You may only read this site if you've purchased Our Kampf from Amazon or Powell's or me
• • •
"Mike and Jon, Jon and Mike—I've known them both for years, and, clearly, one of them is very funny. As for the other: truly one of the great hangers-on of our time."—Steve Bodow, head writer, The Daily Show

"Who can really judge what's funny? If humor is a subjective medium, then can there be something that is really and truly hilarious? Me. This book."—Daniel Handler, author, Adverbs, and personal representative of Lemony Snicket

"The good news: I thought Our Kampf was consistently hilarious. The bad news: I’m the guy who wrote Monkeybone."—Sam Hamm, screenwriter, Batman, Batman Returns, and Homecoming

October 03, 2007

Jeffrey Goldberg, Five Years Ago Today

Here's Jeffrey Goldberg, then a staff writer at the New Yorker, participating in a debate on Iraq in Slate on October 3, 2002. That was five years ago today:

There is not sufficient space...for me to refute some of the arguments made in Slate over the past week against intervention, arguments made, I have noticed, by people with limited experience in the Middle East (Their lack of experience causes them to reach the naive conclusion that an invasion of Iraq will cause America to be loathed in the Middle East, rather than respected)...

The administration is planning today to launch what many people would undoubtedly call a short-sighted and inexcusable act of aggression. In five years, however, I believe that the coming invasion of Iraq will be remembered as an act of profound morality.

Wow, did he call that one! He's like the Babe Ruth of geopolitical analysis!

Still, as gruesome as this is (and as gruesome as Goldberg's pre-war reporting was), I don't recommend that anyone get angry at him personally. He doesn't matter. What matters is the political economy of our media. Here, in an article from this past August, is a description of how that political economy functions:

David Bradley had been trying to lure Jeffrey Goldberg to the Atlantic for more than two years.

Bradley, the magazine's owner, wrote flattering letters. He courted Goldberg at a McDonald's on Wisconsin Avenue. He proffered a hefty signing bonus. And when the New Yorker's Washington correspondent finally seemed receptive to making the move, Bradley sent in the ponies.

"He's incredibly persistent and makes you feel like you're God's gift to journalism," says Goldberg, who had turned Bradley down once before. But that was before the horses showed up at his home to entertain his children. "The charm is incredibly disarming," says Goldberg, who joined the Atlantic last month...

Part of what Bradley is selling is a commitment to long-form journalism, at a time when there are few quality outlets for those who believe in the power of nonfiction narrative. But what Goldberg calls "smart-bomb flattery" doesn't hurt, and neither do salaries for top journalists ranging as high as $350,000.

"Smart-bomb flattery." Oh, tee hee hee. I find it particularly witty for Goldberg to speak of himself enjoying these metaphorical smart bombs at the same time that, thanks in part to him, Iraqis are enjoying the real kind.

In any case, the lesson is clear: as long you advocate war—any war, anywhere, anytime—and as long as you coat it with a certain brand of intellectual varnish, you literally cannot be wrong in the mainstream US media. Your views may diverge from reality so completely they are essentially psychotic, but as far the people who own the media are concerned, it's reality that's mistaken. Hey, do your kids like ponies?

EXTRA CREDIT: In his Slate post, Goldberg cites Richard Spertzel as an authority. Spertzel is an American former UNSCOM inspector and a truly appalling hack. Predictably enough, Spertzel was later hired by the CIA as part of its post-war WMD search team—and predictably enough, he came back to the US and wrote an editorial for the Wall Street Journal brazenly lying about what they'd found and what the final CIA report said. (Brief description here, though it's actually even worse than that. Details on request.)

MEDIA MOGULS, EXPLAINED: Why is David Bradley so anxious to spend his hard-earned money on Jeffrey Goldberg? The answer is really quite straightforward.

BONUS: Goldberg's Slate views were heartily endorsed at the time by Andrew Sullivan: "The invaluable Jeffrey Goldberg presents what is to my mind an unarguable case for removing Saddam from power in Slate....We cannot let ourselves be led by the deluded and the defeatist any more." And thus:

When it comes to hiring, Bradley's most useful trait may be patience. Says Andrew Sullivan, who had been blogging for Time: "David regularly offered me tea and scones every year or so for the better part of the last seven years, to find out what I was up to, and always suggested ways to go work for him." Sullivan recently moved his blog to the Atlantic's site.

PREVIOUSLY: Jeffrey Goldberg is "said to" source things in an unusual fashion.

Posted at October 3, 2007 02:06 AM | TrackBack

This is a very good post (at the risk of being accused of smart bomb flattery) and Goldberg is now nominated for the “They said” king of all space and time. Andrew Sullivan, well… I nominate him for the Darwin Awards.

Seriously this makes a lot of sense to me. I recently was reading a Pew poll on how people view the news media which said:

Public attitudes toward the press, which have been on a downward track for years, have become more negative in several key areas. Growing numbers of people question the news media's patriotism and fairness. Perceptions of political bias also have risen over the past two years.

Yet despite these criticisms, most Americans continue to say that they like mainstream news outlets. By wide margins, more Americans give favorable than unfavorable ratings to their daily newspaper (80%-20%), local TV news (79%-21%), and cable TV news networks (79%-21%), among those able to rate these organizations. The margin is only slightly smaller for network TV news (75%-25%).

Of course this poll was taken in 2005 and I wonder if this stands as pretty much the same today.

I would hope that people are becoming a bit more cynical about the news media as well they should.

Posted by: rob payne at October 3, 2007 04:50 AM

One of the uglier things Goldberg wrote was probably in that 2002 New Yorker article one of your earlier posts linked to. (The link is broken). He toured a Hezbollah museum at southern Lebanon, which was about the torture inflicted on prisoners there (I think this was at Khiam). The museum itself was tacky, from Goldberg's description, and I don't doubt he was right--I also agree with one of your earlier posts that it's wrong to memorialize atrocities as a way of stirring up further hatred.

But one teensy little point was missing in Goldberg's piece--was it true that Israel and its SLA allies had tortured people? According to Amnesty International and HRW, yes, it was. The article was written before the Abu Ghraib photos came out, so allegations of torture by Western forces wasn't something Goldberg felt he had to investigate. He was content to say they were "alleged".

But that's the sort of journalist he is--he could write a massive piece about Hezbollah and their fanaticism and never get into the question of whether their Western foes were just as barbaric.

Posted by: Donald Johnson at October 3, 2007 08:01 AM

If you have more details about why the Spertzel article is misguided, we would really appreciate the discussion. Thanks!

Posted by: Benjamin at October 3, 2007 10:24 AM

Jonathan, this is completely (sort of) off topic, but I just watched the video of Chris Matthews and Jon Stewart over on Atrios' blog -- so so strange. Matthews, I mean. At the end, he asks Stewart if he can "tell you a story" and Stewart says yes. So then Matthews picks up his book "Life's a Campaign" which is the ostensible reason he's on Stewart's show and begins to say 'This is a book about...' and Stewart just dissolves in laughter -- because the whole 'interview' they've just held was Stewart saying the book is phony and sad and stupid and Matthews saying no no no it isn't.

When does the parody stop??

Posted by: Aunt Deb at October 3, 2007 10:49 AM

Babe Ruth, hee, good one.

Posted by: catherine at October 3, 2007 10:55 AM

Let's see, the actions of the U.S. re Iraq have been considered since at least the time of Cicero to be unjust; those same actions are considered by international law to be illegal, by the Nuremberg Protocols to be war crimes, and by even a cursory read of history to be doomed to failure - and Mr. Goldberg wrote, "In five years, however, I believe that the coming invasion of Iraq will be remembered as an act of profound morality."

The question seems to be, "Is Mr. Goldberg merely a kept whore with well-worn kneepads or is he just monumentally ill-informed?"

Posted by: cavjam at October 3, 2007 12:04 PM

Superb posts (including the one from june 2005). You really take us behind the scene here and reveal the Tom Friedmans of this world for what they are. Thanks!

Posted by: Paul at October 3, 2007 04:32 PM
In five years, however, I believe that the coming invasion of Iraq will be remembered as an act of profound morality. Wow, did he call that one! He's like the Babe Ruth of geopolitical analysis!

Hey, the five years ain't up yet. He's got til March, another whole FU. Give war a chance, woncha? Jeez!

Posted by: konopelli/wgg at October 3, 2007 07:44 PM

You obviously lack confidence in the system. What can we do to win you over? It looks like ponies won't work on you, so we'll have to bring out the Big Guns... Mimes and balloon animals! Come to the dark side,,,.

Seriously, who takes these news whores seriously? They have all the credibility of Ed McMahon.

Posted by: breakerslion at October 4, 2007 07:47 PM

Bradley has largely destroyed the Atlantic, by turning it into just another "political magazine". The trend started by the unlamented Michael Kelly has just continued as the magazine ceased to be one about ideas or interesting corners of the human experience, or less well-known professions and places, and became a place to recycle political observations.

I still don't know whether he just didn't understand the property he was buying, or merely had a plan to turn to the thing into another part of the pundit press. Probably the latter, as the justification for moving it to DC was to create synergies with the political press. Too bad..

Posted by: walden at October 5, 2007 10:07 AM

Yesterday I saw some worn out bone sack on CNN report on the Democratic plan for a bailout of consumers from the mortgage demons. After a one sentence blurb on the plan she editorialized with "we have already gotten hundreds of emails saying 'don't bailout consumers!'" They have really declared war on the America people. They will not be satisfied until we are destroyed.

Posted by: Terrier at October 5, 2007 10:12 AM