Over at The Electronic Intifada yesterday, Max Blumenthal wrote, Candid Video Reveals NYT Bureau Chief Jodi Rudoren’s Zionist Bubble. Rudoren’s husband made an hour long video for his parents 60th wedding anniversary (Wow!) called, A Life in a Day: the Rudorens of Jerusalem. Blumenthal’s article is fairly long and quite interesting. His argument is that the video does show the lifestyle of the Jerusalem bureau chief for The New York Times and that the only Palestinians that her family seems to interact with are those who clean their clothes.
Rudoren got a lot of attention about a month ago for her reporting on the Israeli police beating of a 15-year-old American who was the cousin of a recently killed Palestinian teen. Rudoren was accused of just parroting talking points from the Israeli police instead of practicing journalism. To make matters worse, Rudoren lashed out at critics as, “Anti-Israel activists.” I have to admit that this kind of thing is beginning to wear thin with me. Just because someone attacks your reporting or more generally the treatment of Palestinians does not mean they are anti-Israel. Although I am sure some are, that certainly can’t be said for them as a group.
I’m actually not that interested in this whole case in the context of the Israel-Palestine conflict. Blumenthal is right that Rudoren is so cut off from Palestinians that it is not a practical possibility that she can cover the conflict with anything like objectivity. And he is right that The Times keeps itself geographically isolated so that everything is seen through the prism of Israel. In 2005, Public Editor of The Times Daniel Okrent saw the problem and recommended that the paper add correspondents in Ramallah and Gaza. As Blumenthal noted, “That never happened. Instead, The Times hired Rudoren to retrench its presence in the ethnically-cleansed and exclusively Jewish world of West Jerusalem…” But the truth is that the problem is much bigger than this.
What the video shows (Note: I have only watched parts of it.) is what we see in all aspects of the major media outlets: privileged reporters seeing the world through their upper class prism. This is why business reporters seem to only find news about the management side of business interesting. They don’t have any friends who are in labor unions. So it isn’t so much they have an animus toward middle and lower class workers, as it is that they are simply invisible. And this has the extremely pernicious effect of making the reporters think they are being objective when they are far from it. They probably do perceive their worlds in a fairly objective way. But their worlds are not at all the world.
Rudoren’s comment that those attacking her were “anti-Israel activists” is no different from Bill O’Reilly claiming that anyone attacking him (or even disagreeing with him) is on the “far left” or is a “far left loon.” And in this similarity, I’m mostly interested in the process. In O’Reilly’s case, in his personal life he simply isn’t around anyone who ever disagrees with him, much less attacks him for it. Similarly, in Rudoren’s personal life, she is never around anyone who is on the other side of the conflict she is covering. Of course, it is worse in her case; she’s supposed to be doing actual journalism whereas everyone knows that O’Reilly is just a ranter.
The the solution, however, is not to force Rudoren to make some Palestinian friends or simply to get out of West Jerusalem now and then. The solution is to make systemic changes. In domestic journalism, the problem is not our business reporters. The problem is that we have almost exclusively business reporters with no labor reporters. It is very much as if during the 2012 presidential campaign, all the news outlets had sent reporters to follow Obama, but none of them sent reporters to cover Romney.
So of course Jodi Rudoren is insulated and privileged and has a highly biased way of looking at the world which results in her doing bad journalism. But as Blumenthal noted in the article, that was the choice that The New York Times made. It clearly wants to see the Israel-Palestine conflict through the prism of the upper class West Jerusalem residents. This is just the same as The Times‘ decision to have a cadre of business reporters and (as far as I know), just one labor reporter.
Update (4 August 2014 8:58 am)
I was very pleased to see this morning that Max Blumenthal tweeted out this article:
— Max Blumenthal (@MaxBlumenthal) August 4, 2014
Normally, reporters only tweet out my articles when they are mad at me. So it’s nice when someone publicizes an article without an implicit eye roll.
Update (4 August 2014 10:35 am)
I had a little Twitter exchange with Matt Yglesias over this article. He noted that journalists do know people in unions because newspapers are unionized. It’s a good point, but I did not actually say that they didn’t know people in unions; I said they don’t have friends who are in unions. Now the journalists may have their own union, but I’m sure it is more like the American Association of University Professors, which I was once a member of. It wasn’t much like a union. Yglesias said the distinction was probably more education than unionization. That’s a good point. But I think the discussion gets off the point, which is that the concerns of reporters are greatly affected by their class interests. And, of course, the larger point of the article is that the coverage of media outlets is determined by choices made at the top about who is going to be hired to do what.