Halpern: No conflict of interest


I'm thinking

by Micah D. Halpern

Issue of February 12, 2010/ 28 Shvat 5770
Clark Hoyt holds the position of Public Editor at The New York Times. It is his responsibility to read, review and respond to both the praise and the critique of the newspaper’s readers and to clarify their issues. In essence, the job of the Public Editor is to keep the paper honest. Hoyt was hired by The New York Times to be an independent thinker reflecting on sensitive topics, but his thoughts and opinions are purely his own. His views are not endorsed by the paper nor are his recommendations necessarily followed.

In his column this past Sunday Hoyt discusses the viability of keeping Jerusalem Bureau Chief Ethan Bronner in his position. Hoyt concluded that another position, somewhere far away from the Middle East, should be found for Bronner. Bill Keller, Executive Editor and the big boss, disagrees. Bronner will stay on in Jerusalem.

Ethan Bronner has held the position of Jerusalem Bureau Chief of The New York Times since March of 2008. Prior to this position he was foreign editor for paper and had also been both Jerusalem correspondent and bureau chief for The Boston Globe. Bronner is married to an Israeli, a psychologist named Naomi Kehati, a salient fact that Hoyt left out of his column. The point he did dwell on, and the reason for the entire discussion, is the fact that Bronner’s twenty-year old son has joined the IDF.

For many people in the mainstream orthodox world, The New York Times is a hot button issue. That is not my issue. For most of the world, Israelis and Palestinians are hot button issues. That is what concerns me.

That people are concerned about, angered over, incensed by and/or proud of what happens in Israel and the way that it is covered has become a given. The New York Times is a powerful paper and sets a tone and an agenda about whatever it covers, including the Middle East.

One litmus test for judging good coverage of an issue is to judge the critique of that issue. By his own admission, Hoyt conceded that Bronner gets hit on every side. When he wrote about the release of the Goldstone Report the internet was flooded with pro-Israeli critique of his anti-Israel bias. And then, when Bronner wrote about Israel’s challenge to the Goldstone Report the internet lit up with criticism emanating from the Arab world.

Hoyt concluded his piece by explaining that while Ethan Bronner is an excellent journalist, “solid and fair” are the words he chose to use, the Jerusalem Bureau Chief for The New York Times is now tainted with “the appearance of a conflict of interest.”

When it comes to coverage of the Middle East there is no such thing as objective coverage. A journalist tries to point out weakness and support positives, but everyone has an ax to grind — even The New York Times.

Their ax, their objective, is now and has always been, to promote peace — and that explains why the mainstream Orthodox community has so many problems with the newspaper. Not that they have a problem with peace, but at what cost.

Walter Rodgers, a true gentleman and consummate journalist, the dean of foreign correspondents and the CNN Bureau Chief in the Middle East for several years took me aside and explained the rigors of being stationed in Jerusalem in the following way: When journalists first come to the region, they love the Palestinians and hate Israelis. A year later, they hate the Palestinians and love Israelis. By the third year they have had enough of everybody.

Unless they live in a bubble, journalists, like everyone else, will forge relationships wherever they are stationed. Those relationships will influence their thinking but, more importantly, they will also provide insight into the physical and emotional terrain of the region.

Ethan Bronner’s son is an adult. Ethan Bronner is a professional journalist who has the task of taking difficult issues, distilling them into a few words and sending them out to readers thousands of miles away.

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