‘NYT’ concedes Goodman-Kershner relationship has caused some to question fairness of its Israel reporting

Israel/Palestine
on 25 Comments

Alex Kane wrote about the New York Times’ conflict of interest: one of its reporters in Jerusalem–Isabel Kershner– is married to a propagandist for Israel, Hirsh Goodman, who published an Op-Ed in the paper.

At the very least, the paper should disclose their relationship, a relationship that reflects how deeply embedded in Israeli society Kershner and other Times correspondents are.

NY Times public editor Margaret Sullivan has now addressed the case in a column on three potential conflict-of-interest cases. She largely dismisses the concern.

And the third is the coverage of Israel by Isabel Kershner, a Times contract writer (not a staff member). She is married to Hirsh Goodman, whose strong views on Israeli politics are well known, and who recently wrote an Op-Ed piece in The Times. Their relationship was not disclosed in the Op-Ed piece, nor has it been in the context of her articles.  Some readers have told me they object to that and, what’s more, that the relationship makes them question Ms. Kershner’s ability to report fairly.

The foreign editor, Joseph Kahn, disagrees: “We have laid down very clear rules of the road for her in her reporting for us, and have no reason to suspect that she has strayed from those in the years since this became an issue. Her husband is entitled to his own views and his own career. Our concern as a newsroom is with Isabel, not with her spouse or her relatives.”

It’s a tricky subject, one that’s been worked over by my predecessors. Certainly, obvious conflict of interest must be avoided — the reporter shouldn’t (and doesn’t) cover her husband. But most of all, judge the reporter by her work. Mentioning a marital relationship in every piece of reporting would not only be awkward; it’s unnecessary. Disclosure should be made when a writer has a conflicting relationship with what or whom she’s writing about. At most, Ms. Kershner’s situation puts an extra onus on editors to make sure the work is sound; they seem well aware of that.

A couple points. Sullivan says the Times should disclose the relationship; and that the Times has never done so in the context of her reporting. That would seem to be important– especially when Kershner is assigned to report on Scarlett Johansson and the boycott movement, a movement her husband is railing against.

Or did you catch Kershner’s recent piece, “Despite Decades of Enmity, Israel Quietly Aids Syrian Civilians.” It describes Israel treating several hundred wounded Syrian refugees. It is pure propaganda for Israel. Many others are helping Syrian refugees, and you don’t see pieces celebrating those countries for charity. And the piece says not a word about all the refugees whom Israel won’t allow to return to their homes from Syria.

Kane has previously written about Kershner’s flawed reporting for Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting’s (FAIR) magazine, Extra! Here’s a piece touching on Kershner’s coverage of the death of Jawaher Abu Rahmah:

U.S. corporate media… used anonymous Israeli military sources to cast doubt on the 36-year-old Abu Rahmah’s killing. In the New York Times (1/5/11), reporter Isabel Kershner characterized the story as a “debate” with “clashing narratives.” Though she noted that the IDF claims were all anonymous while the Palestinian claims were “backed by medical documents,” Kershner went on to give roughly equal time to both arguments.

And here’s an article by FAIR’s Peter Hart criticizing Kershner’s articles on the Gaza flotilla killings in 2010.

Maybe it’s the pressure on the NYT back in New York from Israel lobbyists– see the picture below– or maybe it’s who Kershner lays her head down next to. But does this kind of stuff really serve American readers?

CAMERA ad across from the New York Times, by Hanna Pylvainen

CAMERA ad across from the New York Times offices, by Hanna Pylvainen. For a clearer image of the ad and for more on the CAMERA campaign against the New York Times see here.

Thanks to Alex Kane, of course, and James North.

25 Responses

  1. Edward Q
    February 10, 2014, 11:45 am

    U.S. journalism gets criticism for its superficial foreign reporting. One reason that is suggested for this situation is that U.S. editors follow a practice of using reporters in foreign countries who have not spent much time in those countries so, it is argued, they do not have attachments or bias. This does not seem to be the case with Israel. Why is that?

    • Edward Q –

      I’m not really sure that Israel is so singled out for disparate treatment as your comment seems to suggest.

      The issue with reporting on Israel in many ways isn’t too different from American reporters in Washington DC. One doesn’t want a naive rube who rocks into town, has no sources, doesn’t no how anything is done and has nothing to say other than that the Cherry Blossoms look nice in the spring time. On the other hand, many people in DC are involved in partisan politics–in Congress, in think tanks, etc. If you spend enough time in DC, even if you start out not embedded in any one camp, you may soon find that your circle of friends, the people you date and the person you marry might all be looking at things from a particular point of view. How do DC reporters handle it? Well, many are simply open about their perspectives. Lots of talking heads on TV (not quite journalists, but part of MSM generally) are explicitly connected to one party or another. Other journalists do what they can to provide less partisan coverage. And news networks, news web sites, newspapers, etc. are often either explicitly or implicitly known to take particular perspectives.

      The problem with reporting from Israel is that in a highly contentious situation, reporters from otherwise progressive outlets are taking a Zionist view without really being explicit about doing so. And further, the very Zionist approach (obvious from both the writing and implied by fellow travelers) is presented as if it is a neutral report.

      It’s as if the Daily News or the Wall Street Journal Op Ed were trying to present themselves as distant, neutral and bland, rather than having a particular take on the issues that appear in their pages.

      In sum . . . if Isabel Kershener wrote for the WSJ Op Ed page as an open Zionist and someone else wrote for the New York Times from a human rights oriented perspective, that would be fine. Or if Isabel Kershener wrote for the NYT as a Zionist and someone else wrote for the NYT as a Zionist. Or, and this goes back to the Mondoweiss article on the Goodman-Kershner relationship, if the NYT only wanted to hire Zionist reporters and was explicit in doing so, the New York Times wouldn’t feel so creepy and fraudulent, and, really, substandard compared to its coverage of other issues, both domestic and foreign, in its coverage of Israel.

  2. seafoid
    February 10, 2014, 12:11 pm

    Very interesting to bring in the marriage angle. I wonder what Valerie and Joe Plame make of the argument.

    The NYT is hopeless compared to the FT.

    • Herb Glatter
      February 10, 2014, 2:46 pm

      Wow! Roger Cohen in the NYT: “The third, combined with the second, equals the end of Israel as a Jewish state. This is the hidden agenda of B.D.S., its unacceptable subterfuge: beguile, disguise and suffocate.” link to nytimes.com

      • seafoid
        February 10, 2014, 11:00 pm

        Apartheid was their defence against Palestinian self determination. Of course they lose their “jewish state”. In the end it wasn’t worth a jewish fingernail.

  3. American
    February 10, 2014, 12:13 pm

    And here’s an article by FAIR’s Peter Hart criticizing Kershner’s articles on the Gaza flotilla killings in 2010.”

    We should complain more about the deliberate liars in our media…. it worked on the BBC Trust.

    BBC finally admits bias over pro-Israel commentator

    Submitted by Hilary Aked on Wed, 02/05/2014 – 14:27

    The BBC has finally admitted that it breached its own impartiality guidelines when it presented a pro-Israel commentator as if he was neutral.
    The finding published yesterday by the BBC Trust, the highest level of complaints adjudication at the broadcaster, relates to appearances made by a commentator called Jonathan Sacerdoti during Israel’s “Operation Pillar of Cloud” bombing of Gaza in November 2012.

    link to electronicintifada.net

    • seafoid
      February 10, 2014, 11:06 pm

      That EI article is excellent. Greg Philo of Glasgow Uni has written 2 books called “bad news from Israel..”. Setting the agenda at the BBC was always vital. Sex up the injustice. But they went too far. Paxman destroyed Regev during Cast Lead and the BBC can’t resurrect the dead memes or undo all the damage the bots did to their own vital interests in the minds of the people of the UK.

  4. amigo
    February 10, 2014, 12:28 pm

    Correct me if I am wrong but didn,t the NYT send a journalist (Rudoren?) to investigate how “Israeli ” doctors were helping the Syrian People after that terrible Gas attack.

    Not a word written about American doctors.The NYT is anything but impartial.

  5. pabelmont
    February 10, 2014, 12:43 pm

    NYT: We have laid down very clear rules of the road for her in her reporting for us, and have no reason to suspect that she has strayed from those in the years since this became an issue.

    OK, NYT, please publish these “rules of the road” so the rest of us can comment as well!

    • ritzl
      February 10, 2014, 12:56 pm

      Yep. Please.

    • seafoid
      February 10, 2014, 11:11 pm

      The rules of the road: Israel is chosen. This road is very different. One way traffic only. There is a checkpoint halfway down the road staffed by Kershner and all undesirable copy is returned to point of departure.

      The night editor has noticed that many Americans no longer use the road and have turned to tracks in cyberspace. Kershner has offered to clone the checkpoints but Roger says it is too expensive. The NYT is not a miracle worker.

  6. ritzl
    February 10, 2014, 12:55 pm

    So Kershner’s pro-Israel coverage “slant” is editorial policy, not personal. Good to know.

    Would the NYT public editor make the same judgement if a reporter married to Wayne LaPierre reported on gun legislation with a pro-gun slant? Hypothetically, “Study shows 20-round mags reduce crime.” by Mrs. LaPierre? Not a chance. That relationship would [have to] be disclosed every time.

  7. Balfour
    February 10, 2014, 1:19 pm

    “Certainly, obvious conflict of interest must be avoided — the reporter shouldn’t (and doesn’t) cover her husband. But most of all, judge the reporter by her work. ”

    Since Kershner’s standard of reporting apparently passes muster at the New York Times, the paper should apparently encourage its reporting staff ( contracted & salaried) to also promote the Government’s line and perspective when covering the controversial actions of countries such as Russia & China…having a spouse that is employed to promote the host Government’s propoganda and point of view wouldn’t hurt, either.

  8. John Douglas
    February 10, 2014, 1:26 pm

    See Isabel Kershner’s piece in the times today (2/10/14) “Israel Orders Air Strikes Against Gaza Militant”. Of course the strikes are reported to come, “… amid an increase in rocket fire … as well as Israeli retaliatory airstrikes against facilities associated with militant groups … ” Then a quote from Netanyahu, “Whoever attacks us or plans to attack us … etc. …”; a citation from Israel’s Minister of Defense; another citation from a spokesman from the Israeli military; another citation from anonymous “Israeli military officials”. Finally Kershner cites Hamas that they have withdrawn from the border to protect the cease fire, then she adds “… meaning to prevent further rocket fire out of Gaza” and then incongruously she writes, “The [Hamas] announcement came days after Hamas had reportedly withdrawn … in a protest against Israeli airstrikes.”

    • seafoid
      February 10, 2014, 2:12 pm

      The language is so obnoxious. Airstrikes instead of bombing of civilian areas. Retaliatory instead of systematic. Militant instead of resistance. And so on.

  9. hophmi
    February 10, 2014, 1:28 pm

    “It is pure propaganda for Israel. ”

    LOL. Because a Syrian Arab could not possibly like Israel in any capacity, right? No, Syrians have to be like pro-Palestinian Western activists – full of hate no matter what the circumstances. That’s what Arabs are, right? Israel-haters. You’re quite the essentialist.

    “Many others are helping Syrian refugees, and you don’t see pieces celebrating those countries for charity.”

    How many of those countries have fought several wars with Syria and Syrian proxy armies?

  10. MHughes976
    February 10, 2014, 1:48 pm

    It seems to me that Sullivan very much avoids saying that the relationship should be disclosed.

    • hophmi
      February 10, 2014, 3:45 pm

      How many times have you called for the relationships of Arab journalists to be disclosed? How about Arab stringers who work for Western newspapers?

      • Peter H
        February 10, 2014, 4:41 pm

        Did these Arab journalists or stringers had spouses who worked for pro-Palestinian think tanks?

      • Woody Tanaka
        February 10, 2014, 5:20 pm

        If one of those writers was in a relationship with the country the writer is supposedly critically covering, he or she should be disclosed. Or do you favor keeping readers ignorant of potential bias?

      • hophmi
        February 10, 2014, 6:27 pm

        “If one of those writers was in a relationship with the country the writer is supposedly critically covering, he or she should be disclosed. Or do you favor keeping readers ignorant of potential bias?”

        It’s clearly not the usual practice of newspapers to disclose the personal lives of their journalists. And there’s a good reason for that. How far does this go? Should the paper disclose whom Kershner associates with, who her friends are? Maybe where she went to school? How about how much money she has? Or perhaps her husband is not enough. Maybe we need to disclose HIS associates, because she might be influenced by them as well. Or maybe it’s important to know the friends of her friends.

        Or maybe we should just stop assuming that people can’t be professionals unless they can prove that they’re hermetically sealed off from any human being who might have an opinion.

      • Cliff
        February 11, 2014, 11:09 am

        hoppy said:

        It’s clearly not the usual practice of newspapers to disclose the personal lives of their journalists. And there’s a good reason for that. How far does this go? Should the paper disclose whom Kershner associates with, who her friends are? Maybe where she went to school? How about how much money she has? Or perhaps her husband is not enough. Maybe we need to disclose HIS associates, because she might be influenced by them as well. Or maybe it’s important to know the friends of her friends.

        Or maybe we should just stop assuming that people can’t be professionals unless they can prove that they’re hermetically sealed off from any human being who might have an opinion.

        You’re saying that all writers have no observable vested interests in the way in which they present their stories – based on their biographical information.

        That is bullshit.

        The fact that her husband is an Israeli Jew and Zionist too just solidifies what any rational person would assume about her.

        Of course you’ll defend someone who refers to the territories as ‘disputed’.

        There are tons of examples of how her writing is garbage and pure hasbara. No one needed to point out anything about her husband to see that.

        By definition, these biographical aspects do not always imply a conflict of interest – however, I think in practice, that is the reality 99% of the time.

        It’s amazing how thoroughly dishonest you cultists are when it comes to common sense stuff. Anything is worth twisting if it’s done for Zionism.

      • Peter H
        February 11, 2014, 12:08 pm

        Hophmi, are you familiar with the work of Kershner’s husband, Hirsh Goodman? His job description specifcally entails areas like “information policy” and communications strategy” – or what those of us less sophisticated would call “media spin”. You don’t think being married to a guy whose job it is help Israel shape PR in a positive way is going to affect Kershner’s writing, Hophmi?

  11. dbroncos
    February 10, 2014, 3:26 pm

    “We have laid down very clear rules of the road for her in her reporting for us…”

    Clearly.

  12. Whizdom
    February 10, 2014, 4:25 pm

    My favorite clueless Isabel story was when she was reporting on traumatized Sderot, not finding much trauma, she reported that a young matron and child were watching IAF F-16s screaming overhead, the child appeared frightened, and our intrepid reporter told the child not to be afraid, those planes are “ours”.
    The child, Isabel reported, said, he wasn’t afraid of the planes hurting him, but said when the planes go that way, booms come this way.
    clueless

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