To see what is in front of one's nose needs a constant struggle.
--- George Orwell

Friday, April 18, 2014

An Alliance Too Far: The 'Gray Lady' Bows To Israeli Censorship

Mondoweiss is tracking a controversy at the "paper of record," which refused to go with a story about a young Israeli-Arab journalist and human rights activist held incommunicado for several days by Israeli intelligence after a brief visit to Lebanon, deferring instead to an Israeli government gag order. The Times' Public Editor, Margaret Sullivan, asked the paper's Jerusalem bureau chief about it and Jodi Rudoren told her that the Times is “indeed, bound by gag orders." The situation is analogous to abiding by traffic rules or any other laws of the land, Ruderon explained. At first, Rudoren told Sullivan that agreeing to comply with gag orders was required to get press credentials in Israel but then corrected herself in a later exchange. Rudoren also told Sullivan that it was Times policy to comply with such orders; when Sullivan asked the paper's managing editor and assistant managing editor, they told her that was not the case.    

Sullivan wrote that she says finds it "troubling that The Times is in the position of waiting for government clearance before deciding to publish." She quotes Ali Abunimah of the Electronic Intifada who says that Times readers "have a right to know when NYT is complying with government-imposed censorship.” She also quotes Yousef Munayyer, executive director of the Jerusalem Fund and the Palestine Center, who wrote her saying, “It would seem to me that a story that a state specifically wants to prevent from seeing the light of day is something that should make a journalist’s mouth water. That’s what journalism is all about, isn’t it?

What I find odd about this story is that when the Times did go with it, after the gag order was rescinded, it was written by bureau reporter Isabel Kershner, not Rudoren. Kershener is an Israeli citizen. She's also married to a member of a right wing think tank in Israel with close ties to the Likud party; the marriage has already been the subject of complaints at the paper about conflicts of interest, which Sullivan herself addressed---and dismissed---two months ago. Who was actually sitting on the story, Kershner or Rudoren?    

Back in the bad old days at the Times, Jews were not posted to Israel because the paper's editors thought it might present a conflict of interest, or an appearance of one. Some were upset, feeling that the policy offended their journalistic professionalism and detachment. They had a right to be, and it's good the paper has changed its mind. But what about having an Israeli citizen in the bureau with Kershner's marital connection, especially at a time when censorship in Israel grows more draconian under pressure from hardcore Zionists?    

It's unclear exactly how Ruderon would have been treated legally had she violated the government order, and whether Kershner, as an Israeli citizen would have been treated differently if she had done so, instead of waiting until it was officially "safe." But I think Sullivan should have mentioned the Kershner connection--- and questioned it. Something may be a little funky here. Sullivan should have another go at it--- and talk to Kershner this time.   

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