Rudoren's Right of Language

 This is a corrected version

Thanks to the American Center, a subsidiary of the Embassy of the United States, several dozen invitees benefited this week from listening to the New York Times’ Bureau Head, Jodi Rudoren, as well as to Danna Harman of Haaretz and gain insight into the workings of journalism.  The topic was covering Israel in this digital age of journalism and although we were treated to occasional faults and failures of the new social media tools, both women immensely contributed to our understanding of how the news gets out, or doesn’t.


Harman’s beat is less of a sharply defined political or diplomatic angle but nevertheless does have its moments.   She informed us of how that Rihanna ‘all I see is Palestine’ blunder occurred (calling it “terrible”) which was a simple failure to confirm the information provided.  A tweet was a sufficient enough source, it developed.  Rudoren interjected, asking why did the reporter and editor simply not tweet out asking what others at the concert had heard.  Harman was open enough about her paper’s editorial slant – decidedly left – and its preference for using terms such as “occupation” and “West Bank” although Rudoren did not need to explain her paper’s current confrontational attitude toward Israel as no one asked.  She did, to be fair, come straight out with her own rocky start with social media tools and related to her Twitter debacle.
Credit: YMedad
She was also willing to mull over the complexity and, at times, the exasperation, of the reality of Israel, especially as to the ‘conflict’.  She reflected on what she called the toxicity of the media conversation and public discussion of the issues and on the practical nigh inability to obtain a truthful or objective version of events.  In her retelling of her rock throwing piece, she was amazed that after witnessing first hand Arabs attacking Israeli troops, in reading an Arab advocacy version of what happened she found a total disconnect with the facts she saw first-hand. [I have been corrected regarding an element in his and wish to clarify: After the soldiers left the house, rocks and stuff were thrown, but the anecdote Jodi related was about the arrest, their writeup of the arrest, where they said IDF beat the family in the presence of the newborn and that was wrong].  She reviewed problems with the word “disputed” although the argument over that she thought of as a ‘distraction’, admitting it could make ‘hell’ for a reporter as he/she could feel ‘firebombed’.
Rudoren belittled the tendency of advocacy groups to constantly “go back” in history to get the narrative told their way while nevertheless pointing out that last year’s Gaza operation did not start with an assassination, as Arabs seek to fix the talk, but an attack of IDF soldiers.  Going back to her Bet Ummar piece, for which anti-Zionists/pro-Palestinians flayed her (as they wrote, she “intentionally obscure[d] the harsh realities of life under an occupying regime, and instead present[ed] Palestinian youth throwing stones at occupying Israeli soldiers and settlers as merely ‘a hobby’"], she admitted to two errors, one in not naming the Palmers, two Jewish victims of Arab rock throwing in that area.
She also had some words for peacemakers when she observed that they do not grasp the lack of urgency the sides here have whereas those that come to offer assistance are always in an urgent state of activity.
Asked about the choice of accompanying photograph to the recent murder of an IDF recruit in Afula, she hesitated before addressing the matter. Tactfully, with great aforethought, she admitted it was a poor choice and that few could defend that choice within the paper’s editorial system.  The process was flawed, there was inadequate discussion and it was the result of poor judgment.  She was surprised when someone pointed out that the fact that the soldier was sleeping when knifed was not included in the story and said she would check and that she would be in touch with the questioner while revealing that the term “boy” to describe the 16-year old had been removed from the story.  She also dealt in her response  with the story being dominated by the issue of ‘settlements’, as if the murder was relegated.
I chose not to ask any questions but it was apparent that as much as a journalist like Rudoren sees herself as an above-the-fray observer, seeking to relate what she sees and hears, language is not simply an instrument of her trade but a tool in the political orientation of her newspaper.  She is proud of 30-something million readers and views with askance the very few who demand a more rigorous approach to the use of terminology.  She did say she is working on a new story that will probably be treated with controversy.  But that is the New York Times, from Joseph Levy on (talking about fatwas - for those who are ignorant of the hint).