Jeffrey Goldberg: Prison Guard of American Journalism
The Israel Lobby gives the NY Times the Gaza treatment
Former Israeli prison guard Jeffrey Goldberg, now writing for The Atlantic, has a new prison population to deal with: the American news media, and, specifically, that portion of it covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In response to a few fairly innocuous tweets from New York Times reporter Jodi Rudoren, – Golberg kvetched:
"Jodi Rudoren, the Times editor just chosen to replace Ethan Bronner in [sic] as Jerusalem bureau chief (Bronner’s four-year tour is up), finds herself in a pickle because of a series of tweets she issued yesterday. She shmoozed-up Ali Abunimah, a Palestinian activist who argues for Israel’s destruction; she also praised Peter Beinart’s upcoming book as, ‘terrific: provocative, readable, full of reporting and reflection.’ She also linked without comment to an article in a pro-Hezbollah Lebanese newspaper."
In prison, if you commit an infraction of the numerous rules you get a "write up," and, depending on the offense, sent to solitary confinement for any number of months. Goldberg’s prison guard experience has apparently influenced his writing style: the list of infractions may seem petty to the outsider, but on the Inside they’re a very big deal, the means by which the prison authorities condition and control the inmates. Rudoren, having just been issued her orange jumpsuit, has to understand who’s in charge.
For the crime of "schmoozing" on Twitter, Rudoren already has one write-up, and she should understand she’s treading on some very thin ice. I love how Goldberg describes Abunimah: what he means by "a Palestinian activist who argues for Israel’s destruction" is a Palestinian who argues in favor of a single united bi-national state and upholds the "right of return," i.e. wants stolen land returned to the legitimate owners.
In prison, guilt by association is assumed: if you hang out with the Crips in the exercise yard, it’s safe to say you are a Crip. Indeed, prison yards are some of the most staked out and jealously guarded terrains in the world, much like Palestine in that sense: if you’re a Sureno, don’t even think about trespassing into Norteno territory, or even be seen talking to one of them. That, in effect, was Rudoren’s crime: she politely replied to a tweet from Abunimah.
Off with her head!
Ruderon’s really big infraction, however, is praising Beinart: the prison equivalent of being found in possession of "Pruno." The Israel Lobby has declared jihad against the elfin former editor of The New Republic for advocating a reasonable Zionism instead of the Jabotinskyite version now in fashion. Beinart poses a major problem for the Lobby: his incisive critique of Israel government policies from a decidedly Zionist perspective makes their usual line of attack – smearing Israel’s critics as "anti-Semitic" – a non-starter. Used to being on the offensive, the Lobby is furious at Beinart for poaching on what they regard as their territory: those who wish Israel well. Mentioning him in the same breath as "a Palestinian activist who argues for Israel’s destruction" and "a pro-Hezbolloh Lebanese newspaper" is meant to discredit him in front of this audience.
The very title of Goldberg’s blog post underscores his self-appointed role as the prison guard of American journalism: "Twitterverse to New NYTimes Jerusalem Bureau Chief: Stop Tweeting!"
Stop, don’t, shut up – that’s the constant refrain of Goldberg and a bevy of very well-funded and relentless pro-Israel groups, such as CAMERA. Their goal is to shape the narrative and that means effectively silencing anyone who has a different story to tell – especially someone in a position to influence public opinion. Setting themselves up as arbiters of the permissible has been the Lobby’s greatest achievement.
Yet they may be losing their grip: the failure to marginalize Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer, and a similar effort aimed at Beinart, point to their declining power. Even their successes, such as the purge of bloggers for the Center for American Progress’s who dared call the Lobby by its right name – "Israel Firsters" – only serves to underscore their desperation. (Yes, they really did take out a full-page ad in the New York Times to go after a few bloggers!)
While it seems a bit presumptuous for Goldberg to pretend he and his pals in the Lobby constitute the whole of the Twitterverse, this is central to their conceit that they are the portion of the Twitterverse – indeed, the universe – that really matters. And, indeed, to judge by the reaction over at the Times, that seems to be the operative principle. "Public Editor" (i.e. head of the Complaint Dept.) Margaret Sullivan gives Rudoren a public write-up, without quite confining her to solitary:
"Start with a reporter who likes to be responsive to readers, is spontaneous and impressionistic in her personal writing style, and not especially attuned to how casual comments may be received in a highly politicized setting.
"Put that reporter in one of the most scrutinized and sensitive jobs in journalism – the Jerusalem bureau chief of The New York Times.
Now add Facebook and Twitter, which allow reporters unfiltered, unedited publishing channels. Words go from nascent, half-formed thoughts to permanent pronouncements to the world at the touch of a key. The result is very likely to be problematic."
Rudoren, the illicit schmoozer, hasn’t even started her job yet and already she’s a "problem." Score one for the Lobby!
"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. … Given the spotlight that the Jerusalem bureau chief is bound to attract, and Ms. Rudoren’s self-acknowledged missteps, this was a necessary step."
In short, the Times has capitulated to the Lobby’s demands. Note how Sullivan’s characterization of the Rudoren Problem is in sync with the argument made by Marc Tracy, writing in the Tablet:
"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."
Tracy goes on to compare Rudoren to Anthony Weiner – as if praising the Beinart book or "schmoozing" with an actual Palestinian is the equivalent of an obscene act. "The less charitable, perfectly plausible reading," he avers, "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."
Clean it up – or else! For the love of God, stop tweeting, stop talking, stop reporting what you see with your own eyes.
The whole thrust of the Israeli government’s propaganda campaign in this country has been to give the impression that there is no legitimate opposition to the Israeli-centric foreign policy pursued to our government. There are, to be sure, a few marginal characters, but these are easily dismissed as "extremists." As the "Washington Free Beacon" – a cross between the Daily Caller and the public relations department of Lockheed – described Rudoren’s high crimes and misdemeanors:
"The New York Times‘ newly appointed Jerusalem bureau chief played Twitter footsie on Tuesday with some of Israel’s most extreme non-terrorist critics.
They may not be outright terrorists, but these "extreme" critics of Israel are right on the borderline. The only solution is to shut them up, put them in solitary, and watch them very carefully – including those with whom they schmooze.
The clear message of the anti-Rudoren Two Minutes Hate is: watch out, because we’re looking over your shoulder. It’s a warning to any journalists who might think of getting out of line: we can shut you up, so don’t even bother speaking out. Your career is on the line.
It’s a disgusting, grossly un-American attempt at intimidation, and the horror is that is working, just as it’s worked in the past. I say un-American, specifically, because, after all, these are lobbyists for a foreign country, actively seeking to shape public opinion and government policy in favor of Israeli interests. They hide behind the demand for "objectivity," but the truth is they don’t want anything reported that is unfavorable to Israel.
If schmoozing with Abunimah is enough to destroy a reporter’s "objectivity," then what about journalists caught schmoozing with former IDF officer Goldberg? Indeed, the son of Ruderon’s predecessor joined the IDF – but that didn’t seem to evoke complaints of bias, at least from Goldberg and his friends.
I’m with Jack Shafer on this: "Can @theatlantic please assign an editor for Jeffery Goldberg’s Twitter feed?"
Don’t hold your breath.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
In order to give Ruderon’s public write-up a "balanced" aspect, so as to make it not look like the Lobby has once again exercised its editorial prerogatives, Sullivan also cites complaints from the overly sensitive, including Philip Weiss, who was apparently offended by Rudoren’s tweeted remarks about the "ho hum" attitude of Gazans toward death and deprivation. "She seems culturally bound inside the Israeli experience," Weiss sniffed. Poor Ms.Rudoren is reduced to groveling, trying to explain that she should’ve said "resilience," but I mean really – is Twitter really the place for nuance? It’s hardly "insensitive" to imagine different cultures have diverse attitudes toward death, but try explaining that in 140 characters.
Speaking of Twitter: you can follow me in my wanderings through the Twitterverse by going here.
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