The New York Times Public Editor has recommended that the newspaper’s Jerusalem bureau chief be reassigned since his son has joined the Israeli military.
Clark Hoyt wrote in a column Saturday that he has heard from 400 readers who are convinced that Bronner cannot be objective now that his son has enlisted in the Israel Defense Forces for the next year and a half before returning to the United States for college. Hoyt also pointed out that hundreds of readers have charged that Bronner’s coverage is slanted against Israel.
“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,” Hoyt wrote.
“I have enormous respect for Bronner and his work, and he has done nothing wrong. But this is not about punishment; it is simply a difficult reality. I would find a plum assignment for him somewhere else, at least for the duration of his son’s service in the IDF,” he concluded.
An American Jew, Bronner has been posted in Israel four times in the last two years. He served as the Time’s deputy foreign editor for four years. He is married to an Israel psychologist.
The possible conflict of interest of reporting on the area while his son serves in the army was raised several weeks ago by pro-Palestinian Web site, The Electronic Intifada.
In a response also published in the newspaper Saturday, Times executive editor Bill Keller disagreed with Hoyt.
“Much as I respect your concern for appearances, we will not be taking your advice to remove Ethan Bronner from the Jerusalem Bureau,” Keller wrote.
“You and everyone you interviewed for your column concurs that Ethan Bronner is fully capable of continuing to cover his beat fairly. Your concern is that readers will not be capable of seeing it that way. That is probably true for some readers. The question is whether those readers should be allowed to deny the rest of our audience the highest quality of reporting.”
Keller said that Bronner’s family connections “supply a measure of sophistication about Israel and its adversaries that someone with no connections would lack” and “make him even more tuned-in to the sensitivities of readers on both sides.”
“I do know he has reported scrupulously and insightfully on Israelis and Palestinians for many years. And I have no doubt that if a situation arose that presented a real conflict of interest, as opposed to an imaginary or hypothetical one, we would discuss it, and he would not hesitate to recuse himself.”
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