Ruing Rudoren’s Facebook posts, NYT assigns her a minder

Last week writers here landed on NYT Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren for insensitive comments she made about Palestinian culture on Facebook and in a radio interview. We weren’t alone. The Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan, citing a sharp reaction from “dismayed readers” and pundits, has taken up the case (“Problems With a Reporter’s Facebook Posts, and a Possible Solution”). Sullivan judges that Rudoren is fit for the job in Jerusalem but that going forward her (voluble) social media commentary will be edited by a Times editor.

Ms. Rudoren regrets some of the language she used, particularly the expression “ho-hum.”

“I should have talked about steadfastness or resiliency,” she told me by phone on Tuesday. “That was a ridiculous word to use.” In general, she said, “I just wasn’t careful enough.”

Now The Times is taking steps to make sure that Ms. Rudoren’s further social media efforts go more smoothly. The foreign editor, Joseph Kahn, is assigning an editor on the foreign desk in New York to work closely with Ms. Rudoren on her social media posts.

The idea is to capitalize on the promise of social media’s engagement with readers while not exposing The Times to a reporter’s unfiltered and unedited thoughts.

Given the spotlight that the Jerusalem bureau chief is bound to attract, and Ms. Rudoren’s self-acknowledged missteps, this was a necessary step.

The alternative would be to say, “Let’s forget about social media and just write stories.” As The Times fights for survival in the digital age, that alternative was not a good one.

Count me an unhappy reader. I like the transparency of social media, I like to know about reporters’ biases. The Rudoren moment showed us that even reporters for the most prestigious journals are real people with real responses, for better or worse; and I believe that Rudoren’s apprehensions about Palestinian culture are widely shared in the US establishment (indeed, I have admitted my own apprehensions re Islam). In the unfolding of the story, we got to see Rudoren, who is a smart, tough, thoughtful person, respond and evolve before our eyes. Now the Times, worried about its authority being diminished, needs to pull the curtain.

Chimes in Pamela Olson: No more unfiltered thoughts from Mrs. Rudoren– it probably would have happened sooner or later anyway, but it’s a pity.  It was a fascinating look into the mind of an establishment journalist just getting her feet wet, unconscious biases and all, revealing things that are supposed to be kept well hidden.  It’s always fun to watch the newbies– reporters, politicians, thinktankers– slowly learn the various orthodoxies they must adhere to.

About Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is Founder and Co-Editor of Mondoweiss.net.
Posted in Israel/Palestine

{ 21 comments... read them below or add one }

  1. I think this is interesting in terms of the role of observer: Ruderon was present at Palestinian funerals, but doesn’t report on how obvious her presence was, or the potential that her own presence (was she with a group of journalists/friends?) would affect the level of emotion shared among the mourners – more usually limited to family and friends. Similarly, she (with the Times blessing and guidance) is tempering the level of spontaneity she will show in her own social media posts, because there are “others” watching and listening.

    In news coverage of Middle East violence, we often see some Muslim firing off his automatic weapon at the distance, with no apparent target, and I often get the impression that the “news team” have set the whole exercise up, since it doesn’t look like anyone engaged in an actual firefight. People behave and say things differently in different settings, and it says a lot about them and their relationships with others to see how they modulate what they say for the specific audience.

    Journalists should, of course, be hyper-sensitive to this effect.

    Also, what is the old advice from the grizzled lawyer? Don’t ever do or say anything you wouldn’t want to read about on the front page of the paper. Which seems to be internalizing a sort of “observer check” on otherwise unrestrained activity.

  2. marc b. says:

    what a steaming pile of crap.

    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.

    the comments didn’t ‘come off’ as anything. they are clearly, unequivocally reductionist, ignorant and racist.

    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.”

    ‘anti-zionist, jewish-american journalist’. what no ‘east coast’ ‘ivy league’ ‘upper middle class’ ‘liberal’ hyphen-hyphen-hyphen. boy, the times sure is doggedly on the scent of *ahem* ‘identity’.

    Ms. Rudoren regrets some of the language she used, particularly the expression “ho-hum.” “I should have talked about steadfastness or resiliency,” she told me by phone on Tuesday. “That was a ridiculous word to use.” In general, she said, “I just wasn’t careful enough.”

    exactly, judi. take a bit more time to refer to the NYT-issued ‘thesaurus of racial code words’. save you some trouble.

    Now The Times is taking steps to make sure that Ms. Rudoren’s further social media efforts go more smoothly. The foreign editor, Joseph Kahn, is assigning an editor on the foreign desk in New York to work closely with Ms. Rudoren on her social media posts.

    f*cking brilliant. the bureau chief of one of the most important journalistic posts in the world has been put in the SPED class for journalists. i ask again, for the umpteenth time, what were her professinal qualifications for this assignment in the first place?

    There is, of course, a larger question here. Do Ms. Rudoren’s personal musings, as they have seeped out in unfiltered social media posts (and, notably, have been criticized from both the right and the left), make her an unwise choice for this crucially important job?

    ‘crucially important’? not ‘importantly crucial’? (maybe judi is relatively qualified given the state of talent over at the NYT.) no, she’s not an unwise choice for this ‘crucially important job’ because she happened to stick her foot in her mouth. she’s not professionally qualified.

    On this, we should primarily judge her reporting work as it has appeared in the paper and online. During the recent Gaza conflict, she broke news, wrote with sophistication and nuance about what was happening, and endured difficult conditions.

    Mr. Kahn described her reporting over the past month as “exemplary.”

    just plain exemplary? not ‘excellently exemplary’? or ‘exemplarily excellent’. and, no, it wasn’t.

    • eGuard says:

      Please read this, my fellow MWisers. NYT vs. internet.

    • piotr says:

      My conclusion would be that Ms. Rudoren indeed is an “impartial observer”, with no particular Zionist or anti-Zionist sympathies, but she is also a Jewish lady from NYC with the baggage of middle class bias. Folks in Israel that she talks with are “easier to understand” than Palestinians who may be “strange”.

      The structural problem here is than an informed person from NYC would have a strong opinion in one direction or another. Uniformed person has mental map of the world from the famous New Yorker cartoon: Hudson River, Hoboken, fog, featureless interior, Hollywood, Pacific Ocean.

      By the way: Mr. Kahn being anti-Semitic? The last name is a form of “Cohen”. And Mooser knows it. Bad Mooser! Bad! I would say that Rudoren may be a kind of person who can write a very nice report on Hasidim farmers in Pennsylvania (hundreds of miles west of Hoboken, hence in the mysterious hinterland) that the editor should basically accept after replacing each occurrence of “Hasidim” by “Amish”.

      In the meantime, “Slaughter of the Innocent Journalists” was somehow noticed by American journalists.

  3. eGuard says:

    I prefer the Electronic Intifada approach. Some sings wong. link to electronicintifada.net

  4. Mooser says:

    “The foreign editor, Joseph Kahn, is assigning an editor on the foreign desk in New York to work closely with Ms. Rudoren on her social media posts. The idea is to capitalize on the promise of social media’s engagement with readers while not exposing The Times to a reporter’s unfiltered and unedited thoughts.”

    Wow, can you smell the anti-Semitism a mile away? So Ms. Rudoren is now the classic ‘pushy’ unmannerly Jew, who can’t be trusted to speak in the smooth refined way WASPS do? I mean, I hate to put it like this, but what else could it be?
    Ms. Rudoren, as a woman and a Jew, you should resist this paternal hierarchal male-chauvanist control, and be your own bad Zionist self. If you don’t, who knows where it might lead? Compulsory head-scarves in the news-room? Don’t be ashamed of who you are. Let your six-pointed freak flag fly!

    • eljay says:

      >> So Ms. Rudoren is now the classic ‘pushy’ unmannerly Jew, who can’t be trusted to speak in the smooth refined way WASPS do?

      Or perhaps she simply can’t be trusted not to speak like a self-loathing (Zionist) Jew, an enemy of the “collective”.

  5. W.Jones says:

    Generally, Freedom of Expression is important. In this case, the pseudo-censorship will serve to help conceal Rudoren’s biases, but not treat them.

    So instead of Palestinians being portrayed under attack as “ho hum”, they will be portrayed as silent or event “steadfast”, with a connotation and slant still pointing in the same direction, while better giving the reader the illusion of nonbias.

  6. American says:

    BTW…social media has it’s benefits….

    Stevie Wonder to cancel Friends of IDF gig
    November 28, 2012

    (JTA) — Stevie Wonder is set to pull out of a performance at a fundraiser for the Israel Defense Forces, a source told JTA.

    Wonder’s representatives will claim that he did not know the nature of the group, the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces, and that he believes such a performance would be incongruent with his status as a U.N. “Messenger of Peace,” according to a source who has read email exchanges between Wonder’s representatives and organizers of the event.

    Wonder was scheduled to headline the Friends of the Israeli Defense Forces annual gala in Los Angeles on Dec. 6. The event raises millions of dollars annually to support the Israeli military.

    An official of Friends of the IDF, reached at its Los Angeles office, had no comment. Wonder’s agent at Creative Artists Agency did not return a request for comment.

    The spokesman for the U.N. Secretary General also had no comment on the matter.

    The United Nations does not impose restrictions on its goodwill representatives. Wonder most recently performed at a U.N. concert commemoratiing its 67th anniversary. Elie Wiesel, the Nobele Peace Laureate and Holocaust memoirist who is also a staunch defender of Israel is also a U.N. Messenger of Peace.

    Wonder had come under intense social media pressure to pull out of the event. An online petition calling on him to cancel his performance had garnered more than 3,600 signatures.

    The petition was launched more than a day ago on the change.org website.

    “You were arrested in 1985 protesting South African Apartheid, now we ask you: please remember that apartheid is apartheid, whether it comes from White Afrikaaner settlers of South Africa or from Jewish Israelis in Israel,” the petition reads. “Desmond Tutu has recognized that Israel’s Apartheid is worse than South Africa’s — will you stand with us against apartheid and cancel your performance at the IDF fundraiser.”

  7. NickJOCW says:

    …Margaret Sullivan, citing a sharp reaction from “dismayed readers” and pundits

    Are NYT readers too dumb to see bias when it stands naked before them? In this case clearly not. Will not the lady’s ‘bias’ now simply become more nuanced and therefore more insidious?

  8. Les says:

    We must mind our grammar, knowing Glenn Greenwald may be watching what we say here:

    But it was her subsequent Facebook entries elaborating on that article, first flagged by Phil Weiss of Mondoweiss, which caused real controversy.

    . . .

    Weiss’ conclusion about the whole affair gets to the heart of the matter: “Rudoren was posted to Israel last June with her family, and we have a couple of times now (here and here) commented that she seems culturally bound inside the Israeli experience.”

    link to guardian.co.uk

  9. Mayhem says:

    learn the various orthodoxies they must adhere to

    sounds like a euphemism for needing to be politically correct and not offending precious Arab and Muslim sensibilities. So much for freedom of speech.

    • marc b. says:

      to be politically correct and not offending precious Arab and Muslim sensibilities.

      so you say. let’s flip the narrative, and wonder (gee, i wonder) what would have happened to a lebanese journalist in tel aviv who tweeted about the ‘israelis’ inherent need to periodically shed the blood of young gentiles’? would criticism of that comment be an example of ‘political correctness’ and the hair-trigger sensibilities of israeli jews? and where do you suppose that hypothetical reporter would be writing from (geographically speaking) right now, at this moment. do you think he/she would still be reporting from inside israeli, or would the GOI have politely invited that reporter to practice his/her craft in some other country?

      So much for freedom of speech.

      yes, and as the NYT never tires of proving, so much for objective, independent reporting.

  10. Kathleen says:

    And a big thank you to Mondoweiss for jumping on this issue

  11. Donald says:

    “In the unfolding of the story, we got to see Rudoren, who is a smart, tough, thoughtful person, respond and evolve before our eyes. Now the Times, worried about its authority being diminished, needs to pull the curtain.”

    I’m just going to cut and paste this (okay, I’ll give you credit) and send it to Margaret Sullivan. She’s got it all wrong. We all expect biases from people on this conflict. We particularly expect it from the NYT. If anything, the fact that Rudoren exposed hers and then was, as you say, pressured into responding (and it was mostly a good response except for the whining directed at you) was a good thing. Of course she has prejudices, but she might have gradually shed them, or at least some of them, through this sort of process. But not now. Appearance matters more than reality at the NYT.

  12. NickJOCW says:

    This issue highlights a dilemma that exists in responding to opposing but not mutually exclusive positions, like having your life saved by a paedophile. Here is an example from Hungary where the right wing Jobbik party while actively engaged for the Palestinian cause link to jobbik.com is at the same time clearly racist link to ft.com

  13. Peter in SF says:

    It’s just a tiny little word, but I still think it is worth noting:

    Philip Weiss, the anti-Zionist Jewish-American journalist who writes about the Middle East …

    Notice that the NYT’s Public Editor is describing Phil with the definite article, not the indefinite article (“an anti-Zionist Jewish-American journalist …”) the implication being that the reader is expected to have heard of him. Congratulations!

  14. MHughes976 says:

    Is a friendlier view of Rudoren possible? Initial exposure to Gaza must indeed be overwhelming but I think that Rudoren’s naivety is mainly false naivety. Her mission, understood by her editors, is to modify, very cautiously no doubt, the ‘all the way with Israel’ line, ie to create some space for sympathy with the Palestinians, ie to accept to some extent – ever so cautiously – that they have been unjustly treated. On this mission, there are certain well-known forms of hostile rhetoric to be expected. She mustn’t be the sort of Westerner who goes all gooey over the mysterious and suffering East, so alienating terminology like ‘ho hum’ appears prominently in connection with Palestinian mourning. She makes a point of responding with strong emotion, even while in Gaza, to suffering which is not Palestinian but Jewish. This response need not be insincere but it is rhetorically useful: she’s not a self-hating Jew, is she?

  15. eGuard says:

    The comment I was waiting for is the Angry Arab’s one. It was worth waiting:
    She communicated with Electronic Ali: it means she needs an adult to supervise her work

    link to angryarab.blogspot.nl

  16. Donald says:

    Some good and not so good comments over at Margaret Sullivan’s post–

    link

    In the not-so-good category is hophmi’s, who questions whether there was any uproar over Rudoren’s moronic comments. Obviously he thinks they were just fine.