Saturday, February 6, 2010

Conflict Of Interest? Son Of NYT's Jerusalem Bureau Chief, Ethan Bronner, Is Inducted Into Israeli Army, Prompting Questions.

The son of NYT Jerusalem bureau chief Ethan Bronner -- long a lightning rod for criticism of the NYT's supposed biased reporting in the ongoing Mideast conflict -- has just joined the Israeli Army.

Does the move represent a violation of the NYT's conflict of interest policy?

As the news of Bronner's son trickled out of the Mideast in recent days, pro-Palestinian watchdog blogs have argued that the move does break the rules -- and that the NYT needs to shift Bronner off the Mideast beat in the wake of his son's military service.

The NYT disagrees. In a statement to "The Electronic Intifada," a pro-Palestinian website that monitors media coverage of the conflict, NYT's foreign editor Susan Chira defended Bronner against the suggestion of a conflict.

"Mr. Bronner's son is a young adult who makes his own decisions," Chira told the website, responding on Bronner's behalf. "At The Times, we have found Mr. Bronner's coverage to be scrupulously fair and we are confident that will continue to be the case."

But Electronic Intifada and others have suggested that the NYT's rules clearly define the situation as a conflict of interest.

Here's how the NYT ethics policy addresses the issue, with the relevant parts highlighted. It doesn't strike us a clear-cut at all:

In a day when most families balance two careers, the legitimate activities of household members and other relatives can sometimes create journalistic conflicts of interest or the appearance of conflicts. These can arise in civic or political life, professional work and financial activity. A spouse's or companion's campaign for public office would obviously create the appearance of conflict for a political reporter or television producer involved in election coverage. A brother or a daughter in a high-profile job on Wall Street might produce the appearance of conflict for a business reporter or editor.

Our company has no wish to intrude upon family members who are not its employees.
Nothing in this document prohibits a spouse, companion or other relative of a staff member from taking part in any political, financial, commercial, religious or civic activity....

Staff members must be sensitive that direct political activity by their spouses, family or household members, such as running for office or managing a campaign – even while proper – may well create conflicts of interest or the appearance of conflicts. Even limited participation, like giving money or ringing doorbells, may stir suspicions of political bias if it becomes conspicuous. Staff members and their families should be wary of ambiguity. A bumper sticker on the family car or a campaign sign on the lawn may be misread as the journalist's, no manner who in the household actually placed it. When a spouse or companion makes a campaign contribution, it is wise to avoid writing the check on a joint account.

What prompts the outrage by Mideast partisans isn't so much the decision of Bronner's son, but rather the ongoing coverage by Bronner of the conflict -- seen by pro-Palestinian media watchers as pro-Israel.

Ironically, though, Bronner has been upbraided frequently by Mideast observers for being pro-Hamas -- including a memorable, year-old Daily Beast essay, "Why Does The New York Times Love Hamas?" that suggested the NYT wasn't willing to label Israel attacks on Palestinians as terrorist acts.

The Electronic Intifada story notes, instead, a February 2009 piece on the Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting website by Peter Hart. Hart's piece attacked the NYT's "all-too-familiar tendency to 'balance'" stories of Israel's aggressive military tactics "with criticisms of Palestinians."

For what it's worth, The NYTPicker noted last January that Bronner had published a scathing attack on the Israeli government in the Jerusalem Post, charging the military with blocking media access to its movements.

Electronic Intifada says it has raised the issue with NYT Public Editor Clark Hoyt.

We're inclined to agree with Chira's assessment of Bronner's reporting, and think he should be allowed to keep covering the Mideast conflict. He's a distinguished reporter with years of foreign experience for the Boston Globe and the NYT, and unlikely to allow his son's allegiance to Israel to color his views.

: In Sunday's NYT, Hoyt recommends "a plum assignment for [Bronner] someplace else for the duration of his son's service in the I.D.F."

In the on-the-one-hand, on-the-other-hand voice that has come to typify the Hoyt tenure as Public Editor, he declares that it "doesn’t seem fair to hold a father accountable for the decision of an adult son."

Then Hoyt offers this contradictory view:

But, stepping back, this is what I see: 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.

As usual, Hoyt has shown himself to be overly obsessed with appearances, worried more about the NYT's reputation than its coverage. He's wrong about Bronner.

In his reasoned response on Hoyt's blog, executive editor Bill Keller rightly declines to accept Hoyt's absurd advice, representing his decision as "a sign of respect for readers" who can tell the difference between reality and appearances.

Keller goes on:

Every reporter brings to the story a life — a history, relationships, ideas, beliefs. And the first essential discipline of journalism is to set those 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.

We can't put it any better than that.


HAK said...

I'd tend to back Bronner here. I think he does good reporting. (I'm a "Peace Now" type, if that makes any difference.) It's a little disingenuous of Hoyt to say that Bronner's son has "taken up arms" for one side. Of course this is an ongoing conflict, but military service is, as most people know, an institution and a sort of right of passage in Israel, bringing people together (Jewish and otherwise) from various communities and classes. He may end up in a combat unit, or he may just as easily end up working in a state museum, as some IDF members do. In any case, I don't think it's a surprise that the loyalties of Bronner's son lie where they do, and I don't see how his matriculation into the IDF will change how his father reports a vast and vastly complex issue.

Anonymous said...

Real complicated! Tread lightly and hesitate to appear knowledgeable! Angry Arabs refusing to budge for the slob tourist!

Bronner should disown or appear to disown his child; the IDF should reassign the initiate to a boulot that might accomodate NYT's porcelaine frigidity; and the news mentors must ensure that the boundaries of adventure delineated by their white supremacist playmates are satisfied; and a hundred years from now, the surviving stock can honestly exaggerate about ancestral bias.

Barth said...

Yes, I, too, agree with Keller, who does explain his view very well. I am a Times reader and want to read Ethan Bonner's reports from Jerusalem since he is well informed and knowledgeable. If his son's service is relevant, it ought to have been, and has been, disclosed.

End of story.

Anonymous said...

Isn't the relevant test here whether we can imagine the same benefit of the doubt being accorded to a reporter whose son was in, say, Hamas? It's pretty much unimaginable, and that's not a comment about Bronner.

Anonymous said...

If Bronner's in-law was a member of a kkk sublodge that indirectly financed Hamas, and Bronner broke the story would you pick on him for not being far-fetched enough in finding sources?

Of course the Bronners are very godly no doubt, so misinformed electronic agitators go all miswired and instead of pointing to the root of a problem just guarantee the necessity for conflict.

Anonymous said...

Clark Hoyt has no credibility since he never complained when during the Gaza war of 2008 and 2009, the Times had reportage from a Palestinian reporter who also blogged that his own father was a casualty of the war. Mr. Hoyt did not complain when a Times reporter who was born and raised in Libya was allowed to report the news from Syria, and the reportage was very critical of Israel. That same reporter was allowed to cover the Goldstone report and he lavished praise on Glodstone. Will Mr. Hoyt devote a column to that? Somehow I doubt it.

Anonymous said...

The Palestinian reporter referenced by the previous person posting is named Fares Akram. He has contributed several pieces to the New York Times on Gaza, both during the Gaza war and afterward. He also wrote an article stating that his father was killed during the Gaza war. Many of his articles are jointly written with Ethan Bronner, the very reporter that Clark Hoyt says must be removed from the Gaza beat. So if I can understand Mr. Hoyt's logic, it is that the portions of the articles written by Mr. Bronner are immediately suspicious and marked by a conflict of interest. The portions written by Mr. Akram have no taint of conflict of interest.
Mr. Hoyt is being intellectually dishonest. He knows that he simply caved in to loud protests from the Electronic Intifadah. And sadly, he seems not to have the courage to admit it.

Anonymous said...

It is no secret what is going on with Clark Hoyt. The Electronic Intifadah and other antiIsrael groups make it a habit to find a scandal involving Jewish journalists who cover the MiddleEast. They will stop at nothing, including even digging up dirt on the children of Jewish journalists covering the MidEast. Once they had what they considered to be dirt on a son of Ethan Bronner, they smelled blood in the water and bombarded the hapless Clark Hoyt with letters and emails. Mr. Hoyt did not want to be known as the "public advocate" who defended a Jewish reporter at the Times from these accusations. He appeared to be totally intimidated. His apologia to the proIslamic groups demanding Mr. Bronner's scalp was absolutely pathetic. He reminded me of the old expression: "retreat and then surrender". The fact that Mr. Hoyt would not defend the honor of a very good reporter says all that needs to be said about Clark Hoyt.

Anonymous said...

Please be kidding. If NYT wanted to be considered seriously as paper of ultimate historical record in Mid-East time zone they would be doing things very differently. They are players not reporters. Sad that so much talent, energy and oxygen has been wasted pretending this long.

Anonymous said...

Clark Hoyt's logic is truly ridiculous. He concedes that he can not find any proof of proIsraeli bias in Ethan Bronner's articles. But then Hoyt says that the actual reporting by Ethan Bronner does not matter. Hoyt says that because proArab groups feel that Ethan Bronner's son's military service makes Mr. Bronner's reporting biased is enough to require Bronner to leave the MidEast beat and be reassigned somewhere else. Now I wonder if Mr. Hoyt will follow his own logic in other cases. The Times has a reporter who was in the US military who now coves the war in Afghanistan. Surely some left leaning readers perceive that this makes the reporter biased in favor of the US and of the US troops. So Hoyt is now obligated to write a column saying that this reporter must be removed from Afghanistan and reassigned to a "plum assignmnent" elsewhere. Hoyt will no doubt come up with tortured reasoning as to why Bronner and Israel are somehow different. Hoyt has not covered himself with glory lately. It is sad to see Clark Hoyt joining a howling mob out to destroy the credibility of a decent man and good reporter.

Anonymous said...

Mr Hoyt's judgement in the matter of e-antifada vs. Bronner is substandard.

He constructs a false dipole and brings in a cast of characters thoroughly unqualified to speak to the matter at hand: the overnight experts, the longtime leach, the symbolic reader, all babbling fools serving to complicate and prolong narratives of conflict.

The public deserves a revisit, and the revisit should serve to enhance beyond entertainment.

Anonymous said...

I think that at some level, Clark Hoyt was motivated to call for Mr. Bronner's journalsitic scalp because Mr. Bronner is a Jewish reporter who covers Israel. He cloaked his criticism in some sophomoric illogic about Mr. Bronner's son. But Mr. Bronner's adult son is not what motivated the activists who ginned up the campaign against Mr. Bronner. All you have to do is read the blogs that these people write or see their tweets about Mr. Bronner. They have accused him of being a tool of the Israeli government and they like to cite his supposedly Jewish sounding surname. So when they finished digging into the background of Mr. Bronner's family until they found something they could use, they then started the ugly dual loyalty campaign. In Mr. Hoyt they found a person willing to be a useful dupe. Hoyt claimed to be writing more in sorrow than in anger. His pangs of sorrow ring hollow. Had he any honor, Mr. Hoyt would have written about a campaign of extraordinary viciousness against one reporter. Instead, Hoyt cited with approval a letter writer who is actively involved in proArab acttivities. Mr. Hoyt will no doubt allow letters to the public editor as a sop and a way of trying to show that he is fair. No one will be fooled by that. In my view, Mr. Hoyt did a grave injustice to a first rate journalist and for doing so, Clark Hoyt is man of no personal honor.

Anonymous said...

Clark Hoyt has never raised the issue of an adult child of a reporter until he was spoonfed the alleged conflict of interest by an anti-Israel group. All of a sudden Clark is in a self righteous tizzy. The real conflict of interest is Mr. Hoyt's behavior. He was handed a story by an organization, the electronic intifada, which is fiercely anti-Israel and run with it. He accepts their version without any hesitation and thinks it is just fine to use an anti-Israel source for an anti-srael story. Mr. Hoyt's supposed discovery of a scandal is a real farce.

Anonymous said...

I agree with what others have said about Clark Hoyt. Unlike Dan Okrent, who actually read and opened his mail, Hoyt can not be bothered answering any of his mail. I doubt he reads it either. He seems to be quite pleased with himself. Mr. Hoyt is clearly not Okrent's equal as a journalist or as a writer or as a public advocate. He wanted to write a column that would bring attention to himself and he desperately wanted to put himself in the role of intrepid and brave journalist. So he bought into a story handed to him by a well organized web site called Electronic Intifadah and he accepted as independent thinkers the antiIsrael writers who flooded his mailbox. His attack on the journalistic ethics of Ethan Bronner reminded me of Joseph McCarthy in 1954. I am sorry to have to say that but it is the best analogy I can find. After saying that he is not questioning Mr. Bronner's ethics or reporting skills, Mr. Hoyt than does precisely that. Mr. Hoyt is so disingenous and slippery that he says that once Mr. Bronner is removed from covering Israel or Gaza, Mr. Bronner can be given another "plum assignment". This is garbage and Mr. Hoyt knows this. If Mr. Bronner is forcibly removed from the Jerusalem bureau, his career is effectively over. It would be seen as a sign that the NYT has no faith in Mr. Bronner and that his ethics are questionable. And then after the sickening deed is done. Mr. Hoyt can not write a column about how much he admires Mr. Bronner and how he (Hoyt) never intended to impugn him. Funny, Mr. Hoyt has no problem with the Libyan born and raised Neil McFarquhar writing from Syria. Clark Hoyt is no Edward R. Murrow.

Anonymous said...

Why is anyone taking Clark Hoyt seriously? His column is about the least interesting of anything other than the wedding page at the Times. Who really cares what Clark Hoyt thinks. We are not talking about Leo Tolstoy here.

Anonymous said...

The cornflake mentality that exempts itself of any challenge tougher than passing-the-aloof-at-the-shawarma-stand-test, only to dump on the singular voice who cares to break silence, to share the unshowable, to dare dissipate tensions and confront substance, IS OF NO STANDING MERIT.

Clark, the time to trade the bureaucrat's armor for an arsenal of excellence is now.

Anonymous said...

I just reread Hoyt's column on Bronner (I deserve combat pay for twice reading such turgid prose) and then googled the name of the letter writer who so moved Clark Hoyt. Hoyt cited a woman's anguish over having to read her MidEast coverage from a writer who has an adult son in the IDF. As it turns out, that woman is involved in activities that chritably could be called antiIsrael. Hoyt portrayed her as a quiet citizen who simply reads and loves the NYTimes. Far from it, the woman is quite noisy in her political activities. If I could discover this in a five minute google search, then Hoyt has to be the laziest employee at the Times. There should be a column each Sunday in which a fact checker reports on the latest factual omissions and mistakes by Clark Hoyt. You would think that Clark Hoyt would call up Dan Okrent and ask Mr. Okrent how the job is properly done.

Anonymous said...

On the last post here, a writer mentioned that Hoyt relied primarily on the "anguished letter" that he received from a woman who convinced him (Hoyt) that Ethan Bronner had to go. You re right that Hoyt was bowled over by the letter and portrayed the letter as coming from an everywoman, the typical NY Times reader. What Hoyt didn't tell his readers (probably because he is not a curious reporter) was that the woman he relied on (named Linda Mamoun) has been a prolific writer of articles harshly critical of the State of Israel. She jas even written for the Nation,a well known journal that disdains Israel. So the letter that so moved Hoyt was a professionally prepared hit on Ethan Bronner. I don't expect Clark Hoyt to fess up. What he will do is eventually print two letters in support of Bronner and two letter opposed to Bronner. Hoyt will then congratulate himself and say see "Neither side likes what I did so I must be correct". That has been his response to all criticism of him since the day he took over the job. Since the public advocate position is a waste of scare financial resources, it is time to just get rid of it.

Anonymous said...

The Hamas charter is the charter of a terrorist extremist organization. Why news outlets as MSNBC and NYT want to shelter Hamas, both directly and by proxy, and how this pathetic passivity contributes to the carnage in gaza, is where the public editor could do some soul-searching, were he to give two shits about other people's suffering to begin with.

Anonymous said...

To above: Add ABC to that list, though at least their pro-hamas rhetoric is aligned with parental financial stakes to preserving conflict in ME.