Feb 8, 2010

Looking for the line

New York Times public editor Clark Hoyt suggests the paper replace Jerusalem bureau chief Ethan Bronner because his son has joined the Israeli military. Hoyt says the appearance of conflict is enough to warrant reassignment:
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. 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 I.D.F.

Times editor Bill Keller responds, "... our policies are designed to make us alert, not to preempt our professional judgment." He goes on to say that Bronner will be staying on the job because the family connections create no more of a problem than the other life experiences reporters bring to their beats:

Nazila Fathi, our brave Tehran correspondent, was hounded out of her native country and into exile by the current regime. Does that “conflict of interest” disqualify her from writing about Iran? Or does that, on the contrary, make her more qualified, knowing as she does how that regime operates? Would you prefer to have a correspondent in Tehran who had NOT been persecuted by the Iranian government?

Whatever side you come down on, it's good to see a public editor sparking a vigorous debate inside the newsroom and forcing news editors to be accountable, rather than letting them sweep this under a rug.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Re: Hoyt's flinty grandstanding. The journalist stands on his/her own performance, subject to the assessment of peers and the public. "No you can't because" places rules over values; rules guide ethical behavior, but are secondary to judgment. The logic would know no end in subsequent application. Life is comprised of what Hoyt mislabels as conflict of interest, which this case is not. Whose judgment will be substituted for the editors' in deciding a reporter's familial, social, ethnic, political, class, gender, religious fitness to report particular issues? The public editor? The publisher? Public pressure? How about advertisers? Let Bronner report, and his editors edit, and then assess the results, and objectivity, by the same standards, neither higher nor more lax, applied to any other reporter on the beat.