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The New York Times' coverage of Israel-Palestine was Biased Before Bureau Chief's Son Joined the IDF

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This week the editors of The New York Times's sprang to the defense of Jerusalem Bureau Chief Ethan Bronner following weeks of controversy over his son's service in the Israeli Defense Forces. Public editor Clark Hoyt praised Bronner's track-record at the Times, in his February 6th column but nonetheless concluded that "covering Israel's conflict with a son in uniform might be cause to reassign even a superb reporter." The Times' Executive Editor Bill Keller said in a response that "the editors discussed the situation and sees no reason to change Bronner's status as bureau chief."

Let's get somethings straight. Ethan Bronner is not and never has been a "superb reporter" and there are plenty of reasons why he should not be allowed to run the Times' biggest Middle Eastern bureau, let alone commit blatant anti-journalistic acts on behalf of the "paper of record"--the last of which is his son's military service. No other reporter has turned the paper of record into a mouthpiece for the Israeli occupation more than Ethan Bronner and that is quite an accomplishment for a publication that so consistently represents one party's agenda.

There are too many inaccurate assertions in either of these letters to address in a single blog post, but what's most troubling to me is that both Hoyt and Keller appear to believe in Bronner's, and the Times', objectivity: "Bronner occupies one of journalism's hottest seats, covering the intractable conflict between Israelis and Palestinians," Hoyt wrote. "As the top correspondent for America's most influential newspaper, everything he writes is examined microscopically for signs of bias."

First of all, I object to the characterization of the conflict as "intractable" but that's a minor infraction on the spectrum of editorial infractions. You don't have to be a journalist, editor, or Middle Eastern scholar to find signs of biases in Bronner's coverage. Nor does one have to examine it microscopically. Just type in his byline in the search box of the Times' website and glance at the first twenty headlines that appear and it's obvious where Bronner's sympathies lie. Almost every substantial story is told from the perspective of Israelis: "Israel Nears Membership in Economic Club," from January 19; "For Israel, Mixed Feelings on Aid Effort," published on January 22; "Israel Prepares Rebuttal to the Goldstone Report," from January 23.

Bronner himself told Hoyt that he "would rather be judged by his work than his biography," so a signs of bias take a look at the latter story on what he characterizes as Israel's campaign to "dispel the [Goldstone] report's harsh conclusion -- that the death of noncombatants and destruction of civilian infrastructure were part of an official plan to terrorize the Palestinian population."

In September a United Nations fact-finding mission released a 575-page report of massive war crimes committed by Israel and to a lesser extent Hamas during the 2008 war in Gaza. Bronner did not cover Goldstone's findings for the times in September, but devoted 1,200 words to Israel's rebuttal on January 23.

"The rebuttal will be given to United Nations officials in the coming weeks and its contents will remain under wraps until then," he wrote. "But officers involved in writing the report gave some details."

He proceeds to quote at least seven different Israeli sources and not a single Palestinian or independent human rights group about the details of a document he presumable has not read. The sources refute a few of the specific findings related to infrastructure damage detailed by the commission, but mentions the gravest alleged breaches at the heart of the report, only in passing.

For instance, Bronner makes no mention of the mortar attack on a mosque during prayer service that killed 15 people, but allows an anonymous source to defend itself against the report's minor charges, such as the destruction of a flour mill and chicken coops. "The mission finds that the conduct of Israeli armed forces constitute grave breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention in respect of wilful killings and wilfully causing great suffering to protected persons and as such give rise to individual criminal responsibility," the executive summary of the Goldstone report said.

Rubble and destruction were the most minor consequences of the war, but you'd never know that from reading Bronner's account. The Times in general, and Bronner in particular, have a long history of burying the plight of individual Palestinians under the rubble in service of furthering a one-sided narrative of the conflict.

Bronner's objectivity deserves to be questioned and If his son's military service is the impetus for readers to look deeper into the news they consumer and the interests driving it, so be it. By pretending to engage in a discussion about journalistic objectivity, Keller and Hoyt made it blatantly obvious that readers cannot rely on editors for a balanced news diet.

"It's not just that we value the expertise and integrity of a journalist who has covered this most difficult of stories extraordinarily well for more than a quarter century," Keller wrote in a response to Hoyt. "It's not just that we are reluctant to capitulate to the more savage partisans who make that assignment so difficult -- and who make the fairmindedness of a correspondent like Ethan so precious and courageous."