A Guide to NYT Advocacy Journalism: Focus on Jodi Rudoren

New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren does not differentiate between objective reporting and pushing her viewpoint. And her editors do not care. In fact, they seem to prefer advocacy over straightforward journalism. A case in point: On Dec. 9, 2014, they gave front page prominence to a piece by Rudoren about a debate over Israel’s Jewish identity. But instead of writing an objective news story providing both sides’ arguments, Rudoren skewed the story with editorial comments, misinformation and her own advocacy. The column would have been better suited for the Op-Ed page.

Headlined “Israel Struggles With Its Identity,” in the online version and “Bill on Status as Jewish State Fuels an Israeli Identity Crisis,” in the print version, the article provides an exemplar of the type of propagandistic stratagems Rudoren routinely uses to promote her views on Israel.

1) Using Pejoratives to Discredit

Rudoren refers to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and others supporting legislation that solidifies Israel’s identity as a Jewish state disparagingly as “ultranationalists.”

By contrast, Rudoren avoids labeling most opponents of the bill with any adjectives at all and in the one case where she does characterize a group of them, she describes them only as “left-leaning.”

An objective journalist would avoid weighing in on the debate she was reporting and introduce proponents of each side impartially, without inserting subjective labels meant to marginalize. Were there a compelling reason to place supporters of the legislation within an ideological camp, a journalist could describe them as “nationalists” or “right-leaning,” instead of the dismissive “ultra” description used by Rudoren.

In another attempt to denigrate, Rudoren refers to Israel as “still an adolescent nation” with the derogatory suggestion of immaturity, inexperience and inability to consider consequences of an action.

A more experienced journalist would eschew such gratuitous insults. But clearly Rudoren is not that kind of journalist. It is hardly the first time Rudoren has advocated against those with whom she disagrees by characterizing them with pejoratives.  (See: “Another Week, Another Example of Bias at The New York Times)

2) Concealing Relevant Information and Otherwise Misrepresenting the Facts

Rudoren cites unnamed critics of the bill to assert that the legislation “would subject a fifth of its citizens to permanent second-class status,” and asserts that

Drafts of the so-called nationality bills would remove Arabic as an official language alongside Hebrew, increase the influence of Jewish law, reduce the power of the Supreme Court, and entrench the automatic citizenship of Jews worldwide and Jewish symbols of the state. The proposals, put off until the outcome of the parliamentary elections next year, do not mention the word ”equality” or provide rights for non-Jews, though they would preserve voting rights for all citizens.

From the reporter’s summary of the bill, readers would understand that it is meant to remove or diminish the rights of Israel’s non-Jewish citizens, which is what some opponents of the proposed legislation argue. But, this is just one side of the debate. While Rudoren presents these arguments as accepted wisdom, she conceals the other side.

While she cites concern that some of Israel’s citizens would receive “second-class status,” she hides the fact that the legislation also includes articles specifically aimed at safeguarding the culture, heritage, language and identity of non-Jewish citizens (Article IX) and protecting the holy sites of all faiths (Article XIV).

She fails to mention that drafts of the law that propose Hebrew as the sole official language of the state also stipulate that Arabic would receive special status ensuring that “those who speak Arabic shall have access in their own language to State services” – i.e. no practical changes would be incurred by the legislation.

And while Rudoren declares that the influence of Jewish law would increase while the power of the Supreme Court would decrease, nothing in the proposed legislation supports such a statement. The bill says nothing at all about the Supreme Court or its powers. Moreover, the language regarding the influence of Jewish law is nearly identical to that of legislation that has been in existence for decades. (Compare Israel’s Foundations of Law to proposed legislation.)

Rudoren further deceives readers with her statement that the bill does not include the term “equality” or provide rights for non-Jews. By focusing on the absence of a specific word while ignoring the bill’s stated intent, Rudoren imputes a malignant, anti-democratic character to the bill that is contradicted by its clear implication. Article II of the proposed bill declares its purpose is to codify “the values of Israel as a Jewish democratic state in the spirit of the principles of its Declaration of Independence.”

And those principles affirm that the State of Israel

will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.

One expects political activists to overstate, misrepresent, and cover up certain facts in order to promote their position, but an honest journalist’s role is to cut through the hype and provide readers with an objective account of the issues.

Unfortunately, Rudoren routinely engages in the tactic of concealing relevant information from readers to promote certain viewpoints. (See: “New York Times: All The News That’s Fit to Conceal“;  “Jodi Rudoren Quick with Excuse for Palestinian Rocket, But Buries Cause of IDF Shooting”;  “Truman, The Jewish State and the Decline in New York Times Standards“;  “Jodi Rudoren Won’t Be Schooled“; “Jodi Rudoren Muddies the Waters Regarding a Hamas Port“; “The New York Times Romanticizes Palestinian Stone Throwers and Ignores Their Victims“; “Rudoren Misreports by Ignoring Palestinian Polls“.)

3) Selectively Quoting and Citing Those on One Side of a Debate

A favored artifice of Rudoren’s in order to promote a particular perspective, is to quote or cite that perspective disproportionately. In the article in question, Rudoren quotes 5 identified opponents criticizing or advocating against the legislation but not a single proponent who defends or advocates for it. In addition, the reporter refers to unnamed “critics,” “Israelis from across the political spectrum,” Jewish “leaders” and “Palestinians within Israel and outside it” who oppose the bill, because they feel that it contradicts the state’s democratic values or that it will harm Israeli interests.

One might think that there are few, if any proponents of the legislation or that the number of opponents far, far outweigh a negligible number of outliers who support it. What Rudoren pointedly ignores is that a recent poll by the Israel Democracy Institute and Tel Aviv University found that the majority of the population – three-quarters of Israeli Jews and 14% of Israeli Arabs see no contradiction between Israel being both Jewish and democratic. Similarly, a majority of the population does not believe that passage of a new bill affirming Israel as a Jewish state would damage Israeli interests (53% of respondents). By contrast, only 40% believe Israeli interests would be harmed.

These statistics do not fit with Rudoren’s picture of a Jewish state that is incompatible with democratic values, and so she neither quotes nor cites any proponent of the legislation to ensure Israel’s Jewish character. Worse yet, she dishonestly attributes support of the bill to anti-democratic motives, with the pretense that this is what supporters say. According to Rudoren:

Proponents of the legislation argue that it is a necessary counterbalance to existing laws promoting equality.

But that is not what they claim. In her desperation to discredit the bill’s proponents, Rudoren ignores their own statements. Contrary to what Rudoren would have readers believe, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who supports the legislation, has emphasized his commitment to full equality under the law to all Israeli citizens without regard to race, religion or gender. He  insists the bill would enshrine this, in addition to ensuring the identity of Israel as the national home of the Jewish people. Netanyahu said:

There is no contradiction between the two things, and we will not allow the undermining of these two principles.

Another one of the bill’s drafters, Likud Knesset member Zeev Elkin, is on record explaining the reasoning behind it. A law that solidifies Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, he said, has become “doubly important especially in times when some seek to negate the right of the Jewish people to a national home in its land.” In other words, the bill is not meant to “counterbalance laws promoting equality” but to counter the delegitimization of a Jewish state.

This type of disingenuous reporting is not new for Rudoren. She often has misrepresented perspectives, selectively quoted and/or turned to partisan sources to bolster her points. Often these sources are presented as neutral observers. (See: “News Fit to Frame: Jodi Rudoren on National Service“; “Double Standards on Soccer Racism“; “More Anti-Israel Bias from The New York Times’ Jodi Rudoren“)

Had she been a more conscientious journalist, Rudoren might have provided some historical overview of the law. She would have objectively presented the basics of the proposed legislation and explained how it would change the current situation, and she would have given both proponents and opponents of the bill equal opportunity to voice their perspectives. Or she might have dispassionately cited the arguments of both sides of the debate. The role of a professional journalist, after all, is to provide readers with enough accurate information to draw their own conclusions. Rudoren, however, chooses to promote the position of the bill’s critics and to discredit the perspective of the bill’s supporters. This is not objective journalism. It is political activism.

As part and parcel of this activism, Rudoren uses the article as a forum to portray Israel currently as a racist or discriminatory nation, one of her favorite themes. (See: “New York Times Indicts Israel With Charges of Racism, Again” ). She turns to selected Arab Israelis to accuse Israel of discriminatory practices, exaggerating their claims with false statistics and assertions.

For example, Rudoren cites Professor Amal Jamal who asserts that the Arab city of Nazareth has “twice the population but only 5 percent of the land of its neighbor, predominantly Jewish Upper Nazareth.” After CAMERA brought this to the attention of editors with statistics showing that Arab Nazareth, in fact, has 42 percent of the land of Upper Nazareth, not 5 percent, The New York Times corrected the erroneous information.

Elsewhere, Rudoren refers to Israeli laws “that prohibit funding for groups that commemorate the Nakba, or catastrophe, as Palestinians call their expulsion as Israel was established.” In fact, there are no laws that “prohibit” funding such groups. Rather, there is a law that allows the Minister of Finance, at his discretion, to reduce or withhold government funding to groups that reject the existence of Israel as Jewish nation state or as a democracy, or encourage of support terrorism against Israel. And even were the government to exercise its right to withhold funding from groups who consider themselves enemies of the Jewish state, there are no laws that prevent private individuals, organizations and NGO’s from supporting them. (See: “NY Times Corrects Nazareth Error, But Not ‘Nakba Day’ Law Error“)

Unfortunately, Jodi Rudoren has become known for her biased and amateurish journalism. In doing so, she has further damaged the reputation of The New York Times whose credibility continues to wane as it turns more and more toward advocacy journalism.

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