New York Times' Agenda Shines Through on Olmert Coverage

Don’t expect a simple, straightforward piece of reporting in the New York Times about an Israeli judge handing down a stiff prison sentence to former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in a bribery scandal (“Ex-Israeli Leader Is Given 6 years In Bribery Case,” May 14, front page).

Jodi Rudoren, the Times’ Jerusalem bureau chief, instead delivers a convoluted article that gives, first and foremost, pre-eminence to her own agenda, whether or not relevant to the actual criminal proceedings.

Even her lead paragraph is expanded to make room for an aside that Olmert “was on the brink of a peace deal with the Palestinians” when he was forced to leave office on corruption charges. 

The particulars of Olmert’s criminal offenses are set aside in favor of the Times’ overriding interest in the “peace process.”

Rudoren also seems to be having a difficult time about the alacrity – or lack thereof – with which Israeli prosecutors pursue white-collar crime.  Anti-corruption crusades by prosecutors, she writes, have been condemned as “overzealous” but also “inefficient.”  Take your pick.

In loading up her piece with extraneous points, she overlooks some of the basic facts of the case.  For example, readers are not informed until the eighth paragraph that the bribery charges concern Olmert’s tenure as mayor of Jerusalem – and not during his tenure as prime minister.

Again, swinging from one theme to an opposite theme, Rudoren reports that corruption has become an increasing concern in Israel.  She concedes that the state has matured on this issue, “echoing protest cries in many parts of the world where citizens are increasingly demanding a level playing field and the rule of law.”  Israel in sync with the rest of the world – a rare admission in the Times.  In the same vein, she points out that a former president is serving time for rape, and three former ministers were sent to prison for taking bribes.  So Israel apparently hasn’t been a slouch in putting some of the high and mighty behind bars.

Or so it would seem, except that in the very same paragraph, Rudoren goes on to castigate these same prosecutors for failing to bring charges against Prime Minister Netanyahu and two other prime ministers, “fueling frustrations that Israel’s most powerful were insulated.”  Which is it?  Have prosecutors been diligent or not?

Rudoren opts for giving them a poor score because they didn’t try to put Bibi in the poky.  For Rudoren, this is an  unpardonable insult, letting Netanyahu – Israel’s bête noire at the New York Times – go free.

Nowhere does Rudoren ask herself how her aside about Bibi failing to have been prosecuted is relevant in an article about Ehud Olmert’s transgressions.  But taking a poke at Bibi is its own justification at the Times.

Similarly, Rudoren wanders off on another tangent, noting that Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman was acquitted of charges that dogged him for a decade, “dashing public confidence in the campaign against corruption.”

Interesting that, in Rudoren’s world, public confidence in Israel’s anti-corruption crusade is dashed only when political figures like Netanyahu and Lieberman, detested by the Times, don’t incur the same fate as Olmert.

At the Times and in its Jerusalem bureau, this is known as objective, fair-minded journalism.

Leo Rennert is a former White House correspondent and Washington bureau chief of McClatchy Newspapers.