Sunday, February 7, 2010

Stupid Question

The Public Editor at the New York Times, Clark Hoyt, is doing the public a great disservice, not only by calling for Ethan Bronner's reassignment, but for asserting a reason, apparently supported by Harvard's Alex Jones, that makes a nonsense of reason itself.

Let me be clear: Ethan Bronner is a friend, and I have followed his writing about Israel and the Middle for 20 years, that is, since before I knew him. If you think my friendship with him means that everything I am about to say is not to be trusted, then you have pretty much bought in to the standard Hoyt is proposing, and you might as well not read on.

The (sublime) problem of truth is not just for journalists, of course. Every scholar, every judge, every scientist, struggles with it. The best answer we have is something like this: Ask a good question. Then hold yourself stringently to rules of evidence. To be sure, how you get to good questions is not a predictable matter: ask, say, Thomas Kuhn. And how you hold yourself to rules of evidence is not a simple matter: ask, say, Karl Popper. But if your question is stupid or you violate the rules of evidence, then you should not be trusted.

Which brings me back to Ethan Bronner. A good journalist knows questions most readers do not and then works diligently to answer them with data, witnesses, and obvious experts. A very good journalist knows questions most journalists do not, and then works tirelessly to answer them with unimpeachable data, by becoming an eye witnesses himself or herself, and finding experts who are not obvious. I have not agreed with the thrust of everything Bronner has written over the past couple of years, but he is very good journalist.

If Bronner had been found to be ignoring compelling questions, or cooking the evidence in some sly way, you would have the right to explore his state of mind: whether some pay-off or family loyalty explains his lapses. But what if there are no obvious lapses? Why go ad hominem when there is no rationale for this? The sophomoric revelation that "we all have biases"--worse, that biases come from determined psychological states, explicable by families, or class, or tribe, etc.--is not enough to discredit arguments or the person who makes them. One son of a factory owner turns out Richard Arkwright; another turns out Fredrick Engels. I don't mean to be melodramatic, but transferring Bronner from Jerusalem for his son's decisions borrows from the same grotesque epistemology with which people were transferred to the Gulag for their son's decisions.

WHAT, IN THIS context, is Hoyt's specific claim? He writes:

[E]ven the best and most honorable journalists can find themselves in awkward circumstances that can affect their credibility — and the newspaper’s — with a public that has little trust in journalists. In this case, the guidelines stop far short of dictating what should be done. They say that if a family member’s activities create even the appearance of a conflict of interest, it should be disclosed to editors, who must then decide whether the staffer should avoid certain stories or even be reassigned to a different beat.

In other words--or so we are to surmise--if Bronner's son is in the Israeli Army, most will assume his arguments are biased toward the Israeli Army, and the Times's integrity will suffer. After all, who trusts journalists to begin with? But if he took his job seriously, the Public Editor would not avoid the question of whether most should think this. He would educate, well, the public. I mean to the classical liberal assumptions about how we reasonably get at the truth, assumptions underlying the Constitution, and the freedom of newspapers, for that matter. Hell, the public might even trust journalists more if actually stood for something this important, and held themselves to this standard. (Bill Keller's answer to Hoyt comes close.)

Instead, Hoyt is valorizing crude behaviorist ideas masquerading as liberal ones, that we are, really, nothing but bundles of "socialized preferences." What we think is the product of our "demographic." Our claims of fact (about history, society, etc.) are, by extension, an expression of our material "interests," or if we are deeply socialized, "values." The only truth, as Chuck Todd would say, is "the perception out there." The only game is "shaping the narrative." Perceptions, presumably, can be polled. How scientific of him.

I have written about this problem with the press before. It makes you weep with missing William Shirer and Edward R. Murrow and Alexander Kendrick and the generation of reporters who covered the war of liberal societies over European tyrannies and could smell totalitarian ideas a mile away. Bronner can. Anyway, just because this behaviorism is false doesn't mean it can't win. Moving Bronner would be a small victory. Sarah Palin's demographic--abetted not by a sympathetic press, but a hopelessly cynical one--is waiting in the wings.

36 comments:

Y. Ben-David said...

Face it Bernie, trying to be a "progressive" and a "Zionist" (if that's what you still consider yourself in some form or another) is increasingly impossible. It is trying to square the circle. Just today, Bennie Morris was banned by a JEWISH group from speaking at Cambridge University because the Muslims might not like it. Your turn will come, too, Bernie. After all, you admit you live on what the Arabs consider to be stolen property (part of Jerusalem that was populated by Arabs before 1948), so in a pathetic attempt to transfer the guilt off your shoulders, you go to Sheikh Jarrah in order to protest Jews living there, in what was Jewish property before 1948, as if that is "immoral" while you are "moral" living in your "stolen" Arab house. It won't work. Eventually, you too will be banned by "progressives".
Welcome back to Jewish history.

Potter said...

Before I have followed any of your links, which I will, I have to say that I support Ethan Bronner. I have read most of his reports and I have read the criticisms of it which I, for the life of me, just cannot see as valid. I think he is doing his job- a very difficult one at that- trying to be fair- in his way. Also I feel that since he does have access to the powers that be in israel-it's just as well that he lets us know what they are saying. This last does not mean he is advocating. I think it is a mistake to criticize that reporting as such ( as "taking dictation"). On the whole I find his reporting balanced- but of course he is living and viewing from on the Israeli side.

Again- I have read such harsh criticism of Bronner on some of the blogs that I have been more completely turned off by their obsession than the criticism itself, the piling on. So your post here. Bernard, is somewhat refreshing.

Assaf Oron said...

Bernard,

In your defense, you prove why it's good the Bronner was transferred. Because as a personal friend you prefer to see Ethan your friend the great guy (and I'm sure that as a friend he's a great guy), and not Bronner the journalist who through several years of rather problematic Israeli policies (to put it mildly) - policies you yourself have blasted - has somehow managed to make all those problems seem trivial to the readers. Slight cosmetic blemishes on an otherwise amazing nation. Bronner who, in all these years of heading the Jerusalem bureau, hasn't been able to once present Palestinians as people just like you and me, who deserve rights just like you and me. Bronner who has consistently presented a distorted and biased picture of Israel-Palestine to NYT's readers.

I'm sorry, I suggest you save your defense-witness powers for more worthy causes.

Richard said...

Bernie: You sound like a great friend, Bernie. But as with all good friends, sometimes we're blind to the faults of our own. I would suggest this is the case with Tom Friedman and Ethan Bronner, two journalists & personal friends of yours who bring disfavor on themselves for the quality of their coverage of their respective subjects.

I'm willing to concede that Ethan Bronner may be a good reporter on other subjects he may've written about in the past. But he is a lousy Israel correspondent.

And I write this as someone who is not a member of the pro-Palestinian choir nor a shrill critic of everything the Times writes about Israel. The paper has had superb Israel correspondents in the past & will hopefully have them again in the future. But Bronner has not done the paper proud in his work.

If you Google Bronner's name in my blog
http://www.richardsilverstein.com/tikun_olam/index.php?s=ethan+bronner

you will find multiple posts in which I patiently critique his inadequacies. And again I don't do this because I have a partisan anti-Israel agenda as some of his critics do. I do this because he is simply imbalanced, & his Zionist pro-Israel credentials practically scream off the page.

His coverage of Palestine & Palestinian issues is also woeful generally. He simply doesn't "get" the Palestinians at all.

Basically, I think he is tone deaf to the issues. Yes, he gets the general layout of the land as an average reporter can do. But when it comes to parsing the nuances of issues & relaying them to his readers he simply falls down flat.

If you add to this that he has an Israeli spouse and son in the Israeli army, this tips over the apple cart as far as I'm concerned.

Bernard Avishai said...

May I suggest readers go to...

http://labs.daylife.com/journalist/ethan_bronner

...and judge for themselves whether Bronner's alleged "lapses" suggest that he is violating any standard that would call his integrity into question and justify ad hominem attacks?

And, just to be clear, it is not my friendship for Bronner that animates me but my passion for epistemology. I can't stand it when people are reduced in this way. No liberal should stand it.

Potter said...

Silverstein in his blog is one that consistently piles on Bronner. Very rare is there a comment that Bronner wrote something good. I would read a Bronner article and say to myself that it was pretty good- no complaint. Check out Silverstein ( I used to- no more) and he is going to town on it, having a ball. And I am no right winger. I am highly critical of Israel's actions and policies. But I do have a sense of fairness. Silverstein is over the top. It seems he wishes Bronner to be an activist-which of course he is not.

I do agree that the NYtimes would benefit from an additional reporter that can report from inside the territories- which it did actually as much as possible during the Gaza war.

And to be sure we can criticize the NYTimes from no mention of the protest at Sheik Jarrah... not so far. I am sure we can think of other fair criticisms.

That Bronner has a son and spouse who are Israeli should not add to the pile of complaints anymore than a reporter from the Palestinian side having such relations.

Terri Gross (Fresh Air NPR) interviewed Bronner not that long ago-- maybe last spring. So did Charlie Rose. It's apparent he strives for fairness and struggles internally about it.

Shoded Yam said...

When I consider Silverstein, I am put in mind of a converstaion between Mr. Lincoln and Alexander Mclure as regards to General Grant and his fitness for command after the Battle of Shiloh in April of 1862

"...Lincoln remained silent for what seemed a very long time. He then gathered himself up in his chair and said in a tone of earnestness that I shall never forget: 'I can't spare this man; he fights."

http://www.mrlincolnswhitehouse.org/inside.asp?ID=133&subjectID=2

Whereas most of the Jewish American and Israeli left and center-left (present company excepted, Bernie) equivocates and rationalizes, this man comparatively speaking, is a street brawler. While I agree with Potter that Richard often allows his ego to get in the way of his better judgement and intellectual honesty ("Tikun Silverstein" anyone?) he's a fighter and he's tenacious and the kahanists fear him. He is necessary and we're going to need many more like him if we have any hope of salvaging this situation.

Potter said...

Shoded Yam- well said,good analogy, and I agree with deep reservations, wondering if this mode does not do more harm than good ( repair) even in the long term. I wonder to what effect this particular mode, swinging almost wildly.

In general, the sides in this battle seem well ensconced in their corners. This kind of almost crude street brawling, point for point, sharp as it may be at times, deepens the rift I think, moving us away from reason (which may lead into shame which is where I think the hope lies) to clammed up raw defensive emotions.

The latter does not win any battles that I can see. And points made are to the choir...call and response. So I don't know how this helps salvage the situation. But maybe I am wrong about that.

I always appreciate your comments.

Shoded Yam said...

"...In general, the sides in this battle seem well ensconced in their corners. This kind of almost crude street brawling, point for point, sharp as it may be at times, deepens the rift I think, moving us away from reason (which may lead into shame which is where I think the hope lies) to clammed up raw defensive emotions."

God bless you, Potter. You're a good man. It is people like yourself and Bernie who enabled and encouraged me to be the soldier I was, and the "soldier" that I have become. I owe you guys a debt. Nonetheless, while this is not the war we wanted to fight, its the one thats been handed to us. We better win it my friend and by any means necessary, because as recent events have proved, the alternative is to horrible to contemplate.


"...This kind of almost crude street brawling, point for point, sharp as it may be at times, deepens the rift I think, moving us away from reason"

Though I may not show it, I often fear the consequences of my own words and positions as well as everybody elses, that is until I remind myself that people like Medad, Feiglin, Yishai, Marzel,and the rest of the West Bank Taliban are hell bent in spiritually, socially, and politicaly disenfranchising me, you, and anyone else who does not buy into their particaular brand of fascism and medieval tribalism.

Anonymous said...

I have read Mr. Avishai’s article as well as Hoyt’s, Keller's and Silverstein’s writings on this topic. I’ve also looked at the sample of Bronner’s reporting suggested by Avishai. Here are my thoughts:
The NY Times is owned and controlled largely by Jewish interests—interests that greatly favor Israeli policies and objectives (see Mearsheimer & Walt and many others). The indoctrination into the “tribe” that is widely practiced as part of Jewish childrearing has been reported by many Jewish adults to result in an almost mystical sense of connectedness to fellow Jews—even between people who barely know each other. The sense of tribal loyalty may be very difficult to overcome, and may be assumed to render the possibility of bias quite real. (Some of my Jewish friends have an almost total inability to even listen to any criticism of Israeli policy.) Thus I find Mr. Avishai’s arguments that such bias may be safely ignored because Bronner is competent, of high integrity, and far more than “a bundle of socialized preferences” unconvincing. If the NYT were truly interested in the appearance of impartial coverage, they would not have neither a Jew nor Arab/Palestinian reporting on the I-P crisis (as others have already noted). But the NYT wants only the appearance of reporting fairness and integrity, without having to attack the Israeli policies which have been condemned for years by human rights groups and those concerned with international law.

(Incidentally, Hoyt’s article could be viewed as a stalking horse which was used to rally the troops around Bronner and thus, permit Bronner’s continued service. )

Avishnai and others rave about Bronner’s work. His article on the Goldstone report consists mainly of quoting Israeli military to the effect that, “We never targeted that flour mill and we have pictures to prove it,” or, “That building collapsed because Hamas carelessly detonated their own explosives which they were hiding in it.” And, “We’re going to get to the bottom of these war crimes claims and tell the truth about them, whether it hurts us or not.” Is this what Mr. Avishai considers to be unbiased, high-quality journalism that asks “the right questions?” Is this the exceptional journalism that Bronner’s high-level Israeli contacts make possible? Contacts tell journalists what THEY want the public to be told by journalists, and to imply otherwise seems woefully na├»ve. I have seen very little evidence in Avishai’s suggested samples of Bronner’s work very much of a journalist who (to paraphrase) knows questions most journalists do not, and then works tirelessly with unimpeachable data, becomes an eyewitness, and finds experts who are not obvious.

After looking over Silverstein’s blog, I do not agree with those who imply his views are biased and without merit.

Finally, I would argue that if any journalist for any non-Israeli news service were consistently to tell the truth to the American people about what the Israelis have done and continue to do to Palestinians with respect to human rights violations and de facto seizure of occupied territory, he/she would be forced to resign due to pressures emanating from our own and the Israeli government.

In conclusion, so long as we are talking about the high moral principles of objective and incisive journalism, why don't we also talk about the high moral principles of social justice and fairness, and the evils of the apartheid state Israel seems to have created?

Shoded Yam said...

"...The NY Times is owned and controlled largely by Jewish interests—interests that greatly favor Israeli policies and objectives (see Mearsheimer & Walt and many others). The indoctrination into the “tribe” that is widely practiced as part of Jewish childrearing has been reported by many Jewish adults to result in an almost mystical sense of connectedness to fellow Jews—even between people who barely know each other."

You see, you lose me with such phrases as; "indoctrination into the “tribe” and "...as part of Jewish childrearing". On one hand it suggests paranoia borne out of a xenophobia masquerading as erudition. On the other it reveals the sort of hypocrisy that could only be the product of a sub-standard thought process or cynicism bordering on chicanery. It insinuates that other "tribes";(Protsetants, Baptists, Atheists, Catholics, Muslims, Buddhists, The French, etc, etc)do not indulge in the same sort of conditioning and in the majority of cases somewhat more effectively. I'm sure during your long hours of Jew research, you might have run across that ancient talmudic truism; "Where ever you have two Jews, you have three opinions" You seem to be fairly bright. I don't see how you haven't come to that understanding. At the end of the day, you're either stupid or duplicitous or both.

Anonymous said...

O.K., Shoded Yam, we now have your considered opinion of me. Now, why don't you tell us your thoughts about Israeli's protracted refusal to abide U.N. Resolution 242, the charges by B'Tselem and other NGOs of Israeli human rights violations, the Goldstone Report, and Walt & Mearsheimer's The Israel Lobby?

Shoded Yam said...

Apparently, you're not a bowler. What a shame, and this being League Night and all.

"... why don't you tell us your thoughts about Israeli's protracted refusal to abide U.N. Resolution 242,"

Not good. Though the Palestinians like to parade about as if their shit doesn't stink, any rational person can see the blood on their hands. While this may be true, it doesn't excuse Israeli intransigence. Israels behaviour should not be condidtional upon the behaviour of others. I've always maintained that Israel should abide by 242.

"...the charges by B'Tselem and other NGOs of Israeli human rights violations,"

They should be investigated. If found substantive, the guilty parties should be punished to the full extent of the law.

"...the Goldstone Report,"

Ditto

"...and Walt & Mearsheimer's The Israel Lobby?"

Though having read the book (not good bathroom reading. A more grindingly boring tome cannot be found) Messrs. Walt & Mearsheimer seem to suffer from that which ails you. As I have already done so, I hardly think it worthwhile to elaborate further.

What any of this has to do with your axe grinding business, I do not know.

Potter said...

So-bottom lines, Anonymous,

You accuse the NYTimes of bias towards Israel even as many Jews ( on the right) feel the NYTimes sympathy for Israel lacking ( and even anti-semitic).

You don't think Silverstein's views are biased. (!)

Though the "unbiased" criticisms may have some merit, some of them, that there is no let up in the phrase by phrase bashing diminishes their value totally for me. I conclude-he just does not like Bronner period- a visceral thing- a way to let off excess steam.

Here's Anonymous real beef:

In conclusion, so long as we are talking about the high moral principles of objective and incisive journalism, why don't we also talk about the high moral principles of social justice and fairness, and the evils of the apartheid state Israel seems to have created?

You want Bronner to be an activist...that's not his job.

Anonymous said...

Potter, nice insight! I DO want Bronner (and many, many others) to be more "activist," especially with respect to the Israeli government's relentless creation of facts-on-the-ground territorial exploitation as well as human rights violations in a multitude of ways against the Palestinians.
Yes, I'd like Bronner to be a lot more like Sy Hersh.

Nonetheless, Bronner's article about the Israeli military's forthcoming response to Goldstone might have gone well beyond what he actually reported. While he mentions Breaking the Silence, he does not say that he personally interviewed any members of that organization. Bronner also does not mention the fact (reported elsewhere) that several high-level Israelis have acknowledged that they hoped their shock-and-awe approach would weaken Hamas by demonstrating to the Gazans that Hamas could not protect even non-combatants.
Last, it is hard to imagine completely value-free reporting. If a government (or govt. representative) lies about the true motivation driving some policy, is not the journalist who discovers and reports that lie saying that the truth of that particular situation is important to him/her? I believe that I'm correct on this point, and that that is why we don't rely on a single correspondent for reporting on major contested issues. That is why there are several people on juries, why cross-examination is permitted in courts, etc., etc. I will be quite happy with Bronner in his current post, provided that an equally competent and respected Palestinian reporter with him, so that they can keep each other honest...

Potter said...

Anonymous, The New Yorker Magazine is quite a different venue than the New York Times. Bronner is not an investigative journalist. Sy Hersh is and he can be right or wrong about what he unearths and conclusions. To my knowledge he does not engage in strong moral criticism of the type you want Bronner to engage in. I think of Hersh as being very neutral in fact. You are wishing Bronner to be someone he is not, and you are wishing the New York Times to be The Nation or the New Yorker.

I agree about value free reporting- that there is no such thing. A journalist can show values in ways that are not blatant- for instance in the choice of stories and quotes which point up contradictions or lies or immorality. This judgement is thereby left to the reader to make and being lead by what reported, it’s hard for the fair reader not to come to certain conclusions. This I find Bronner does well. What his severe critics wish for, it seems is something very crude.

I agree there should be a Palestinian reporter at the Times. That there is not leaves a hole in the coverage.

Anonymous said...

Potter, thanks for your thoughts. I am no expert on the differences between journalism and investigative reporting, and perhaps I was wrong to use the latter as a standard for measuring Bronner. But I am apparently not alone in my confusion on this point. Avishai in his initial post on this matter stated:

"The (sublime) problem of truth is not just for journalists, of course. Every scholar, every judge, every scientist, struggles with it. The best answer we have is something like this: Ask a good question. Then hold yourself stringently to rules of evidence. To be sure, how you get to good questions is not a predictable matter: ask, say, Thomas Kuhn. And how you hold yourself to rules of evidence is not a simple matter: ask, say, Karl Popper. But if your question is stupid or you violate the rules of evidence, then you should not be trusted.

Which brings me back to Ethan Bronner. A good journalist knows questions most readers do not and then works diligently to answer them with data, witnesses, and obvious experts. A very good journalist knows questions most journalists do not, and then works tirelessly to answer them with unimpeachable data, by becoming an eye witnesses himself or herself, and finding experts who are not obvious. I have not agreed with the thrust of everything Bronner has written over the past couple of years, but he is very good journalist."

Sounds to me like Avishai has put Bronner on the investigative reporting bus!

Potter said...

Anonymous- please let me say that I feel that Bronner is sincere, trying very hard to be fair. For that I like him. I don't expect from him what I get elsewhere in terms of outrage even though I, when even reading Bronner's reports, am outraged enough. I don't depend on the New York Times for as full coverage as I need. Also I appreciate the bind that the paper is in- unfortunately.

Anonymous said...

Potter, yesterday I read an article by Jerome Slater on the Bronner case. If you haven't yet looked at it, I suggest that you do. It expresses some of my own criticisms (and many more trenchant ones) quite clearly. In my view, Slater makes an excellent case for bias on the part of both Bronner and the MM generally. You can find it here:

http://www.jeromeslater.com/2010_02_01_archive.html

(The Avishai piece we are currently considering here is also being discussed by many more readers on the TPM Cafe at the link below:)


http://tpmcafe.talkingpointsmemo.com/2010/02/07/stupid_question/

Shoded Yam said...

Potter,

Please. This gentleman is looking to validate his paranoia. Don't buy into the whole Mother Theresa shtick (the palestinians are not getting a fair hearing from the NYT's because bronner's kid is in the army!?!?)Its alot of disingenous nonsense. His problems are not about Bronners son and the IDF. His "Jew" problem supersedes that. I guarantee, if this wasn't about Israel and we were talking about a catholic reporting in a predominantly catholic country in the midst of an international controversy, we would not be having this sort of discussion. While I think that bronner for the sake of his own professional demeanour should have removed himself from the equation, I don't see why his integrity should be assailed for not having done so. BTW, TPM is great as long you can stand MJ's penis envy vis-a-vis the Israelis

Anonymous said...

As a companion piece to the Slater article I mentioned above, (which can be found at):


http://www.jeromeslater.com/2010_02_01_archive.html

I further suggest Robert Jensen's article on the subject at hand, which can be found at:

http://www.counterpunch.org/jensen02092010.html

Taken together, these two authors have advanced a carefully reasoned and devastating critique of mainstream media in the U.S. and the impact of media bias and distortion with respect to I-P. These consequences have been adverse for both Israeli and American long-term security interests.

Shoded Yam said...

"...In short, the central issue in this dispute is less that of Ethan Bronner than it is of the New York Times itself. Close observers of the Times news coverage and commentary about Israel have long known that it is typically slanted in a "pro-Israel" direction and therefore is quite unreliable as a guide to understanding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."

Though I'm not one of them, many Jews find the Times coverage of Israel to be biased in favor of the Palestinians, and go to great pains throughout the blogosphere to point this out.

This Bronner thing aparently has Slater so excited, he's prematurely ejaculated, spewing his bias to and fro. No wonder you like this guy. As previously stated, this isn't about Bronner and his Israeli wife or his son in the Army. This is about the "Jewishness" of the NYT.

Potter said...

Shoded Yam-- you are a scream ( funny).

yes I agree that Bronner is a non-issue. I have been a NYTimes reader for many many years and their "jewishness" (pro or anti) has always been an issue with critics, some very rabid. The NYTimes has plenty of visceral haters out there on it's case... sometimes I think with cause mostly not. The reporting seems very cautious on the I-P conflict. But we still are thankful for it, for the paper's reporting in general as well- and we still read it and the MMS and the blogs all refer to it in their reporting and take cues from what's in "the old grey lady's" headlines.

My elderly (observant) mother has read the NYT all her life ( as I have) still reads the it but would still offer "what everyone knows", that it is anti-semitic.

For my money- it's pretty straight down almost the middle (lacking a good reporter on the Palestinian beat) and that, I feel, is because of the complaints of conservative Jewish readership whose antennae are very sensitive to any sympathy expressed towards Palestinians. Support of the Jewish community is, I suppose, vital for a New York paper. Liberal Jews understand this- or should.

Potter said...

Silverstein took the opportunity to go on Al-Jazeera program with his campaign against Bronner, the accusation of bias and "shilling" for the Israeli government.

This Al Jazeera report, to me, was itself quite biased:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OJc7TVtbzIw&feature

Silverstein gives as one example a line from a report from just after the Gaza War ( with Taghreed Khodary reporting) from at El Atatra, Gaza Strip, February 3, 2009.

Bronner quote on the Al-Jazeera screen from this article:

[the deaths seemed] “like the painful but inevitable outcome of a modern army bringing war to an urban space”

Silverstein on screen: “since when is it ‘inevitable’ that a ‘modern army’ shower white phosphorus on civilians and burn them to a crisp?”

Here’s the Bronner-Khodary line in context:

The war in Atatra tells the story of Israel's three-week offensive in Gaza, with each side giving very different versions. Palestinians describe Israeli military actions as a massacre and Israelis attribute civilian casualties to a Hamas policy of hiding behind its people.
In Atatra, neither appeared true, based on 50 interviews with villagers and four Israeli commanders. The dozen or so civilian deaths seemed like the painful but inevitable outcome of a modern army bringing war to an urban space. And while Hamas fighters had placed explosives in a kitchen, on doorways and in a mosque, they did not seem to be forcing civilians to act as shields.
The gaps reflect not only a desire to shape public opinion but something more significant: a growing distance between two peoples who used to have daily interactions but who are being forced apart by violence, mutual demonization and a policy of separation.



Silverstein’s objectionable line in this Bronner report was NOT about the use of phosphorus but about the inevitable use of modern means by a modern army in urban warfare. Granted it could be taken, if one chooses to do so, as justification. But the line could also be interpreted quite differently by someone less of an activist and less intent on criticizing the NYTimes/Bronner over every phrase: ie an alternative interpretation or conclusion might well be: it’s immoral for a modern army to bring war to an urban space. Bronner was not saying it’s fine to use phosphorus. He said, at most, that the use of it was inevitable in modern warfare. That could be interpreted as a lament by a more neutral reader just as easily.

This is one example of too many criticisms that I have read that upon reflection boils down to Bronner’s reporting not being activist enough for certain tastes. Especially annoying is the charge without proof that Bronner is a “shill” “parroting a line provided to him by government spokes people”- that he “doesn’t probe into the contradictions in the line that is provided to him”. The Al-Jazeera show was all about that complaint with no evidence.

Anonymous said...

I am sure Mr. Bronner is a very nice man, loves animals and children, and tries his hardest to be fair, but consider the following excerpt from an Alison Weir (Counterpunch) column:

While Keller claims that the New York Times is covering this conflict “even-handedly,” studies indicate otherwise:

* The Times covers international reports documenting Israeli human rights abuses at a rate 19 times lower than it reports on the far smaller number of international reports documenting Palestinian human rights abuses.

* The Times covers Israeli children’s deaths at rates seven times greater than they cover Palestinian children’s deaths, even though there are vastly more of the latter and they occurred first.

* The Times fails to inform its readers that Israel’s Jewish-only colonies on confiscated Palestinian Christian and Muslim land are illegal; that its collective punishment of 1.5 million men, women, and children in Gaza is not only cruel and ruthless, it is also illegal; and that its use of American weaponry is routinely in violation of American laws.

* The Times covers the one Israeli (a soldier) held by Palestinians at a rate incalculably higher than it reports on the Palestinian men, women, and children – the vast majority civilians – imprisoned by Israel (currently over 7,000).

• The Times neglects to report that hundreds of Israel’s captives have never even been charged with a crime and that those who have were tried in Israeli military courts under an array of bizarre military statutes that make even the planting of onions without a permit a criminal offense – a legal system, if one can call it that, that changes at the whim of the current military governor ruling over a subject population; a system in which parents are without power to protect their children.

* The Times fails to inform its readers that 40 percent of Palestinian males have been imprisoned by Israel, a statistic that normally would be considered highly newsworthy, but that Bronner, Kershner, and Chira apparently feel is unimportant to report.

Can anyone challenge the above contentions with more than mere opinions?

Shoded Yam said...

Again, your Jew Problem is preventing a cogent brain synapsis. While your so busy calling out the NYT for its lapse of ethics, you forgot to mention the Washington Post, The Chicago Sun Times, The Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Examiner, etc, etc. One is left to wonder where your "problem" ends and your care for the Palestinians begins.

Anonymous said...

Shoded, my friend, I prefer to term my "problem" as one of Israel's illegal, brutal, and immoral occupation accompanied by attempts to terrorize the Palestinian people and seize their land and resources, while imposing conditions of apartheid even worse than those that were present in S. Africa. The rest of my problem is that the NYT as well as the MSM generally have consistently failed to tell the truth about the preceding, as Ms. Weir and many others have already noted. Instead of addressing the real issues, you seem consistently to prefer to insinuate anti-Semitism as the only possible explanation of my views on this situation.

Shoded Yam said...

"...Shoded, my friend, I prefer to term my "problem" as one of Israel's illegal, brutal, and immoral occupation accompanied by attempts to terrorize the Palestinian people and seize their land and resources, while imposing conditions of apartheid even worse than those that were present in S. Africa."

First off jackson, apparently you've mistaken me for someone else. I'm not your friend. And not because of your prejudice (which by the way is pretty transparent despite your best efforts to dress it up as "Anti-Zionism" or sympathy for an oppressed minority)but because you don't have the balls to cop to it. Being human(presumably) like the rest of us, self-interest is your primary concern, not altrusim. Concerned about the plight of the Palestinians? Thats fine. A worthy cause. You'll forgive me if I ask why. Heres the thing. By being an Israeli it doesn't mean I'm anti-Palestinian. What it means is that I have a vested interest in the continued existence of The State of Israel and that my interests coincide with that of many Israelis (but by no means all). If perhaps you are a Palestinian yourself, than your motives are inherently understood. If not, than there nothing more than an abstract notion that must be explained. If they have to be explained, than they are not self-evident. If they are not self-evident, than they are contrived. If they are contrived, we must question the motives for having done so in the first place. In your case, the qusetion is moot since you've already showed your hand in your first post. In any case while you claim to be concerned about the "MSM" you've singled out the NYT because of its Jewishness and have linked to other sites to support this bias that masquerades as a public service.

Anonymous said...

Shoded,

I think I understand: If I'm not a Palestinian and there is mainly or only hatred for Jews behind what I have written, then anything I have said that is critical of Israeli behavior toward the Palestinians can be safely ignored.

Shoded Yam said...

While the palestinian situation is unacceptable, that is not what we are discussing and in any event, for reasons that I have already elaborated upon, your objectivity is questionable at best. I thought I made that abundantly clear. Do I have to use visual aids?

Potter said...

Another blogger, also hyper-critcal of Bronner in my opinion, mistakes the reporting and quoting of what an Israeli official said at the end of his NYTimes article article, for "hype".

Every time I read an article by Bronner and then read such criticism it does not ring true to me. And yet in general these are critics of Israel with whom I generally agree and I respect their sincerity.

With regard to Bronner, and maybe also the NYTimes in general, it seems like an obsession to keep picking.

Potter said...

Bronner's recent article Hoping Sanctions Work But Readying Gas Masks is the cause for some hyperventilation, an agitated parsing almost sentence by sentence, about what to me seems like a perfectly benign article by Bronner. Maybe some "proof" or case is being made to show that Bronner is a shill for the Israeli government.

Again Bronner, to this sensibility, is reporting what yes some anonymous Israeli officlals or ex-officials have said "in order to express themselves freely". So what? Are we so stupid that we don't know and need to be told that this is on the one hand saber rattling and a game of chicken- that yes we, some of us have read opinions including Cordesman's and also fear that an attack by Israel would be probably a disaster? That Israeli powers that be, some perhaps nutcases, seem to be cultivating their "mad dog" reputation and are truly spooked by Iran?

What is wrong with a reporter telling us what those with whom he has access are thinking or saying or want to be known? Are we NYtimes readers so stupid that we swallow it whole?

No question that a reporter can let on what he/she thinks or feels or knows that is contrary or critical. But trashing of reporting that is not doing so mixes up the purpose of reporting with the purpose of opinion. I mention also that it would mess up one's access.

Fact is, Bronner has access. Nowhere else do I read what he writes from that access.That is valuable to me. I know he is not advocating. I know where to go for opinion- and I even get it in the New York Times. And I know where to go for activism, including here.

Sorry -I hope this is my last on this.

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