Clark Hoyt, “The Public Editor” at The NY Times, apparently doesn’t know when he is being used.
Or at least Hoyt didn’t know it when he reacted to a complaint from the Electronic Intifada website that Ethan Bronner, The Times’ Jerusalem bureau Chief (an American) had a son who recently entered the Israeli military. This supposedly constituted a conflict of interest warranting Bronner’s removal.
Electronic Intifada is a congenitally anti-Israeli website which seeks to delegitimize the State of Israel and the historical claims of the Jewish people to the land of Israel.
It should not have been too hard to figure this out. What didn’t Hoyt understand about “Intifada”?
Had The Times removed Bronner because of Bronner’s son’s military service, any Jewish Israeli would be barred from reporting for The Times about Israel, since Israel has compulsory military service for Jews. And by extension, any Jew should be barred, since Israel is a Jewish state.
And that really was the point of Electronic Intifada’s complaint, to manipulate the pool of reporters to create a greater likelihood of coverage hostile to Israel. The people who run Electronic Intifada couldn’t give a damn about journalistic principles of “conflict of interest” unless those principles could be used against Israel.
This would have been obvious to anyone who put two words together: “Electronic” and “Intifada.” Or who took even a few minutes to peruse the website.
Hoyt, however, apparently couldn’t put two and two together, and engaged in a pathetic appeasement of this transparently ridiculous complaint:
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 I.D.F.
Fortunately, Bill Keller, Executive Editor of The Times, did not fall off the same pumpkin truck as Hoyt.
In a very well-reasoned response, Keller rejected the claim that Bronner’s reporting should be judged based on anything other than its merits, or that ethnic origin or religious affiliation was a basis for barring an otherwise fair reporter:
Much as I respect your concern for appearances, we will not be taking your advice to remove Ethan Bronner from the Jerusalem Bureau….
If we send a Jewish correspondent to Jerusalem, the zealots on one side will accuse him of being a Zionist and on the other side of being a self-loathing Jew, and then they will parse every word he writes to find the phrase that confirms what they already believe while overlooking all evidence to the contrary. So to prevent any appearance of bias, would you say we should not send Jewish reporters to Israel? If so, what about assigning Jewish reporters to countries hostile to Israel? What about reporters married to Jews? Married to Israelis? Married to Arabs? Married to evangelical Christians? (They also have some strong views on the Holy Land.) What about reporters who have close friends in Israel? Ethical judgments that start from prejudice lead pretty quickly to absurdity, and pandering to zealots means cheating readers who genuinely seek to be informed.
But I have to give credit where credit is due.
The NY Times did the right thing in refusing to give in to the intifada being waged by anti-Israeli agitators who will not hesitate to abuse otherwise noble journalistic principles in their electronic war against the Jews in Israel.
Update: Soccer Dad pointed out to me that Hoyt failed to alert the readers of his column that Electronic Intifada was an anti-Israeli website. Wouldn’t that disclosure have been important to readers?
Hoyt also referred to FAIR as a “liberal media watchdog group,” which is something of an understatement. FAIR describes its purpose as “advocating for greater diversity in the press and by scrutinizing media practices that marginalize public interest, minority and dissenting viewpoints…. As a progressive group, FAIR believes that structural reform is ultimately needed to break up the dominant media conglomerates, establish independent public broadcasting and promote strong non-profit sources of information.” Consistent with FAIR’s self-described purpose, FAIR often acts as an advocacy group not a neutral media watchdog, as the NY Times itself noted as far back as 1990.
I don’t question Hoyt’s motives, but I do question his judgment in failing to make full disclosure regarding the groups behind this controversy.