Friday, February 5, 2010

I buried EI's Bronner story

I must admit, when Electronic Intifada broke the story two weeks ago that New York Times Jerusalem Correspondent Ethan Bronner's son was in the IDF, I cast it aside as speculation. Low and behold, EI certainly proved itself a competent investigative outfit on this one. Bronner confirmed that his son had joined the IDF five weeks ago during a lecture at Vassar College. A few months ago the Times published a scathing criticism of Peter Galbraith, a long-time contributor who had been writing op-eds for the paper on Iraq and other Middle Eastern matters for years. As it turned out, many of Galbraith's articles called for greater Kurdish autonomy and Galbraith just happened to have a big stake in some oil fields in Kurdish territory. Had the ideas of Galbraith's pieces become reality, he stood to make a great deal of money, compromising his journalistic integrity because he had failed to disclose he had financial interests in the subject he was writing about. But with a son in the IDF, and the Israeli military playing such a prominent role in the conflict (which Bronner's work in Jerusalem nearly always relates to) can we expect Ethan Bronner to be unwaveringly objective? The Times has failed to address the possible conflict of interest in any meaningful way, though their code of ethics does point out that family activity in the area a journalist is covering may be a conflict of interest. I think at the very least Bronner and the Times have a responsibility to publicly disclose to their readers that the correspondent has close family ties to the Israeli military as it is clear the IDF will be a frequent protagonist of any Jerusalem correspondent's daily coverage. As it stands now, I don't think Bronner or the Times have addressed the issue in a manner befitting a respectable news organization. If the Times specifically says it is a conflict of interest for a reporter to write on a election in which the reporter's spouse is running, I think they must at the very least address a possible conflict of interest of a correspondent reporting on the actions of a military in which his son serves. Some are calling for Bronner's resignation. I am not in this camp, though I do think public disclosure of the connection is necessary to provide the Times' readership with all the information they need.

This question is tough and one I will certainly revisit: Is having a son in the military that one covers a conflict of interest that would compromise the integrity of the reporter?

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