In my post on Jodi Rudoren’s tweeting-before-reporting earlier today, I argued she was being very careless about the medium and about the high-profile nature of her new post as New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief with such tweets as a friendly message to Ali Abunimah, the editor of the Electronic Intifada Website, a prominent anti-Zionist outlet, and even for her endorsement of Peter Beinart’s forthcoming book, a liberal pro-Zionist take on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I suggested that while it’s possible this is evidence of actual bias, more likely she “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.” (The fact that she had nice things to say about both Abunimah and Beinart, who hold strongly different views on the conflict, was itself evidence of a desire simply to ‘establish a presence’ rather than of a firm ideology.)
After I wrote the post, I received the following direct message from Rudoren over Twitter, which I take as her response and as confirmation of my view: “Hi Marc. Twitter’s a fleeting medium, and I’m still a novice w/it. Defly plan to Tweet & Retweet from all sides of conflict.”
Personally, I buy it. I see those tweets as evidence not of bias or slant but of somebody not understanding the power of this medium and the scrutiny she is now under. I would also humbly suggest, as someone perhaps no longer quite a novice, that she tweet and retweet from no sides of the conflict. Twitter is a really fickle medium; it is very bad, as I wrote today (in a completely different context), for conveying actual opinions, and Rudoren is actually going to have the biggest platform on the planet to expound on the conflict. (The Times has commented: “We have complete confidence in Jodi’s fairness and integrity as a journalist; if we didn’t, she wouldn’t be taking on this assignment.”)
Goldberg explains the Abunimah tweet correctly: “Reaching out to Abunimah is normal, of course: He’s a player in extremist circles, and someone she might wind-up covering.” But do it in an off-the-record email! And this isn’t purely semantic: something sent in a private email should be understood not as an opinion but as a means to forming opinions; something said in a public venue is much closer to an opinion—yes, even Twitter (please excuse me while I add a “RT≠endorsement” to my profile. Nobody’s perfect).
As the soon-to-be Jerusalem bureau chief, Rudoren’s opinions on the conflict should be analysis derived from factual reporting appearing under her byline in the New York Times, pretty much exclusively. Which is why I responded to her direct message thusly: “That was my strong suspicion. Please be **EXTREMELY** careful! And remember you get this treatment cause nobody’s more impt to our jobs. And good luck!” I meant it.
Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.