was remarkable for its fairness and support for Israel in very difficult times (the Lebanon War, terror attacks, etc.). The folly of the pre-emptive critics stands as amodel of stupidity and constituent pandering
to this day.
Clearly, it is wiser to hold your fire and not assume what you can’t know—-someone’s future conduct. Most people want to do their job well and be fair. Let’s assume that’s the case with Rudoren, as it was with Shultz.