JERUSALEM (JTA) — The New York Times’ public editor recommended that the newspaper’s Jerusalem bureau chief be reassigned because his son joined the Israeli army.
Clark Hoyt, who serves as the paper’s independent ombudsman, wrote about the issue in a column Sunday, weighing whether bureau chief Ethan Bronner can be objective, and whether the Times’ reporting can be seen as fair, given that Bronner’s son is serving in the Israel Defense Forces. Bronner’s son enlisted last December for a year and a half of service with plans to return to the United States for college.
"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," Hoyt wrote. "Even the most sympathetic reader could reasonably wonder how that would affect the father, especially if shooting broke out.
"I have enormous respect for Bronner and his work, and he has done nothing wrong. But this is not about punishment; it is simply a difficult reality. I would find a plum assignment for him somewhere else, at least for the duration of his son’s service in the IDF."
An American Jew, Bronner has been posted in Israel four times in the past two years. He served as the Times’ deputy foreign editor for four years. He is married to an Israeli psychologist.
The possible conflict of interest was raised several weeks ago by the pro-Palestinian Web site Electronic Intifada.
In a response also published in the newspaper Saturday, Times Executive Editor Bill Keller disagreed with Hoyt and said Bronner would remain in his post.
"Much as I respect your concern for appearances, we will not be taking your advice to remove Ethan Bronner from the Jerusalem Bureau," Keller wrote. "You and everyone you interviewed for your column concurs that Ethan Bronner is fully capable of continuing to cover his beat fairly. Your concern is that readers will not be capable of seeing it that way. That is probably true for some readers. The question is whether those readers should be allowed to deny the rest of our audience the highest quality of reporting."
Keller said that Bronner’s family connections "supply a measure of sophistication about Israel and its adversaries that someone with no connections would lack" and "make him even more tuned-in to the sensitivities of readers on both sides."