Earlier reports have been confirmed: the son of Ethan Bronner, who is the New York Times’s Jerusalem bureau chief, has enlisted in the Israeli military. Times editor Bill Keller told the paper’s ombudsman, Clark Hoyt, that this was the case, and insisted there were no plans to remove Bronner from his post: “Ethan has proved himself to be the most scrupulous of reporters,” Keller said. “We have the utmost confidence that his work will continue to meet the highest standards.” For his part, Bronner, who has covered the area for almost three decades, said: “I wish to be judged by my work, not by my biography. … Either you are the kind of person whose intellectual independence and journalistic integrity can be trusted to do the work we do at the Times, or you are not.”
For the record, various folks and groups have accused Bronner of being biased about the Mideast in every imaginable way; it is those who accuse him of being biased in Israel’s favor who are in dudgeon over this. In my opinion, it is literally impossible to have his job and not face those criticisms. (Also, for the record, Keller says he would be inclined to keep Bronner in his post even if his son is deployed in combat.)
Should Bronner keep his job? The question is not inside baseball: there are few if any individuals who are more influential when it comes to shaping mainstream U.S. perception of the realities of the Israeli-Palestinian situation than the lead Times reporter. Let’s grant that Bronner’s actual journalism has been, under hypothetical totally objective standards, completely without bias and beyond reproach. Hoyt calls Bronner an “excellent reporter”; I agree. We can also grant that, in an ideal world, Bronner’s “work” and not his “biography” would be the sole standard by which he is judged.
Hoyt and I agree that Bronner has been fair-minded. But Hoyt and I also agree with Alex Jones, a Pulitzer-winning Harvard press expert. He told Hoyt: “The appearance of a conflict of interest is often as important or more important than a real conflict of interest. I would reassign him.” Such a move, frankly, is unfair to Bronner, “but the newspaper has to come first,” he added.
Assuming another of the Times’s excellent reporters is subbed in for Bronner, it’s difficult to see who would be harmed by Bronner’s move other than Bronner, who would not be the first person to have his career or personal life compromised in some manner by the completely legitimate behavior of a loved one. This is the price of doing business. Surely someone who has covered the Middle East for a quarter-century has learned that the world is not always a fair place.
Too Close to Home [NYT]