The journalist’s job is to tell the story, not be the story, but Ethan Bronner, The New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief, has become just that. And that, we’re sorry to say, should tip the balance in deciding whether this scrupulous, accomplished, and knowledgeable reporter should stay at his post. (See page 42.)
The backstory: Bronner is an American Jew married to an Israeli psychologist. Their 20-year-old son has joined the Israel Defense Forces for a year and a half before returning to the States for college.
Journalists like to feel they are unbiased, and the best of them come close, but this situation clearly poses at least a potential conflict of interest. (The issue was raised by a pro-Palestinian Website, Electronic Intifada, but it is a valid one.)
Bronner is only human, and that humanity has informed some of the best reporting from the region in recent years. In fact, whatever his personal beliefs, his insightful reports on the suffering in Gaza drew brickbats from ardent supporters of Israel. (His reportage on Israel’s responding to the Goldstone report drew brickbats from the other side.)
Bronner’s editors have expressed great confidence in him, and no doubt he deserves it.
But humanity makes us vulnerable. As Clark Hoyt, the Times’ public editor, wrote on Sunday, “The Times sent a reporter overseas to provide disinterested coverage of one of the world’s most intense and potentially explosive conflicts, and now his son has taken up arms for one side. Even the most sympathetic reader could reasonably wonder how that would affect the father, especially if shooting broke out.”
Bill Keller, the Times’ executive editor, responding to Hoyt’s column in a blog called The Public Editor’s Journal, wrote, “It’s not just that we value the expertise and integrity of a journalist who has covered this most difficult of stories extraordinarily well for more than a quarter century. It’s not just that we are reluctant to capitulate to the more savage partisans who make that assignment so difficult – and who make the fairmindedness of a correspondent like Ethan so precious and courageous.
“It is, in addition to those things, a sign of respect for readers who care about the region and who follow the news from there with minds at least partially open.”
That’s an admirable defense, but we hew to Hoyt’s conclusion: “[F]ind a plum assignment for him somewhere else, at least for the duration of his son’s service in the IDF.”
Full disclosure: Not everyone on this staff agrees. Readers, what do you think? See our Web poll, page 3.