In the wake of the disclosure last winter that NYT Jerusalem bureau chief Ethan Bronner's son joined the Israeli Army, NYT Gaza correspondent Taghreed E-Khodary has quit the paper -- fearing that the situation could cost the reporter her sources, or even her life.
"If Ethan’s son joined the Israeli army, OK it’s his issue," El-Khodary told a Palestine Center forum in Washington last June. "If The New York Times decided to keep him there, ok, they took a decision. But I took a decision too....I decided, because I don’t want to lose my sources, and I don’t want to lose my life, and I don’t want him to lose his life, so it’s as simple as that. So, I came out with that decision because it’s important to keep my sources. It’s a challenge, and I don’t want to lose it. I don’t want to be tainted like ‘the one who writes for someone that has a son in the army’ – I don’t want, I don’t need that. Already there are many challenges around you and you don’t want to add another one. It’s not worth it."
El-Khodary, who was born in Gaza, reported from the region for the NYT since 2001; she is identified on Wikipedia as still contributing to the paper. She had been a Nieman Fellow at Harvard in 2006, and it was Nieman Reports that first posted the transcript of her appearance at the Palestine Center, and highlighted her decision to quit the NYT.
The NYT's decision to allow Bronner to continue serving as Jerusalem bureau chief -- after it was disclosed last February that his son had enlisted in the I.D.F. -- created a brief firestorm in the media last February. Clark Hoyt, then-Public Editor of the NYT, pushed for the NYT to give Bronner a "plum" reassignment while his son served in the Israeli military, but executive editor Bill Keller vigorously defended Bronner's impartiality and his own decision not to cave to pressure:
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.
But for El-Khodary, the NYT's decision prompted her to make one of her own.
"I have succeeded to be considered a very critical journalist on the ground, and I don’t want to lose that," she told the forum. "I’m sorry that I left Gaza, but my bureau chief’s son joined the Israeli army and I felt like it’s not wise of me. I don’t want to risk losing my sources that I have been establishing for many, many years. It’s a very sensitive issue, as you all know, not only that, but it’s also risky and you have many small groups who would like revenge and I can be a great person to get a hold of. It’s very sensitive and I was really disappointed that they took this decision but they understand why I left."