US Media and Israeli Military
Recent exposés revealing that Ethan Bronner, the New York Times Israel-Palestine bureau chief, has a son in the Israeli military have caused a storm of controversy that continues to swirl and generate further revelations.
Many people find such a sign of family partisanship in an editor covering a foreign conflict troubling – especially given the Times’ record of Israel-centric journalism.
Former journalist Alison Weir is executive director of If Americans Knew, which provides information and media analysis on Israel-Palestine. Her articles have appeared in the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, CounterPunch, Project Censored's series on investigative journalism, and elsewhere.
Times management at first refused to confirm Bronner’s situation, then refused to comment on it. Finally, public outcry forced Times Public Editor Clark Hoyt to confront the problem in a February 7th column.
After bending over backwards to praise the institution that employs him, Hoyt ultimately opined that Bronner should be re-assigned to a different sphere of reporting to avoid the “appearance” of bias. Times Editor Bill Keller declined to do so, however, instead writing a column calling Bronner’s connections to Israel valuable because they “supply a measure of sophistication about Israel and its adversaries that someone with no connections would lack.”
If such “sophistication” is valuable, the Times’ espoused commitment to the “impartiality and neutrality of the company's newsrooms” would seem to require it to have a balancing editor equally sophisticated about Palestine and its adversary, but Keller did not address that.
As it turns out, Bronner’s ties to the Israeli military are not the rarity one might expect.
“Having a son in the Israeli army was a manifestation of my love for Israel, and I assume that having a son in the Israeli army is a manifestation of Bronner’s love of Israel."
Lerner goes on to make a fundamental point:
"...there is a difference in my emotional and spiritual connection to these two sides [Israelis and Palestinians]. On the one side is my family; on the other side are decent human beings. I want to support human beings all over the planet but I have a special connection to my family. I don’t deny it.”
For a great many of the reporters and editors determining what Americans learn about Israel-Palestine, Israel is family.
Jonathan Cook, a British journalist based in Nazareth, writes of a recent meeting with a Jerusalem based bureau chief, who explained: “... Bronner’s situation is ‘the rule, not the exception. I can think of a dozen foreign bureau chiefs, responsible for covering both Israel and the Palestinians, who have served in the Israeli army, and another dozen who like Bronner have kids in the Israeli army.”
Cook writes that the bureau chief explained: “It is common to hear Western reporters boasting to one another about their Zionist credentials, their service in the Israeli army or the loyal service of their children.”
Apparently, intimate ties to Israel are among the many open secrets in the region that are hidden from the American public. If, as the news media insist, these ties present no problem or even, as the Times’ Keller insists, enhance the journalists’ work, why do the news agencies consistently refuse to admit them?
The answer is not complicated.
While Israel may be family for these journalists and editors, for the vast majority of Americans, Israel is a foreign country. In survey after survey, Americans say they don’t wish to “take sides” on this conflict. In other words, the American public wants full, unfiltered, unslanted coverage.
Quite likely the news media refuse to answer questions about their journalists’ affiliations because they suspect, accurately, that the public would be displeased to learn that the reporters and editors charged with supplying news on a foreign nation and conflict are, in fact, partisans.
While Keller claims that the New York Times is covering this conflict “even-handedly,” studies indicate otherwise:
Americans, whose elected representatives give Israel uniquely gargantuan sums of our tax money (a situation also not covered by the media), want and need all the facts, not just those that Israel’s family members decree reportable.
We’re not getting them.
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