There’s a bizarre controversy brewing over the fact that New York Times Middle East reporter Ethan Bronner’s son has decided to volunteer for the Israeli military. Anti-Israel activists are arguing that this means that Bronner will be tempted to bias his reporting in favor of Israel and the IDF, rendering his reporting non-objective, or at least suspect. The Times’s public editor agrees with Bronner’s critics, but the Times editor-in-chief is defending Bronner.
I say that this is bizarre because I think friends of Israel would love to see media outlets adopt the standard proposed by Bronner’s critics, so long as it applies to both sides. If the fact that Bronner’s son is serving in the Israeli military means that Bronner can’t be permitted to report on Israel and the territories, then Western media outlets should henceforth be banned from hiring Palestinian stringers who are responsible for doing much of the “on-the-ground” reporting in the West Bank and Gaza. After all, if an American whose son joins the Israeli military as a non-citizen is too tied to one side to report the news, surely actual Palestinian citizens–many of whom no doubt have close friends and relatives affiliated with Hamas or the Palestinian Authority–are even more suspect. It’s no secret that much of the hostile reporting against Israel in the Western media originates from work done by these stringers, both “journalists” and photographers.
For that matter, I assume we can expect Bronner’s critics (and Western media outlets) to no longer rely on reports from Human Rights Watch and other anti-Israel NGOs. If Bronner’s objectivity is in question because he might be biased in favor of Israel, what of “factual” NGO reports commissioned by individuals who are blatantly hostile to Israel? What about, for example, the likes of HRW Middle East director Sarah Leah Whitson, who lobbied in the U.N. against Israel and for the Palestinians during the Second Intifada, just before she joined HRW?
I could go on, but the point is that if the Western media is going to start seriously ferreting out biases and potential biases in how it reports on Israel, I don’t think Bronner’s critics would like the result.
UPDATE: Of course, Bronner’s critics likely expected the Times to keep Bronner on his Middle East beat, but hope that by stirring this controversy, Bronner will feel the need to bend over backwards to report the Palestinian side of the conflict, to show that he is “objective”. They may be right.