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.’”
Rosen had already made up his mind about Iraq from the start of his career, as well. Whether or not he had expressed his views directly to his editors when he first went to that country, by December of 2010 he had certainly gone on record about what he had thought back in 2003:
I got to Baghdad April 13, 2003, and that was really the beginning of my career as a journalist. I was very curious; I knew…that we weren’t going to get the full story, we weren’t going to get the point of view of the Iraqi people. It was clear that the war was predicated on lies to the American people and the US Government and US military wouldn’t be able to understand or deal with the culture and politics of Iraq.
So I came with a real curiosity and a certain sense of anger as well, just for being lied to.
In recent years Rosen has become quite bold in stating his biases. He says he’s “closest to being an anarchist” and that some of his views are “extreme” and “angry”:
In April 2008, when asked by then-senator Joe Biden what could be done to improve the situation in Iraq, Rosen replied: “As a journalist, I’m uncomfortable advising an imperialist power about how to be a more efficient imperialist power. I don’t think we’re there for the interests of the Iraqi people.”
Here’s another bit of insight into Rosen’s attitudes and allegiances, from an answer he gave in August of 2010 to a question about whether it was irresponsible of Wikileaks to leave the names of Afghan informants in the reports they published. Here is Rosen’s reply:
The answer is “so what?” in part….If you’re trying to undermine the war then I don’t think it’s a catastrophic event.
Even I would say that WikiLeaks should have been more careful in concealing the names of people who could face violent retribution as a result of this. But let’s also remember that these are people who are collaborating with a foreign occupier that’s oppressing their fellow countrymen….[A]s somebody who thinks that war is wrong, and this war in particular…I think undermining that war in any way possible is a good thing.
It is that latter statement especially that should have given Rosen’s editors pause. Not only does it fit in with the idea that Rosen is about as far from objectivity as it is possible to be, but the words “in any way possible” for achieving his goal of undermining the war in Afghanistan suggest an ends-justify-the-means mentality.
So what fueled Rosen’s anger at Logan? When he tweeted that Logan was a war monger, and asked where her buddy McChrystal was, he seems to have been referring to an incident in the summer of 2010 in which Logan had criticized Michael Hastings, the author of the Rolling Stone article that had led to General McChrystal’s forced resignation. Logan spoke at length about the duty embedded reporters owe to the military to gain their trust honestly; and not to later betray them by speaking about things that were supposed to be off the record, as she felt Hastings had. Logan also said, “Michael Hastings has never served his country the way McChrystal has.”
Imagine how that talk of loyalty sat with Rosen, the man who had spoken so callously of the possibility of death for Afghan informants as a result of press leaks, and the person who had this to say about his own embed experience with the Taliban:
i’m a journalist, not an american journalist…journalists regularly embed with the american military when it is conducting operations, attacks, killing. whats the difference [between embedding with the Americans and embedding with the Taliban]?
It seems that Rosen has been getting away with making outrageous statements for so long that it’s no wonder that he felt emboldened to tweet away and mock Logan with impunity. This time, though, he happened to have hit on a subject that was offensive to leftist sensibilities as well as those on the right — and he discovered that there are finally consequences, even for Nir Rosen. It couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.