I just spoke with Joe Trippi about the New York Times‘ Jodi Rudoren, who (then Jodi Wilgoren) covered Howard Dean’s campaign (which Trippi ran) in 2003. That was an intense, polarizing news story with true believers on both sides: the closest approximation, probably, to what she’s stepping into as the new Jerusalem bureau chief. “She tried to get both sides of the story,” he said. “There were definitely times when the campaign was angry with her for the way she covered it, but that probably would’ve happened no matter what.” Pro-Dean watchdogs like the Wilgoren Watch blog, he argued, were more revealing of the watchers than the watched. Trippi continued: “I never saw her soften something because she was worried one side or the other would be worried or angry with her. We were pretty ticked sometimes, but that didn’t change the way she reported it.” He added, “So depending on where you’re coming from, that could be good or bad!”
Meanwhile, I’m on record, today of all days, approving of Jews tweeting. But when you have just been named the Times Jerusalem bureau chief, that may be a good time to hold off: Everyone on all sides is waiting to figure out where you stand and, having done so, to accuse you of being wrong; using Twitter to feint toward certain views—or even just to build a presence—is pretty much the worst thing you can do. Get to Jerusalem, settle in, start producing copy, and be judged on that—as you’d want to be anyway. We know Sam Sifton does it, but restaurants aren’t quite as fraught as the Middle East, and anyway he also tweets more than he should.
On top of that, Rudoren’s tweets in the past 24 hours haven’t been innocuous. Tweeting at Ali Abunimah, the editor of the frankly anti-Israel Electronic Intifada Website, that she’s “heard good things”—of someone who advocates boycott, divestment, and sanctions of Israel and a one-state solution—is rightly making supporters of Israel suspicious of her objectivity and of where she stands. Ditto retweeting an article titled “Palestine: Love in the Time of Apartheid.” Even tweeting praise for Peter Beinart’s forthcoming book suggests, at least, that she favors one narrative of the conflict over the others.
The most charitable reading says Rudoren possesses an astounding lack of sense of the profile of the post to which she has been appointed; of how she is going to be perceived; and of the fact that she is betraying her opinions before she has even started reporting. Only a fool would expect a reporter to have no opinions, but we expect them to zip their opinions up in favor of objectivity and to come to new stories with an open mind; Rudoren is already damaging her readers’ trust. And it’s a totally unforced error! Nobody’s telling her to tweet! (Right?) She is voluntarily doing this. In this reading, she is one more Gen-Xer, in the Anthony Weiner mold, totally clueless about Twitter.
And the less charitable, perfectly plausible reading, is that she is slanted toward anti-Zionism. The Times needs to clean up this mess, and it starts by telling her to—for the love of God—stop tweeting.