“Think twice before tweeting” ought to hang in every newsroom and pop up automatically on every reporter’s computer or mobile device. Errant tweets recently have tripped up The New York Times’ Jodi Rudoren; National Public Radio’s Lourdes Garcia-Navarro; Reuter’s Luke Baker, and recently The Washington Post’s Jerusalem bureau chief, William Booth.
On March 4, Booth tweeted “Israelis like to dump on Obama but US paid $3 billion for one of the most advanced missile defense systems in world.” The remark read more like a poorly-informed and hostile “talkback” than a promotion of Booth’s own informative article “Israel to deploy advanced missile defense system” co-written by bureau correspondent Ruth Eglash. Their report appeared in The Post’s print edition the same day as Booth’s tweet (it ran March 3 online).
Unless one extrapolated from the article’s observation that “Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Obama have had a strained relationship, rubbed raw by their deep disagreement over the Iran nuclear deal …” nothing in it supported the tweet’s snide assertion that “Israelis like to dump on Obama.”
Have some Israelis looked skeptically at Obama administration Middle East initiatives ever since the president took office asserting that Washington needed to put some “daylight” between it and Jerusalem? Did they question his early speeches in Turkey and Egypt that seemed to reach out to Islamists? Yes.
From Libya through Syria to Iraq and Yemen the Middle East is in turmoil. The rise of the Islamic State, the world’s largest refugee crisis since 1945, and an Iran vowing to use some of the money unfrozen by the nuclear deal to increase funding for anti-Israeli terror perhaps influences Israeli opinions. They live next door to such upheaval. In these circumstances, would negative opinions be criticizing or “dumping?”
Twitter, the Shortest Distance between Thought and Flippancy
CAMERA wrote to Booth, noting that “one could as easily have tweeted ‘even though Obama administration officials like to dump on Netanyahu, for example referring to the former commando as “chicken-shit,” the US has paid $3 billion for one of the most advanced missile defense systems in the world.’” But such Twitter flippancy would not have said why the United States subsidized Israeli anti-missile development.
The Post’s article did allude to two reasons:
*Defending Israeli civilian and military targets from the “upward of 100,000 rockets and missiles stored in Lebanon” by Hezbollah (in violation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701) and the thousands of mortars and rockets Hamas has fired at Israel from the Gaza Strip and threatens to launch in the future; and
*Through joint exercises like Juniper Cobra, to “improve how well U.S. and Israeli assets can communicate and coordinate….” Whether those assets are jointly funded or not, Israeli-developed missile defenses, earlier Israeli-led innovations in unmanned aerial vehicles, conformal aviation fuel tanks and other breakthroughs with military applications have benefited the United States as well.
But there also were geo-political reasons the article did not mention. These included the fact that the better Israeli defenses are against serious regional threats, the greater its ability to deter aggression. That lowers the likelihood Israel would have to resort to pre-emption of such threats or all-out warfare in the event deterrence failed. Such circumstances provide greater space for U.S. diplomacy.
All together, these reasons argue that $3 billion in U.S. support of Israeli anti-missile systems has been a good investment.
Sounds Bad, Looks Worse
Beyond the problem of the tweet’s substance is the appearance of anti-Israel bias. Obviously, the Jerusalem bureau chief of a major news media outlet ought to take care to avoid either actual bias or its appearance. When a recent tweet by NPR’s former Jerusalem correspondent, Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, seemed to indicate just such a tilt, CAMERA reminded NPR of its own standards in such cases:
“The guidelines state that journalists should ‘refrain from advocating for political or other polarizing issues online’ and should not ‘express personal views on a political or other controversial issue that you could not write for the air or post’ at the network’s Web site. NPR insisted “our standards of impartiality also apply to social media.”
No doubt Post guidelines are similar. The Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics says journalists should “provide context. Take special care not to misrepresent or oversimplify in promoting, previewing or summarizing a story.” It also calls on reporters to “avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived.”
Booth’s tweet, “Israelis like to dump on Obama but US paid $3 billion for one of the most advanced missile defense systems in the world” at the least oversimplifies. Worse, it suggests a conflict of interest stemming from a jaundiced view of Israelis. CAMERA requested that Booth post an apology and remove the tweet, which a month later he had not done.
We’ve noted previously Abraham Lincoln’s famous observation that advice is a lawyer’s only stock in trade. For journalists, the only thing they’re selling is credible information—the news and what it means. If they give customers reason to believe they’re biased, reporters and editors will find their stock in trade devalued.