The people of Gaza appear to have been the recent victims of the arrogance (or what some believe to be the bias) of the NY Times. The stubbornness of Bill Keller, the executive editor of the NY Times, in refusing to relocate his Jerusalem reporter has caused a considerable drop in the paper's coverage of Gaza. The Times has refused to relocate their reporter covering Israel and Palestine after the appearance of a conflict of interest surfaced. The Electronic Intifada and the US media watchdog FAIR first reported the conflict of interest case in January 25th and 27th respectively.
The case intensified after it was confirmed that the son of Ethan Bronner, the respected veteran journalist and the Times' bureau chief in Jerusalem, has been training in the Israeli army for a year and is scheduled to do six months of active service. The disclosure also noted that Bronner's wife Naomi is an Israeli citizen.
Keller's stubbornness in his refusal to accept the logical advice of the public editor has resulted in the absence of the Times' Gaza reporter and clear deficiency in Gaza based features and analysis.
In a February 6th report, NY Times public editor Clark Hoyt said:"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."
Despite the public back and forth between the executive editor and his public editor, nowhere in the discussion was any thinking given as to how this public controversy will affect the paper's own reporters and the dangerous area that they are living in. The status of one person in particular seem to have totally escaped the editors of the NY Times.
Ever since this controversy inside the NY Times was made public, Palestinian and Arab newspapers picked it up ran it in all local media outlets leaving a hitherto unknown victim -- the NY Times' Gaza-based Taghreed El Khodary. Khodary, a 2005 Neiman Fellow at Harvard University, has been the paper's reporter in Gaza since 2001. Her network of contacts have been so extensive and wide that when journalists were denied entry into Gaza during the Israeli war on the strip, she became one of the only independent journalists covering the conflict from inside Gaza. Her coverage during the war won her the respect of friend and foe alike and she received special praise from her editors for that.
When this controversy became public, Taghreed was away in the US on a training program and then a well deserved vacation, friends say. Her colleagues in Gaza have said that she decided not to return since because of obvious worry that her network of contacts would disappear and that she would have trouble writing or even moving around in Hamas controlled Gaza.
Anyone familiar with violent conflicts, like the one in Gaza, know how easy things can turn bad for a local journalists working for a publication who suddenly is in the limelight in a very negative way. El Khodary, who doesn't wear the traditional Islamic head dress even while covering events in Gaza, could have easily been the target of any hot headed Islamists who would use this case to score some points using her as a punching bag. She in known for her credibility and honesty in reporting -- no wonder she disappeared. Gaza is such a hard place to cover and it's a challenge to gain such credibility . Her colleagues say she is not stupid to let that go by working with a boss in Jerusalem who has a son in the Israeli army that might march into Gaza any day.
For the past three months the Times' coverage of the Gaza strip has been very flat. Except for a few stories using wire service reporting, the paper of record didn't publish any serious analysis or feature out of Gaza. A local reporter Akram Fares had his byline on a small news story on March 3.
Not only has El Khodary been absent, but the NY Times bureau chief, Ethan Bronner has also not gone to Gaza either. The NY Times other Jerusalem-based reporter, Isabel Kershner, an Israeli, has also not reported from Gaza.
So as a result of the reluctance of the executive editor of the NY Times to do the right thing and transfer Bronner, as his public editor suggested "to a plum assignment somewhere else," the newspaper has lost its star Gaza reporter and has short changed its readers. At a time that internal Palestinian reconciliation is possible on the eve of the Arab summit due in Tripoli later this month and indirect negotiations are going to take place soon, the NY Times readers deserve serious reporting out of Gaza.