Did Ethan Bronner go too far in publicly attacking Israel, the country he covers for the Times?
Before writing a news story for today's Times about Israel's media restrictions during the Gaza war, Jerusalem bureau chief Ethan Bronner offered this no-holds-barred opinion on the matter to the Jerusalem Post, in a story published on Monday:
"Israel has never restricted media access like this before, and it should be ashamed," said Ethan Bronner, the New York Times bureau chief in Jerusalem. "It's betraying the principles by which it claims to live."
Harsh words for a reporter whose job is to objectively cover Israel's government and its policies. It betrays the principles by which reporters are supposed to work -- especially given the fact that today's story, "Israel Keeping Reporters From Close Look At War," is presented as a news account, not as editorial commentary.
There's no question that the circumstances Bronner describes are brutal for a working journalist. Eleven days into the war, Israel has done everything it can to control and manipulate the journalists assigned to cover it. Bronner reports that reporters are kept away from the actual fighting, and instead only given access to sites where Hamas rockets have ravaged civilians in southern Israel.
Like all wars, this one is partly about public relations. But unlike any war in Israel’s history, in this one the government is seeking to entirely control the message and narrative for reasons both of politics and military strategy.
Today's Times story reflects a balanced, if implicitly frustrated view of the media restrictions, and demonstrates Bronner's pedigree as a former Middle East correspondent for the Boston Globe, and years spent as an editor on the Times's foreign desk.
But by speaking out in the Jerusalem Post, Bronner risks inflaming an increasingly vocal pro-Israel faction in the United States that contends the Times is biased toward Hamas.
"Why Does The New York Times Love Hamas?" screamed a Daily Beast headline yesterday afternoon, over a Steve Emerson essay that declared:
In the past week, the Fourth Estate’s Hamas cheerleaders have stripped away any pretense of being honest or neutral, with the New York Times continuing to take the side of the terrorist group in one of the most shameful journalistic episodes I have ever seen.
Emmerson cited as one example Bronner's recent statement to Times Public Editor Clark Hoy regarding the use of the word "terrorist" in the Times: “Our general view is that the word terrorist is politically loaded and overused,” Bronner told Hoyt.
Bronner's public broadside against Israel will likely only incite more attack on the Times's coverage of the Gaza war. Next time Bronner is feeling angry at Israel, maybe he should try kicking his dog.