Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Ethan Bronner Rants Instead of Writes in New York Times Coverage of Gaza Mall

Provocative Article Reads as an Analysis Piece but Wasn't Labeled as Such

You'd think The New York Times would have the drill on Mideast coverage down cold by now. After all, the dispatches from its reporters in Israel, Cairo, and Beirut, are arguably parsed more carefully than any other news organization.
Jewish groups--and I've seen this first-hand--like to pounce on anything remotely critical of Israel as anti-Zionist bias, while many Arabs typically believe the Times is in the tank for whomever is holding their tenuous sway over the Knesset that week.
So, a dispatch from Ethan Bronner (left) in Monday's paper undoubtedly further raised already-arched eyebrows.
It concerned a mall of sorts, which sprang up in Gaza City. Bronner's writing was anything but objective, more critical than observational. True, he put the mall in its proper context and sorted through the rhetoric on both sides about its significance. The problem: the tone in his writing was more strident than what should appear in the front of the A section and read like something that belonged more in the back, where the op-eds and columnists are. To wit:

To the commentators who have never been here, certain points need to be cleared up. To those who contend the mall is proof that Gaza has construction materials: the building is 20 years old. To those who have described the mall as “gigantic” and “futuristic”: it is small and a bit old-fashioned. To Danny Ayalon, Israel’s deputy foreign minister, who wrote that the mall “would not look out of place in any capital in Europe”: it would.

This is commentary, not reportage, plain and simple. Again, Bronner may be on target with his observations. The problem is in how they are presented. And this:

But the broader point many of these advocates are making — that the poverty of Gaza is often misconstrued, willfully or inadvertently — is correct. The despair here is not that of Haiti or Somalia. It is a misery of dependence, immobility and hopelessness, not of grinding want. The flotilla movement is not about material aid; it is about Palestinian freedom and defiance of Israeli power.

Says who? Says you?
In the above passage, Bronner has not only tipped the balance, he's teetered over the edge to pure opinion. A reporter shouldn't be telling us when something is correct. That's for us to decide. And however you feel about the flotilla mess--and many American Jews are deeply conflicted over this--there remain two sides to this issue. By not acknowledging that, Bronner has compromised himself as a reporter. Then again, this dispatch indicates he's grown tired of that job. However, the front of the A section is no place to audition for a spot in the back.

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