‘NYT’ Public Editor lets Bronner off the hook

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More on New York Times Public Editor Arthur Brisbane’s column on Ethan Bronner’s conflict of interest. He found, “the case for an actual conflict of interest is slender. But the appearance of a conflict clearly exists, and that is a problem in and of itself.” He consulted one media ethicist who agreed there was “perception of a conflict” and another who thought Bronner should end his relationship with Lone Star Communications (which he has). For his part Bronner is “kicking himself over the episode” and is quoted as saying, “I allowed myself to be in a situation where someone could come after me this way, I feel pretty bad about it.”

It’s interesting in and of itself that The Times has been forced to devote space to a possible Bronner conflict of interest for the second time, but Brisbane still falls short. His main mistake was taking Bronner at his word. Brisbane writes:

Mr. Blumenthal’s article enumerated six cases in which Mr. Bronner had written about, or at least mentioned, Lone Star clients. Mr. Bronner walked me through those cases. Of the six, he said, only one involved an instance in which he had received a pitch from Lone Star and, on that basis, decided to write about it. The article concerned the Jewish National Fund and was about a fortified play area for children in the Israeli border town of Sderot.

In the rest of the cases except one, he said, he did not receive a pitch from Lone Star and was unaware that the story involved a Lone Star client . . .

Unfortunately this just isn’t true. Last week, I wrote a post about a speech Bronner gave at Duke University in 2009. In that speech Bronner tells a story about an article he wrote based on a Lone Star pitch. Bronner explained:

I got a call about this story from a guy, who is a sort of, who’s a PR guy, who specializes in right-of-center stuff, shall we say. And the reason he called me is because the people who were ending up funding this dig are not Elad, but Elad light. And so anyway he called me and he said we thinking of (unclear) and so we worked it out and the truth is is that it did seem like a quite a serious thing . . .

From Blumenthal’s reporting we know that “PR guy” who pitched the story was Lone Star head Charley Levine, and Bronner clearly reported on the story. Is Bronner saying he didn’t choose to do the story simply on the basis of the Lone Star connection? Does he have the credibility at this point to be believed?

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