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Rudoren: ‘A Little Naïve About the Beat’

New Jerusalem bureau chief talks to Tablet

Marc Tracy
February 15, 2012

Dylan Byers at Politico has an interview with Jodi Rudoren in which she discloses, among other things, that her tweet @ Electronic Intifada’s Ali Abunimah was intended to be a direct message (just like Anthony Weiner!). I also just got off the phone with her. We began the call by discussing how Sam Sifton was the first New York Times restaurant critic who had pictures of himself online when he took his job, and how that may turn out to be similar to her being the first Jerusalem bureau chief to have an active Twitter presence. What she said further confirmed my belief that she is coming to the subject new (as indeed she is: she has never reported on the Middle East), and that what some has taken for bias is in fact ignorance.

Some of her thoughts, edited and not all in order, follow. Non-italics are what she said.

On what happened in terms of the reaction today.
Combination of not learning Twitter correctly and being a little naive about the beat. I learn quickly. I’m not going to stay naive for long.

On whether she’ll stay on Twitter.
I think it would be really too bad if the Jerusalem bureau chief of the New York Times can’t be on social media, because I’m really going to try to make it work, because I think it’s really a part of our journalism, and just being part of public life and being in the conversation. It’s clear from the reaction today and yesterday and from what just I’ve barely dipped my toes into seeing is that lots and lots of people who are deeply knowledgeable are invested in social media, and I want to be part of that, and I want to report on that and report through that.

The level of sin to the level of reaction is quite striking, and we’ll see how it goes. My main takeaway from today is underlining what an incredible opportunity I’m stepping into. That people are focused on me is really a proxy for being focused on the story.

On why she took this gig.
It was the hardest thing I could think of to do. In addition to that, Jerusalem is a city and the region is a place that has been fascinating to me. I don’t have a huge amount of experience there, but when I was there I was struck by the incredible combination of history and news and the way that they’re layered together, the way what’s going on today is happening on top of—literally—thousands of years of history. Paired with that, the fact that this place is the object of such intense and passionate argument.

On her experience with this subject.
I wrote a ton about Arabs, Muslims. After 9/11, when I moved to Chicago. I’ve written nothing about the Middle East. I’ve written probably the most about Muslims.

On her tweet praising Peter Beinart’s book.
I did write that tweet carefully with my role in mind. I’m trying to read widely right now on this issue. This happens to be the thing I just read. And it’s a really good book! It doesn’t mean I agree with his argument. It’s readable, it’s filled with new reporting, and its provocative. That’s a journalist’s take on another journalist’s book. He’s obviously more of an advocacy journalist than I am. It doesn’t mean I think his argument is correct, it doesn’t mean I think everyone should line up behind him. It’s well-written, it’s filled with interesting reporting and facts. I’ll say it on any medium you want. I expect some of the books I read from the Palestinian perspective and from the Likud perspective will be good books, and I expect some of them to be crappy!

My editorialization: re-reading this, her balancing “Palestinian” and “Likud” strikes me as another rookie mistake. If somebody more well versed in the conflict said it, I would question their balancing of the two. But, honestly, I really think she’s just getting her feet wet. Which is further argument, for me, on why she shouldn’t be tweeting about it yet.

It happens that I went to college with Peter and we are demographically simiilar, but I don’t do what he does. I’m not an activist.

On the wayward Abunimah direct message.
I’m not going to apologize for wanting to talk with Ali Abunimah either. I really am not prepared to tell you who the right counterpart is on the other side, but I want to meet that guy, too, and all the people in between. I’m going to talk to you and Ron Dermer and settlers and Palestinians and Haredim and Arab-Israelis and secular Israelis.

Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.

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