New York Times' Ethan Bronner's Conflict of Interest

The Electronic Intifada broke an important story about the New York Times, and Alison Weir has written the following commentary on it, posted on her blog. I felt the readers of NOMADICS would want to read this:

New York Times’ Ethan Bronner’s Conflict of Interest: Conversation with Bronner and Alternative News Sources

The Electronic Intifada has just broken the story that the son of Ethan Bronner, the New York Times bureau chief for Israel-Palestine, has just joined the Israeli army. This is obviously a serious conflict of interest.

As EI points out, “The New York Times‘ own ‘Company policy on Ethics in Journalism‘ acknowledges that the activities of a journalist’s family member may constitute a conflict of interest. It includes as an example, “A brother or a daughter in a high-profile job on Wall Street might produce the appearance of conflict for a business reporter or editor.” Such conflicts may on occasion require the staff member “to withdraw from certain coverage.”

Many of us have long noted the Times‘ Israel bias in its coverage and have been troubled by Bronner’s Israeli-centric reporting.

In 2005 at If Americans Knew we did a study of the New York Times and found that in 2004 it had reported on Israeli children’s deaths at a rate 7.3 times greater than it reported on Palestinian children’s deaths. Moreover, this was probably just the tip of the iceberg; if the study had included additional study categories — such as amount of information per death, frequency of accompanying photograph, etc — I suspect the differential would have been even greater.

When we presented our study in detail to then Times’ ombudsman, “Readers Representative” Dan Okrent, he suggested that it would be impossible for the New York Times to find sufficient competent Arab-American journalists to hire to equal the competent Jewish-American reporters.

I was astonished by this statement. It may well be true that Jewish Americans work as journalists, particularly in major American media, in far higher proportions than members of other ethnic groups. However, there are many Arab and Muslim journalists of high competence and who have won such awards as the Pulitzer Prize; it seemed to me bizarre, and perhaps chauvinistic (Okrent is Jewish), not to be aware of this.

In his subsequent column discussing the Times‘ coverage of Israel-Palestine, Okrent made a fraudulent statement about what I had said in the meeting. I then contacted the Times over their defamatory error and demanded a retraction. I also wrote an article revealing what had happened. At the bottom of his next column, Okrent told readers of my objection and gave the link to my article. Once again, he gave considerably more space – high up in the column – to Israel partisans.

Conversation with Bronner

During this period I spoke by phone with Ethan Bronner, at that time deputy foreign editor for the Times.  Bronner, like Okrent, said it would be impossible to find Arab-American or Muslim-American journalists to balance out the Jewish-American journalists working at the Times on this issue.

Again, I was astonished. I said, “Ethan, how many people are we talking about? Three reporters?” He corrected me: “two.” (I believe these were the numbers, though it’s possible that I suggested four reporters and he corrected me to three; I’d have to look back through notes buried in a file somewhere to ascertain the specific figures.)

I have since occasionally written articles noting the Times‘ failure to adequately cover this issue. For example, in “Anatomy of a Cover-up: When a Mother Gets Killed Does She Make a Sound,” I describe a criminal tragedy that went largely uncovered by the US media. I noted that the New York Times reported it in the last two paragraphs of a 24-paragraph story.

Similarly, in another article, “Just Another Mother Murdered,” I again found the US media ignoring a Palestinian tragedy. The New York Times had given it one sentence.

In “American Media Miss the Boat,” I describe how the Times and other American news outlets failed to report highly newsworthy information on the Israeli attack on a US Navy ship, the USS Liberty.

If I had the time I could write a multitude of such analyses.

There is a significant problem here. Bronner is part of it. It’s time for the New York Times to begin to report on Israel-Palestine fully, accurately, and without Israeli spin. In the meantime, I suggest that people turn elsewhere for news.

Other Sources for News

While many media critics note the disturbing concentration of media ownership in the US, they often fail to appreciate the numerous and growing number of alternative news sources available to Americans.

In our almost-daily news site we post significant stories on this issue not being covered by major media, utilizing a multitude of excellent news sources. Other groups have long provided such news compilations, including Vermonters for a Just Peace in Palestine and “Today in Palestine.”

Palestinian media such as Ma’an News (whose chief English editor was just seized and deported by Israel) and the International Middle East Media Center are excellent sources of daily news, as are the reports from the International Solidarity Movement, Christian Peacemaker Teams, and the webpages of such Palestinian villages as Bil’in. Often Israeli media have valuable articles; there are detailed reports from international agencies in the region such as the Red Cross, UN, etc; and the Palestinian Monitoring Group provides an invaluable daily listing of all the previous day’s events. The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs and The Link are superb US publications on the issue, and a multitude of websites provide exposes on this issue, the power of the Israel Lobby, etc.

In our site,”Israel-Palestine: The Missing Headlines,” we try to serve as an aggregator of important stories from all these diverse sources (to the extent that staff time allows – if you would like to help us on this, please donate!).

Fortunately, Americans don’t need to rely on the New York Times anymore.

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