Ethan Bronner and the controversy that shouldn't be
I was surprised on Sunday to read about the controversy surrounding Ethan Bronner, the Jerusalem bureau chief for the New York Times and a gifted, fair-minded and extremely creative journalist.
The controversy involves absolutely nothing that Bronner did or a scandal of any sort. Bronner’s “problem” is that his 20-year-old son decided to join the Israeli Defense Forces. And Times’ public editor Clark Hoyt thinks that, for that reason, the Times should take Bronner out of Jerusalem and give him a different job.
I passionately disagree.
I use the word “passionately” because, like all parents, I have thought a lot about what it means for your child to become autonomous and to make the choices he or she thinks are right. Of course, parents sometimes try to influence those choices – I suspect I’ll keep doing that with my kids long after they’ve left home. But a child should be free to make a defensible moral or professional decision without having to worry about its impact on the professional life of his or her parents. (Since someone may ask, my kids aren’t old enough yet to make any of these choices, so I guess I count myself lucky.)
I was surprised at the conclusion reached by Hoyt, whose judgments I have come to admire. In his column, Hoyt carefully analyzes Bronner’s work and concludes that he is a “superb reporter” and that it “doesn’t seem fair to hold a father accountable for the decision of an adult son.” I don’t understand why Hoyt didn’t stop there.
Instead, he went on:
But, stepping back, this is what I see: 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.
He suggests that Bronner be found a “plum assignment… at least for the duration of his son’s service in the I.D.F.”
But if Bronner could be trusted before and after his son’s service, why can’t he be trusted now? I can imagine situations involving genuine conflicts. It would be hard for a sports reporter to cover his or her child’s team. A business reporter might have trouble covering a company in which his or her child held a high position -- though it might not be a problem if the child held a middle- or low-level job. Any situation in which what a reporter writes translates directly into economic benefit for his or her kid raises a legitimate concern. But if a war or defense reporter had a son or daughter in the U.S. military, would we demand that this reporter be reassigned? I truly don’t think Bronner will change his approach to covering the Middle East because his son has joined the IDF. I’d feel the same if his son were instead devoting a year to human rights or refugee work with Palestinians.
Of course, I know that Middle East coverage is an extremely sensitive topic, and Hoyt describes the constant criticism from both sides that the Times runs into. But that is no excuse to pull Bronner from an assignment he has carried out very well.
In the end, the only fair way to judge a journalist is by his or her work. If fair-minded critics notice a change in Bronner’s tone or in the subjects he chooses to cover, the Times can revisit the issue. It is good that the enlistment of Bronner’s son is public – and it’s worth noting that Bronner alerted his editors about this fact, as the Times’ ethics guidelines require.
I hope Times executive editor Bill Keller sticks to his guns and lets Bronner complete what is one of the toughest assignments in journalism.
Posted by: postfan1 | February 8, 2010 5:14 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: GoinPostal84 | February 8, 2010 5:35 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: jklfairwin | February 8, 2010 5:43 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: AIPACiswar | February 8, 2010 5:47 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: stillaliberal | February 8, 2010 6:05 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: philly3 | February 8, 2010 6:18 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: auntywbush | February 8, 2010 7:36 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: dogsbestfriend | February 8, 2010 8:30 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: bogemin | February 9, 2010 12:46 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: HFNY | February 9, 2010 4:42 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: SureWhateverYouSay | February 9, 2010 7:16 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: usemark1 | February 9, 2010 5:52 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: AMviennaVA | February 10, 2010 8:17 AM | Report abuse
The comments to this entry are closed.