Speaking of NYT columnists — Ethan Bronner spoke last night at George Washington University to a group of students at the Middle East Institute. He opened by stating his credo as a journalist that his “goal” was to find the “grey” areas in these controversial Middle East issues, to avoid reducing complexities to “black and white.” The words “goal” and “black and white”were a leitmotiv throughout his talk. The session was filmed but I don’t have access to a transcript yet, so am relying on memory.
He illustrated his approach with polarities such as “fence” vs. “barrier,” “terrorist” vs. “freedom fighter” and so forth. The references to actualities in the Middle East were general and limited and in search of the grey. Aside from “I met so-and-so” or “I was at Tahrir Square,” there was almost nothing substantive that couldn’t have been gleaned by a reading across the net.
At the end, an audience member revisited his opening journalist imagery of “black-white-grey.” He was asked something like: “Is your view that the fullest truth is assumed to be in the grey area? is that your personal understanding of journalism or is it the policy of the New York Times? What if the truth is not grey?”
He answered that the views he expressed at the outset regarding his “goal” for the “grey” as a journalist were his own and not NYT policy. He then added: “If I found the truth in the black,” he would not hesitate report that. I don’t recall a single example from the session where he identified something he found as “black” or “white.” To my ear, issues were all framed in a dualistic breakdown leaving the faux grey as the assumed truthful position.
If Bronner had opened with any statement along the lines of: “My goal as a journalist is to present as full an account of TRUTH as possible, period,” I might have respected his approach. But constant resort to: “they-say-this and the-others-say-that” led to egregious sins of omissions — for example, about “when” Palestinians began insisting that Israel stop building settlements, and stating that there is no reliable government structure working for Palestinians and leaving out why that might be. Again, until I can get the transcript, that wording comes close to exact but the structuring of his views left this audience member yearning for a reporter to say: TRUTH, as far as I can determine it, is my goal. Period, no color schemes.