The NY Times and Ethan Bronner, Why the Fuss and Fury?

04/11/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The 18 year old son of New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief, Ethan Bronner, has volunteered for a stint in the Israeli army. It has caused a rather disturbing hullabaloo.
Clark Hoyt, The Times' editorial ombudsman, praises Bronner's work, but sees his son's decision as cause for suspicion of a conflict of interest, and calls for Bronner to be reassigned elsewhere. Bronner's executive editor, Bill Keller, citing his experienced reporter's long record of balanced reporting, refuses.

The usual suspects and a lot of other folks have also chimed in with opinions - one way or the other.

I know why there is such a fuss. But frankly, from my own experience I think much of it is disingenuous.

I've been covering and writing about Mideast events for more than 40 years. And like Bronner, I had a son serving in the Israeli army during part of the 14 years I covered both Israel and the Arab world as US News & World Report's senior foreign correspondent.

During that time, I do not believe that my obvious parental concern for my son's safety influenced my reporting, my writing, my integrity or that of my magazine. A good journalist knows facts are facts, news is news and is devoted to presenting all major perspectives even if he or she doesn't necessarily agree with any of them.

Indeed, I recall times when my Mideast coverage provoked almost as equal a number of angry notes from piqued pro-Israeli readers as it did from unhappy pro-Arab ones. (Fortunately for my career, there were also a considerable number of kudos from both sides).

My son's military service never prevented me from entering Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Egypt, Libya, Jordan, Kuwait, the Gulf states, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iraq, the West Bank or Gaza. Nor did it stop me from interviewing the leaders of the Palestinian Authority or of Hamas, the kings, princes and presidents of Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Libya -- all in order to get their perspectives to my readers. That included an interview with Sheikh Yassin, founder of Hamas, and a highly publicized talk with Damascus-based terrorist leader Ahmed Jibril, who was suspected of involvement in the downing of Pan Am 103. There were also three interviews with Yasser Arafat, and two exclusive talks with Libyan leader Muammar Quadafi, who went out of his way at our second Q & A to thank me for having been "so precise and fair" in presenting his words to the American public.

I have known and worked with Ethan Bronner during more than 15 years. I don't always agree with his assessments of the Arab-Israeli conflict - and ironically, aside from extreme leftists, most Israelis and partisans of Israel generally view him as often being too critical of Israel.
That notwithstanding, Ethan Bronner has always been a competent, dedicated and responsible journalist with a broad understanding of the region. Would we disenfranchise another American correspondent who had a son or daughter who volunteered to serve a year in Afghanistan or Iraq?

Part of the raised ruckus predictably comes from those for whom Israel can do no right, people who still question if not deny its very legitimacy. In their myopic view, anyone like myself, and likely Bronner, who are American Jews and may also believe, as many Americans do -- Jews and non-Jews -- that the internationally recognized Jewish state of Israel has a right to exist, are immediately subject to more than suspicion. Sadly, in these increasingly partisan times, we will continue to be suspect, no matter how balanced we are in our reporting nor how much we may criticize specific Israeli policies in opinion pieces.

Finally, I believe another part of this whole problem stems from the New York Times' long tradition of hyper-sensitivity about the Jewish roots of its founding and still controlling family, the Sulzbergers. Bending over backwards to be "un-Jewish" is what led the NY Times to fail so miserably in reporting and condemning the Holocaust during and immediately after World War II. It is also probably why the Times refrained from basing any American Jewish correspondent in Jerusalem for more than the first three decades of the Jewish state's existence. Is this what we really want to return to?