After Complaints, New York Times Assigns Editor to Oversee Jerusalem Bureau Chief’s Twitter and Facebook Posts

New York Times’ Jodi Rudoren

In highly unusual move, the New York Times decided to assign an editor to oversee Jerusalem Bureau Chief Jodi Rudoren’s Twitter and Facebook postings.

The paper’s Public Editor Margaret Sullivan openly criticized the reporter for too liberally posting her personal opinion on her social media accounts. In a message to readers titled, “Problems With a Reporter’s Facebook Posts, and a Possible Solution,” Sullivan explained the rationale behind assigning the editor to Rudoren:

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. And for that bureau chief, Jodi Rudoren, who moved to Israel from New York earlier this year, and her editors at The Times, it has been.

The public editor then proceeds to detail some of Rudoren’s social media posts, which became problems from the start of her tenure:

Within a few days of taking the post, she had sent some Twitter messages that brought criticism, and had people evaluating her politics before she had dug into the reporting work before her.

Jeffrey Goldberg, writing in The Atlantic, summarized them: “She shmoozed-up Ali Abunimah, a Palestinian activist who argues for Israel’s destruction; she also praised Peter Beinart’s upcoming book (‘The Crisis of Zionism’) as, ‘terrific: provocative, readable, full of reporting and reflection.’ She also linked without comment to an article in a pro-Hezbollah Lebanese newspaper.” The headline on Mr. Goldberg’s article was, “Twitterverse to New NYT Jerusalem Bureau Chief: Stop Tweeting!”

She also received criticism from those sympathetic with the Palestinian cause about a Facebook post. Sullivan writes:

More recently, during the Gaza conflict, she wrote one Facebook post in which she described Palestinians as “ho-hum” about the death of loved ones, wrote of their “limited lives” and, in another, said she shed her first tears in Gaza over a letter from an Israeli family. The comments came off as insensitive and the reaction was sharp, not only from media pundits, but also from dismayed readers.

Philip Weiss, the anti-Zionist Jewish-American journalist who writes about the Middle East for Mondoweiss, his Web site, wrote “she seems culturally bound inside the Israeli experience.”

Even while reporting on the fighting in Gaza, Rudoren had to spend time to fend off the criticism that post had sparked. She told the Public Editor she regretted using the term “ho-hum”: “I should have talked about steadfastness or resiliency,” she said. “That was a ridiculous word to use,” adding “I just wasn’t careful enough.”

So the New York Times is now assigning an editor on the foreign desk “to make sure that Ms. Rudoren’s further social media efforts go more smoothly.”

Beyond the social media mishaps, the paper is standing by its reporter. Foreign Editor Joseph Kahn describes her reporting over the past month – which includes her coverage of the Israel-Hamas conflict – as “exemplary.”

(H/T: Israel National News)