The Washington Post (10/11/13) responded to FAIR’s Action Alert (9/26/13) about the Post‘s Jerusalem bureau reporter, Ruth Eglash, whose husband’s links to the Israeli government pose a major conflict of interest. The paper’s response, to the extent that it has any substance at all, seems to misconstrue what a conflict of interest is.
As the alert reported, Eglash’s husband, Michael Eglash, is a top official at the pro-Israel advocacy group Upstart Activist and its affiliated PR consulting firm, Upstart Ideas. Both firms work regularly for the Israeli government, “combating anti-Israel propaganda” of the sort that supposedly appears in US news outlets like the Washington Post.
The Post response appeared in a blog post from reader representative Doug Feaver, headlined “Free of Conflict in Jerusalem.” Feaver wrote that a “well-organized e-mail campaign” inspired by FAIR targeted Ruth Eglash.
His observation that “none of the complaints address anything she has written for the Post” seems to misunderstand what a conflict of interest is: Reporters face a conflict whenever they have interests pulling them in two directions. Having your family’s income derived from a national government seeking positive media coverage certainly conflicts with reporting in a neutral fashion on that nation. Whether or not the conflict influences your reporting, journalistic ethics mandate that you not be placed in a position where you are forced to choose.
Post foreign editor Douglas Jehl provided the only substantive response, and it failed to address or refute any of FAIR’s specific criticisms regarding Eglash’s entanglements. He simply dismissed the conflict by stating that the matter has been looked into and no conflict was found:
Ruth Eglash is a professional journalist with experience at other publications, including the Jerusalem Post, and we have seen no reason for concern about her work. The Post is committed to its stringent policy on avoiding conflict of interest, which covers our entire news organization, including foreign bureaus and contract employees who work for the foreign staff. We have thoroughly examined the specific questions raised by readers about potential conflicts involving the business activities of Ms. Eglash’s husband. After a detailed review of those activities, we have not found facts that constitute an actual conflict.
It’s disturbing that the Post‘s foreign editor would dismiss the conflict issue so cavalierly. It is highly unlikely that the Post would hire a reporter to cover the Washington Nationals whose spouse ran a PR firm representing the team–or an environmental reporter whose spouse lobbied for Greenpeace or Exxon Mobil. In the Middle East, where the stakes are very high, there is even less excuse for tolerating such conflicts. And less still for the evasive way that the Post has addressed the issue.
Feaver, the reader representative, was hired when the paper eliminated the position of ombud. “The world has changed, and we at the Post must change with it,” publisher Katharine Weymouth (Washington Post, 3/1/13) asserted at the time. Feaver (Poynter, 4/23/13) explained the difference between an ombud and a reader representative was that “holding the newsroom accountable” was not a reader representative’s job.
Doug Feaver’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.