Much of the publicity Rosen has received so far in his fifteen minutes of fame has focused on what he tweeted about Logan, whether he meant it, and the risks of using social media to mouth off. But there’s another potentially more important issue, and that is whether Rosen should ever have been regarded as an unbiased reporter (as opposed to opinion journalist) in the first place.
Rosen’s forte has been to go behind the scenes to report on events in war-torn Iraq, Afghanistan, and the turbulent Middle East, using a distinct advantage that has made him nearly unique in the world of U.S. journalism: although American-born, he speaks fluent Arabic with an Iraqi accent. Rosen writes his dispatches in a colorful and lively narrative style filled with details, anecdotes, and flair. No wonder his articles have been sought after by such publications as the New York Times, the Washington Post, the New Yorker, and the Atlantic, among others; as well as periodicals such as Foreign Policy and the Boston Review. Not bad for a man still in his early thirties
Rosen had burst on the scene seemingly out of nowhere, an American University dropout who had worked as a bouncer while he took an unpaid gig as researcher for investigative reporter and author Scott Armstrong, formerly of the Washington Post. In 2003, his mentor Armstrong somehow talked Time magazine into working with the very youthful and inexperienced Rosen, who pulled up stakes and arrived in Iraq just three days after the war officially ended. His career was launched.
Probably the most well-known — and controversial — of Rosen’s articles was a piece that appeared in Rolling Stone in October of 2008. In it, Rosen wrote about experiences he’d had while supposedly embedded with the Taliban. The controversy over the article was two-pronged: there was criticism of Rosen’s ethics in cooperating with the Taliban in the first place; as well as skepticism about whether Rosen had really been with the Taliban (voiced by military consultant Joshua Foust in the Columbia Journalism Review). Foust spoke of how well-written Rosen’s Rolling Stone article was, but claimed that the piece was “laden with serious flaws that call into question Rosen’s reliability as an analyst of the events he witnessed, and make it hard to accept his credentials as an impartial observer.”
But impartial is something Rosen had never been, even at the start of his career. This very early piece of his appeared in a publication called Dissident Voice (“a radical newsletter in the struggle for peace and justice”) in April of 2002, about a year before the twenty-something Rosen went to Iraq and became a well-known and respected journalist. It is both a personal memoir and a strong statement of the leftist anti-Israel line, written at the height of the bloody Second Intifada and voicing sentiments such as the following:
To my dismay, my parents, and all moderate Israelis have been radicalized. Now I find an unbridgeable rift widening between myself and my family, over which we communicate only by screaming….
They remind me of Serbs I have known, whose epistemology was dominated by propaganda and denial. They have the same defensive sense of persecution, the excessive and preposterous protestations of victimhood that cannot mask the guilt that they deny….
So I find myself in the unique and painful position of calling for international sanctions against Israel and wondering if a punitive bombing of Tel Aviv, the city I love, until it complies with international law, might be a good (albeit quixotic) idea.
There is no reason to believe that Rosen has changed these opinions in the slightest in the ensuing years. Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic recently went back to look at some of Rosen’s tweets prior to the Logan episode, and found such cheerful fare as “Yes to a 3rd Intifada. This time hopefully with the support of the Palestinians citizens of ‘Israel.’”