You would think that after the controversies involving New York Times reporter Ethan Bronner, the former Jerusalem bureau chief, the paper would be extra-careful about its Israel/Palestine coverage. But you would be wrong.
There is no disclosure to readers of the New York Times that Isabel Kershner, a Jerusalem correspondent for the Times, is married to Hirsh Goodman, who works for a government-linked Israeli think tank called the Institute for National Security Studies. Specifically, Goodman is the senior research fellow and director of the Charles and Andrea Bronfman Program on Information Strategy, tasked with shaping a positive image of Israel in the media.
Here are some excerpts:
The Institute for National Security Studies is well-connected to both the Israeli government and its military. Many of its associates come from government or military careers; its website boasts of the group’s “strong association with the political and military establishment.” In 2010, according to INSS financial documents, the Israeli government gave the institute about $72,000.
The Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz (10/5/08) identified INSS-produced papers as backing the “Dahiyah doctrine,” an Israeli military doctrine that calls for disproportionate force to be used on civilian infrastructure in Gaza and Lebanon during operations against Hamas and Hezbollah. The doctrine was applied in 2008–09 during Israel’s invasion of Gaza, and was cited, along with the INSS papers, in the UN Goldstone report, which accused Israel of committing possible war crimes (9/25/09).
Goodman’s job within that context is spin. “The media is of strategic importance in a political and military conflict, since it has a formative influence on the degree of legitimacy that each side enjoys,” he writes in an explanation of the Bronfman Program on the INSS website. “Israel must devise a strategy to impact positively on international and Arab public opinion and overall disseminate its message more effectively.”
The INSS is certainly disseminating its message effectively in the Times. From 2009–12, there were 17 articles Kershner wrote or contributed to where officials from the INSS were quoted
It’s normal, of course, for Kershner to have sources in a well-connected and respected institution like the INSS, and she has never used her husband as a source. But it’s extraordinary to report on Israel/Palestine without ever disclosing to readers the tie Kershner has to someone in the heart of Israel’s security establishment whose job is precisely to make sure that Israel receives favorable media coverage.
Media ethics expert Kevin Smith, the chair of the Society of Professional Journalists’ Ethics Committee and an instructor at James Madison University, says that Kershner’s case is a “basic ethics 101 lesson.” In an email, Smith explained: “Repeatedly going to that agency for information still raises serious questions.... The relationship that develops here is not healthy for unbiased news coverage. It’s too awash with personal connections.”
He added that, “at the very least, disclosure is demanded.... You cannot expect trust or to maintain credibility from the public when, before they read a word of your copy, you have engaged in an act of deception by not disclosing your potential conflicts.”
The New York Times did not return requests for comment on this story.