|February 11, 2010|
|Times Stands Tall with Jerusalem Bureau Chief Defense|
|By Kevin McCauley|
|There's a lively debate at the New York Times website about whether it's kosher to have the son of its Jerusalem bureau chief, Ethan Bronner, serve in the Israel Defense Force. |
Public Editor Clark Hoyt took up the matter in his Feb. 7 column, deciding after reviewing responses from 400 readers reacting to the breaking news:
"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 his father, especially if shooting broke out."
Hoyt considers Bronner a "superb reporter" and believes it "doesn't seem fair to hold a father accountable for the decision of an adult son."
Yet the ombudsman feels Bronner should be reassigned to a "plum assignment" elsewhere else until his son leaves the IDF.
Bill Keller, executive editor of the NYT, disagrees with Hoyt, having no plans to remove Bronner from Israel. He is right on target.
"Every reporter brings to the story a life—a history, relationships, ideas, beliefs--and the first essential discipline of journalism is to set aside, as a judge or a scientist or a teacher is expected to do, and to follow the facts. Of course, journalism is made by human beings, and our lives seep into our stories—sometimes in the form of bias, but often in valuable ways," wrote the eloquent Keller.
The executive editor goes on to note that C.J. Chivers, who is embedded with the military in Afghanistan, is an ex-Marine. Does that background make Chivers more likely to support the U.S. mission or to recognize the folly of a high-tech machine fighting in a primitive land?
As a credit to his professionalism, Keller doesn't know where Chivers stands on the future of Afghanistan. What about the NYT's Tehran correspondent, Nazila Fathi, who was sent into exile by the ruling regime? Should she be disqualified from writing about Iran?
Keller provides a beautiful twist: “Would you prefer to have a correspondent in Tehran who had not been persecuted by the Iranian government?” In other words, should a Iran toady report on the brutal regime.
The Timesman understands that when some readers are "unshakably convinced of something, they bring blinding prejudice and a tendency to see what they want to see."
Zealots exist on both sides of the Israeli and Palestinian equation. Some advocate banning of Jewish reporters from covering Israel, while others would be upset with Arabs reporting from the Palestinian lands. The flip side also applies.
Should the Times restrict itself to sending Christian reporters or journalists from the great non-Christian countries of China and India to cover the Middle East? What about Christian ties to the Holy Land? Would that make them pro-Israel or pro-Palestinian?
"Ethical judgments that start from prejudice lead pretty quickly to absurdity, and pandering to zealots means cheating readers who genuinely seek to be informed," wrote Keller.
The executive editor believes Bronner's family connection to Israel are not irrelevant. The Jerusalem bureau chief, however, "has reported scrupulously with insight on Israelis and Palestinians for many years." That's the bottom line. Keller suspects that Bronner is "even more tuned-in to the sensitivities of readers on both sides, and more careful to go the extra mile in the interest of fairness."
Kudos to Keller for rising to the defense of Bronner and the integrity of journalism as a whole.
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