What presidential campaign reporting is to political junkies, the naming of a new New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief is to the most vociferous partisans in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It's red meat for people on both sides.
The Times is arguably the world's most influential newspaper and the Jerusalem job is among its most visible perches. That means only the thick-skinned need apply. I'm talking rhino-hide thick.
Just about every story produced by the Jerusalem bureau -- for which the bureau chief is deemed responsible by friend and foe alike -- is perceived by partisans to be of ultimate importance in the closely watched, extraordinarily complex and seemingly intractable Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
It matters little if yesterday's story went your way, or that tomorrow's may as well. We're talking about virtually daily conflict reporting in which every ephemeral sentence is subject to microscopic scrutiny. Because who knows when some verb or noun chosen hastily under deadline pressure will sway world opinion?
The charges of bias fly fast and furious. And they come, at one time or another, from just about every faction -- from the far-right and the far-left, from Israelis and Palestinians, from those in-country and those outside it. From every angry troll with a keyboard.
(Nor does the partisan crowd seem to know or care that editors may chop copy for length, may change verbs or nouns on a whim, choose the accompanying art, and write the headline. The person in the byline always gets the blame.)
Oy, the pressure -- which I've written about before.
Now, the bearer of that pressure is about to change. The job's typically four-year run is just about up for Jodi Rudoren, the current punching bag. Media reports say she will be replaced by Peter Baker, currently a Times White House reporter and a Washington journalism stalwart. There's been no official announcement yet.
Baker is married to Susan Glasser, the editor of Politico. The CNN-Money story linked to in the previous graph says Glasser has given assurances she'll stay at Politico through the presidential election cycle.
Rudoren used Facebook to announce she was leaving Jerusalem:
I knew this would be my last Thanksgiving in Jerusalem, but I had not expected to be cooking amid packing up and saying goodbyes. The Rudorens depart Jan. 1 for New York. I will be [a] deputy on The Times' international desk, a thrilling and daunting next step as we continue to expand our global audience and transform our report in the digital age.
On this Thanksgiving -- or, as it is known here, Thursday -- I am so grateful for the incredible, generous, insightful and intrepid Palestinians and Israelis who enabled me to do this most demanding work, and experience this most complicated place. You have taught me endlessly, you have supported me thoroughly, you have challenged my brain, you have filled my heart. Journalists who guided me, sources who shared with me, friends who embraced me -- even advocates who attacked me: you have helped me grow and see and question, and question. Exactly why we came here, exactly why I've been doing this journalism thing all these years. So, thank you.
But even in her parting, she was made to endure some parting shots. One pro-Israel critic, of both her and her newspaper, commented on her Facebook post:
You are leaving amidst the most pervasive campaign of Arab terrorism ever. How did you know that you and your family would not be stabbed? We[re] you protected as a journalist known to be pro-Palestinian[?]
Did you ever consider that you and your staff had a role in encouraging such widespread Palestinian terror attacks on everyday Israelis, since you not only did not hold Palestinians responsible for their violence, but understood or even excused their terror attacks as out of"frustration", being "under siege", etc.
Rudoren is Jewish, one of a string of Jews her paper has had as Jerusalem bureau chief in recent years. Baker reportedly was raised Greek Orthodox, though he and Glasser married in a civil ceremony.
The goodly number of Jews who have served as Jerusalem bureau chief for the Times has been a sore point among pro-Palestinian activists, and even some ostensibly neutral media watchdogs.
This is particularly so when the bureau chief's son is serving in the Israel Defense Forces, as the nation's military is called. Rudoren's predecessor in Jerusalem, Ethan Bronner, has a son who served in the IDF. Ditto for Isabel Kershner, an Israeli who is a reporter in the Times' Jerusalem office.
While he's a columnist and not a Jerusalem-based reporter, the same holds true for the Times' David Brooks, who writes frequently about the Middle East.
Not that it doesn't cut both ways. More than one former Palestinian stringer or contract reporter for the Times has been linked to Palestinian activism or a Palestinian political/military faction. Fares Akram, formerly the Times reporter in Gaza, had a photo of Yasser Arafat, the father of the Palestinian political and military struggle, as his Facebook profile image while working for the paper
Currently working for the Times in Jerusalem is Diaa Hadid. She's a Lebanese-Egyptian Australian who previously reported for the AP in Lebanon. However, before that she was a pro-Palestinian activist who contributed anti-Israel columns to The Electronic Intifada. Her work for the Times, is, of course, dismissed as utterly biased by the pro-Israel side.
As I said, it's helpful to have the hide of a rhinoceros to work for The New York Times in Jerusalem. It's journalism at its most internationally political rough and tumble.