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Times Reporter Quits Public Relations Firm Over Conflict Claim

New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief Ethan Bronner has resigned from the speaker’s bureau of a Jerusalem-based public relations firm amid charges of conflict of interest.

Bronner resigned from Lone Star Communications, the Times public editor said in a column Sunday, after an article by journalist and blogger Max Blumenthal in the Columbia Journalism Review accused Bronner of giving favorable coverage to other clients of the same firm.

“A close examination of the facts leads me to conclude that the case for an actual conflict of interest is slender. But the appearance of a conflict clearly exists, and that is a problem in and of itself,” wrote Arthur Brisbane, the newspaper’s public editor.

Bronner signed on to Lone Star’s new speaker’s bureau in 2009. He told Brisbane that Lone Star had booked about six speeches for him, out of 75 that he had given since becoming bureau chief more than three years ago. He said his fee is less than $1,000 per speech, and that he speaks only to nonprofit groups.

Blumenthal is a frequent critic of Israel and of Bronner’s reporting on Israel.

Bronner found himself in the middle of a conflict of interest imbroglio in Jan. 2010 when it was reported that his son had joined the Israel Defense Forces. The public editor at the time, Clark Hoyt, recommended that Bronner be reassigned, but then-executive editor Bill Keller made the decision to allow Bronner to remain in his position. His son has since finished his stint in the army.

“Mr. Blumenthal’s piece may well have been influenced by an animus toward Mr. Bronner’s reportage for The Times,” Brisbane wrote. “But the fact remains that the Lone Star engagement created a problem and stands as a reminder that The Times must be fastidiously independent, in reality and in appearance, or face attacks like this one.”

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