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