In a stunning display of self-unawareness, The Atlantic‘s Jeffrey Goldberg pointed to last week’s forced “resignation” by Dave Weigel from The Washington Post as evidence that the Post, “in its general desperation for page views, now hires people who came up in journalism without much adult supervision, and without the proper amount of toilet-training.” Goldberg then solemnly expressed hope that “this episode will lead to the reimposition of some level of standards.” Numerous commentators immediately noted the supreme and obvious irony that Goldberg, of all people, would anoint himself condescending arbiter of journalistic standards, given that, as one of the leading media cheerleaders for the attack on Iraq, he compiled a record of humiliating falsehood-dissemination in the run-up to the war that rivaled Judy Miller’s both in terms of recklessness and destructive impact.
Except unlike Miller, who was forced to leave the New York Times over what she did, and the NYT itself, which at least acknowledged some of the shoddy pro-war propaganda it churned out, Goldberg has never acknowledged his journalistic errors, expressed remorse for them, or paid any price at all. To the contrary, as is true for most Iraq war propagandists, he thrived
despite as a result of his sorry record in service of the war. In 2007, David Bradley — the owner of The Atlantic and (in his own words) formerly “a neocon guy” who was “dead certain about the rightness” of invading Iraq — lavished Goldberg with money and gifts, including ponies for Goldberg’s children, in order to lure him away from The New Yorker, where he had churned out most of his pre-war trash.
One of his most obscenely false and damaging articles — this 2002 museum of deceitful, hideous journalism, “reporting” on Saddam’s “possible ties to Al Qaeda” — actually won an Oversea’s Press Award for — get this — “best international reporting in a print medium dealing with human rights.” Goldberg, whose devotion to Israel is so extreme that he served in the IDF as a prison guard over Palestinians and was described last year as “Netanyahu’s faithful stenographer” by The New York Times’ Roger Cohen, wrote an even more falsehood-filled 2002 New Yorker article, warning that Hezbollah was planning a master, Legion-of-Doom alliance with Saddam Hussein for a “larger war,” and that “[b]oth Israel and the United States believe that, at the outset of an American campaign against Saddam, Iraq will fire missiles at Israel — perhaps with chemical or biological payloads — in order to provoke an Israeli conventional, or even nuclear, response,” though — Goldberg sternly warned — “Hezbollah, which is better situated than Iraq to do damage to Israel, might do Saddam’s work itself” and “its state sponsors, Iran and Syria, maintain extensive biological- and chemical-weapons programs.” That fantastical, war-fueling screed — aimed at scaring Americans into targeting the full panoply of Israel’s enemies — actually won a National Magazine Award in 2003. Given how completely discredited those articles are, those are awards which any person with an iota of shame would renounce and apologize for, but Goldberg continues to proudly tout them on his bio page at The Atlantic.
Despite all of those war-cheerleading deceits — or, again, because of them — Goldberg continues to be held out by America’s most establishment outlets as a preeminent expert in the region. As Jonathan Schwarz documents, Goldberg is indeed very well-”trained” in the sense that establishment journalists mean that term: i.e., as an obedient dog who spouts establishment-serving falsehoods. That’s why Goldberg is worth examining: he’s so representative of the American media because the more discredited his journalism becomes, the more blatant propaganda he spews, the more he thrives in our media culture. That’s why it’s not hyperbole to observe that we are plagued by a Jeffrey Goldberg Media; he’s not an aberration but one of its most typical and illustrative members.
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To see what a representative blight on journalism Jeffrey Goldberg is, one need not go back several years. Just look at what he did in the past several days when lamenting the erosion of journalistic standards while dancing on Dave Weigel’s grave. In his first post arguing that Weigel’s hiring evinced the Post‘s journalistic decline, Goldberg relied upon “one of [his] friends at the Post,” to whom he granted anonymity to trash Weigel as an “idiot” and someone who has “destroyed” the paper’s reputation. Just think about that: in the very same post where Goldberg pretentiously grieved for the collapse of journalistic standards, his “source” was a cowardly “friend” of his at the Post who was granted anonymity solely to spit out catty, petulant name-calling. Is that supposed to be journalism: granting anonymity to your friends to puke up conclusory condemnations of other reporters? That’s like lamenting the decline of American journalism while quoting the answers provided by one’s Ouija Board.
Goldberg’s second post on the topic was even worse: he quoted still more cowardly, anonymous friends of his at the Post complaining about “the serial stupidity of allowing these bloggers to trade on the name of the Washington Post,” that “they hurt the newspaper when they claim to be reporters,” that Ezra Klein is “just an absolute partisan. If this is where journalism has to go, so be it, but I don’t want to go there,” and that Weigel and Klein suffer from a “lack of toilet-training” and are “embarrassing.” Think about that: at the very same time that he righteously sermonized on the need to elevate journalistic standards, Goldberg turned his Atlantic blog into an anonymous bulletin board for multiple friends to do nothing but spit petulant playground epithets with absolutely no accountability. That’s like writing solemn sermons on the sanctity of human rights while you simultaneously poke someone’s eyes out with a dull pencil.
Even Goldberg’s backtracking later in the day was itself fueled by full-scale journalistic sloth and shoddiness. Did Goldberg reconsider his condemnation of Weigel and Klein based on the flagrantly irresponsible act of relying upon the insults of his anonymous friends? No. It was the opposite. Other anonymous friends of his — “a couple of people I know and respect” — called him to say his criticisms of Weigel were “misplaced.” Virtually the entirety of Goldberg’s multi-post discussion that day was driven by nothing more than what his nameless Important Friends told him to think.
That — granting anonymity to friends for no reason other than they’re too cowardly to attach their names to their own opinions — was from the person who prances around as the Beacon of Journalistic Excellence. It’s exactly what the equally pompous, slothful and admired Jeffrey Rosen did in The New Republic to trash Sonia Sotomayor as being stupid and abrasive. That’s Respected American Journalism: writing down and publishing snide insults from Important People and Friends who are too spineless to say it themselves. And just to contrast Goldberg’s Important True-Journalist Friends with the young, untrained, undeserving, ideologically blinkered bloggers who are supposedly embarrassing The Washington Post, consider that Post blogger Greg Sargent courageously went to his own column, under his own name, to explain his opposition to his employer’s decision to accept Weigel’s resignation. Who’s more of a journalist: Sargent, who took to his own column to oppose his own newspaper’s decision with a respectful though unflinching argument, or Goldberg’s friends (who hide behind anonymity to shoot spitballs at people they dislike) and Goldberg (who recklessly grants them anonymity to do so while turning his blog into a snide little gossip column)?
Other recent comments from Goldberg illustrate the menace to journalism that he is. In re-affirming his initial attack on Weigel, who had written on Journolist (with obvious levity) that Matt Drudge should set himself on fire, Goldberg attributed his strong negative reaction to the fact that he “despise[s] violent keyboard-cowboyism.” Can you even believe that? Goldberg — who relentlessly pounded the drums for war from his keyboard, which helped to bring about the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent human beings — is willing to say with a straight face that he “despise[s] violent keyboard-cowboyism.” How can self-delusion be more all-consuming than that?
Two weeks ago, Goldberg — like all Israel-obsessive devotees — turned his ire toward Turkey for daring to oppose Israel’s policies, and threatened: ”I have nothing original to say about Turkey’s turn toward darkness (except that I hope to be blogging more about Turkey’s disgraceful treatment of its Kurdish citizens!)” As one emailer put it to me: Goldberg is open about the fact that “he’s only interested in the plight of the Kurds when he can gleefully use it as a cudgel against Israel’s enemies.” Similar vindictive, thuggish, threatening behavior was evident when Goldberg claimed that he, too, has been sent discussions from Journolist before and warned, with the tough-guy facade that is the defining symptom of the Little Man Syndrome with which he is so obviously afflicted: ”I haven’t had the opportunity to use them, but would be happy to if the need arose.” That’s the mark of a True Journalist: self-absorbed blackmail — if you cross me, I will try to destroy you with your listserv emails I’ve obtained. He sounds like some sort of petty, demented cartoon version of J. Edgar Hoover.
And then, worst of all, Goldberg replicated the cowardice of his anonymous friends by responding to unnamed and unlinked critics (so none of his readers could see the actual critiques), and when doing so, repeated and re-affirmed the lie that Saddam and Al Qaeda were working together prior to the war. That Saddam/Al-Qaeda lie is among the most discredited in American politics, and those who continue to peddle it are no different than those maniacal right-wing Dead-Enders who continue to insist that Saddam really did have WMD. As The New York Times explained, even the GOP-led Senate Intelligence Committee acknowledged in its 2006 report that claims of this relationship were not credible. Goldberg’s “reporting” in particular was exposed as an easily-detected scam from a laughably unreliable “source.” Yet here is Goldberg, under the banner of The Atlantic, once again propagating this complete myth. As Matt Yglesias put it: “Jeff Goldberg stands foursquare behind his made-up reporting.” That’d be like Judy Miller returning tomorrow to the NYT, teaming up again with Michael Gordon, with a front-page article warning that Saddam really was seeking dangerous aluminum tubes for use in his nuclear weapons program. Congratulations, Atlantic; you should be very proud.
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Beyond the direct causal relationship between Goldberg’s journalistic failings and his advancement in establishment journalism, Goldberg is so representative of the American media because of how he thinks about himself. He really believes that he is part of a special, elevated, exclusive caste endowed with great journalistic judgment and wisdom, and that nobody other than those admitted to that club is worth listening to. To see how true that is, just look at the praise which he constantly lavishes upon himself.
It was so telling that his first reaction to the Weigel “resignation” was to complain that media outlets are now hiring those “who came up in journalism without much adult supervision, and without the proper amount of toilet-training.” He sounds exactly like some snotty, snooty, bloated Guardian of Aristocratic Privilege, wallowing in resentment over the fact that they let anyone into his Journalistic Country Club these days. Identically, when Andrew Sullivan criticized his views on Israel last year, Goldberg turned up his nose and snapped: ”Andrew Sullivan doesn’t know that much about the Middle East. . . .One of the many reasons I don’t engage his blog more frequently on matters relating to the Middle East is that he’s not very knowledgeable about the intricacies of the American-led peace process, or of internal Israeli politics, or internal Palestinian politics.” Identically, when arguing for the invasion of Iraq in Slate in October, 2002, Goldberg insisted that war opponents — unlike him, of course — were people “with limited experience in the Middle East” and “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.”
How can someone with the record that he has continue to view himself as possessed of unique and superior opining credentials? That’s why I say: in this self-praising, desperately insecure need to tout his own wisdom, knowledge and expertise, while demeaning those who are not admitted to his Special Club, Jeffrey Goldberg is a perfectly illustrative face of the American establishment media. In much of what he writes, one finds the common, desperate refrain of self-preservation and unearned entitlement issued by all dying castes: Our record is abysmal and embarrassing; we’ve been wrong about everything; we never admit error or account for the destruction we cause; but we still are inherently superior and have an intrinsic right to shape and dominate the conversation, because we’ve been anointed for that role, and those who haven’t been have no right to participate.
But the problem for the Jeffrey Goldbergs is that several factors, primarily the Internet, have made it so that nobody is captive any longer to the institutions that vest him with credibility and foist him on a helpless public. People have choices now, and that caste system has therefore broken down. Self-regarding proclamations of wisdom and credibility no longer impress people when unaccompanied by evidence that warrants that self-regard, or — as in Goldberg’s case — when abundant evidence negates it. Jeffrey Goldberg can and will do what people typically do as they lose their unearned entitlements: they’ll screech and complain more loudly and bitterly and shrilly, and lash out with increasing vindictiveness against those whom they perceive as responsible for their unfair plight.
That’s what Goldberg did this week when Dave Weigel was forced to “resign,” and it’s what many establishment journalists do as they observe the crumbling walls of their merit-free fiefdom (witness the outburst from his anonymous friends). Deep down, though, they know it’s futile, which is what makes it simultaneously pity-inducing and gratifying to watch. Who wouldn’t turn away from someone with Goldberg’s unrecanted record who keeps telling you how smart and wise and filled with expertise and wisdom they are? The Jeffrey Goldberg Media continues to exert substantial influence and wreak real havoc, but as is true for most of America’s once-respected institutions — and, indeed, as is true for America itself — it’s inexorably weakening and crumbling, and the merit-free elites (like Goldberg) who cast themselves as the unfair victims are, in fact, the prime authors of their own demise.