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.
Jeffrey Goldberg responds:
It turns out that the left-wing commentator Glenn Greenwald doesn’t like me (who knew?). In a rather long posting, he accuses me of many different sins, mainly, though not exclusively, having to do with my early support for the Iraq war, and for my reporting from pre-invasion Iraqi Kuridstan. (Greenwald has always been vehemently opposed to the invasion.)
As it happens, I was e-mailing yesterday with the prime minister of Iraqi Kurdistan, Barham Salih, and I mentioned Greenwald’s critique. I explained that Greenwald believes the invasion was a criminal act, to which Salih responded by asking if Greenwald had ever visited Iraqi Kurdistan. I said I didn’t know, not having too much contact with him, on account of him hating me. So Salih asked me to extend an invitation to Greenwald to visit Iraqi Kurdistan. So, Glenn, you are hereby invited to visit Iraqi Kurdistan. I’m happy to go with you (I’m actually a pretty good travel companion — even Matt Yglesias says that I can be both “funny” and “charming,” though, to be fair, he also says I can be “dangerous” and “inaccurate”). But if you didn’t want to go with me, I’m sure I can find someone to go with you.
The prime minister said we could invite Kurds from different political parties and media outlets to a big, public forum, and Glenn could explain to them his position that the invasion was immoral, and the Kurds could explain why they supported the invasion. (Of course, we would try to find some Kurds who opposed the invasion, and there are, indeed, some out there, to meet with Greenwald as well). We would also be able to visit Halabja, and the other towns and villages affected by Saddam’s genocide, and I’m sure we could arrange meetings with other Kurdish leaders and dissidents.
Obviously, I think this is a good idea, because I view the subject of Iraq as a complicated one, and I think that Greenwald has an overly simplistic, black-and-white view of the situation. If he were to meet with representatives of the Kurds — who make up 20 percent of the population of Iraq and who were the most oppressed group in Iraq during the period of Saddam’s rule (experiencing not only a genocide but widespread chemical gassing) — I think it might be possible for him to understand why some people — even some Iraqis — supported the overthrow of Saddam. Also, as a bonus, I’m reasonably sure we could meet with Kurdish intelligence officials who could explain to him why they believe Saddam was secretly supporting an al Qaeda-affiliated Kurdish extremist group, and, if we have time, I could also arrange a visit to Najaf or the equivalent, where Greenwald could meet with representatives of the Shi’a, who also took it on the chin from Saddam.
This is a sincere offer from a very important Kurdish official, and I hope Glenn Greenwald takes it seriously.
Glenn Greenwald responds:
Jeffrey Goldberg responded yesterday to my post detailing his long list of journalistic malfeasance by telling me that he and the Prime Minister of Iraqi Kuridstan would like me to travel there to hear how much the Kurds appreciate the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Leaving aside the complete non sequitur that is his response — how does that remotely pertain to Goldberg’s granting of anonymity to his friends to smear people they don’t like or the serial fear-mongering fabrications he spread about the Saddam threat prior to the invasion? – I don’t need to travel to Kurdistan to know that many Kurds, probably most, are happy that the U.S. attacked Iraq. For that minority in Northern Iraq, what’s not to like?
They had foreign countries (the U.S. and its “partners”) expend their citizens’ lives and treasure to rid the Kurds of their hated enemy; they received semi-autonomy, substantial oil revenues, a thriving relationship with Israel, and real political power; the overwhelming majority of the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis whose lives were snuffed out and the millions of people displaced by the war were not Kurds, and most of the destruction took place in Central and Southern Iraq away from their towns and homes, while they remain largely free of the emergent police state tactics of the current Iraqi government. As Ali Gharib put it to Goldberg: ”there are at least 600,000 Iraqis who, I imagine, are not too thrilled about the way it all turned out and with whom Greenwald will never get a meeting.”
Goldberg apparently thinks that if you can find some citizens in an invaded country who are happy about the invasion, then it demonstrates the aggression was justifiable or at least morally supportable (I suppose I should be thankful that he didn’t haul out the think-about-how-great-this-is-for-the-Iraqi-gays platitude long cherished by so many neocons, though — given the hideous reality in Iraq in that realm — that’s now a deceitful bridge too far even for them). I’m not interested in an overly personalized exchange with Goldberg, but there is one aspect of his response worth highlighting: the universality of the war propaganda he proffers. Those who perpetrate wars of aggression invariably invent moral justifications to allow themselves and the citizens of the aggressor state to feel good and noble about themselves. Hence, even an unprovoked attack which literally destroys a country and ruins the lives of millions of innocent people — as the U.S. invasion of Iraq did — is scripted as a morality play with the invaders cast in the role of magnanimous heroes.
It’s difficult to find an invasion in history that wasn’t supported by at least some faction of the invaded population and where that same self-justifying script wasn’t used. That’s true even of the most heinous aggressors. Many Czech and Austrian citizens of Germanic descent, viewing themselves as a repressed minority, welcomed Hitler’s invasion of their countries, while leaders of the independence-seeking Sudeten parties in those countries actively conspired to bring it about. Did that make those German invasions justifiable? As Arnold Suppan of the University of Vienna’s Institute for Modern History wrote of the German invasion of Czechoslovakia (click on image to enlarge): And, of course, German citizens were told those invasions were necessary and just in order to liberate the repressed German minorities. To be a bit less Godwin about it, many Ossetians wanted independence from Georgia and thus despised the government in Tbilisi, and many identified far more with the invading Russians than their own government; did that make the 2008 Russian assault on Georgia moral and noble? Pravda routinely cast the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan as one of protection of the populace from extremists. I have no doubt that one could easily find Iraqi Sunnis today who would welcome an invasion from Hamas or Saudi Arabia to liberate them from what they perceive (not unreasonably) as their repressive Shiite overlords; would Goldberg therefore recognize the moral ambiguity of that military action? If, tomorrow, China invaded Israel and changed the regime, there would certainly be many, many Palestinians who would celebrate; would that, in Goldberg’s view, make it morally supportable? Saddam himself, in FBI interrogations after he was captured, was insistent that many Kuwaitis were eager for an Iraqi invasion and that this justified his 1990 war; if he were right in his facutal premise, would that render his actions just?
As Jonathan Schwarz wrote in 2007, responding to similar war-justifying claims from Christopher Hitchens that he saw Iraqis giving “sweets and flowers” to American and British soldiers:
The strange-but-true reality is that throughout history, whenever one country has invaded another, there have always been some people within the invaded country who’ve welcomed the invaders. Sometimes it’s because they’ve been oppressed by their own government, are similar ethnically or religiously to the invader, or just know what side their bread is buttered on.
At the same time, those within the invading country who support the invasion have always seized on tales of the welcome they’ve received and declared it demonstrates the justice of their cause. And this is rarely pure cynicism. Human beings — even (or especially) the worst of them — need to believe they’re moral.
To underscore the point, consider these photographs of ethnic Germans in Lithuania handing flowers to invading German soldiers, and citizens of Ukraine and Poland doing the same, all from the BBC documentary, Nazis: A Warning from History (click on photogaphs to enlarge):
As Schwarz wrote: “I don’t know who took this footage, but I would bet a lot of money it was the Nazis themselves, and that they rushed it back to the home front to demonstrate the extraordinary morality of their cause.” And just to bolster the point a bit more, compare the propagandistic photograph on the right (below) used by Germans in 1941 to show that Lithuanians welcomed their invasion (depicting citizens pulling down a statue of an oppressive Communist ruler, likely Lenin), to the virtually identical, iconic photograph on the left of the staged scene of Iraqis “celebrating” the American invasion by pulling down a statue of Saddam:
It should go without saying, but doesn’t: the point here is not that the attack on Iraq is comparable to these above-referenced invasions. It may or may not be, but that’s irrelevant. The point is that every nation which launches even the most brutal, destructive and unprovoked wars of aggression employs moralizing propaganda to claim that their aggression engenders magnanimous and noble ends, and specifically often points to segments of the invaded population which welcome the violence and invaders. Pointing to the happy and rewarded Kurdish minority no more justifies or legalizes the attack on Iraq than similar claims do for any of those other cases.
Jeffrey Goldberg responds:
Glenn Greenwald Compares the Iraq War to the Nazi Conquest of Europe
Yes he does.
Joe Klein at Swampland at Time:
To be sure, lazy, corrupt journalism happens; always has, always will. But Goldberg’s work is quite the opposite: rigorously reported, beautifully written and fiercely honest. Indeed, Jeff’s willingness to be candid about lessons he learned along the way created a book that Greenwald rarely, if ever, mentions: Prisoners, a memoir of Jeff’s time as a member of the Israel Defense Forces when he served as a prison guard and developed a close, difficult and unresolved friendship with one of his Palestinian prisoners. This is the sort of work that Greenwald, locked in the sterile prison of his ideology, is completely incompetent to understand.
And now, Greenwald–who, so far as I can tell, only regards the United States as a force for evil in the world–has laid out the incredible notion that the liberation of the Kurds, which Jeff celebrates (and so do I, and so do civilized people everywhere) as a happy byproduct of George W. Bush’s dreadful war in Iraq, can be compared to the Nazi seizure of the Sudetenland:
It’s difficult to find an invasion in history that wasn’t supported by at least some faction of the invaded population and where that same self-justifying script wasn’t used. That’s true even of the most heinous aggressors. Many Czech and Austrian citizens of Germanic descent, viewing themselves as a repressed minority, welcomed Hitler’s invasion of their countries, whileleaders of the independence-seeking Sudeten parties in those countries actively conspired to bring it about.
This is obscene. Comparing the Kurds, who had been historically orphaned and then slaughtered with poison gas by Saddam Hussein, with Nazi-l0ving Sudeten Germans is outrageous. Comparing the United States to Nazi Germany is not merely disgraceful, but revelatory of a twisted, deluded soul. And, once again, we need to stand back and remember how this started: a dispute over whether the Post should have fired Dave Wiegel. Wow.
Greenwald will probably come after me now, armed with the same three or four quotes he routinely uses as evidence of my moral and professional dishonesty and dissipation. For Greenwald, it seems, any honest political disagreement always winds up with charges of corruption and decadence. I wonder why that is. But fine, Glenn, go for it. I’m going back to my vacation.
Update: A commenter–a Glennbot, clearly–notes that Greenwald finagles this caveat:
It should go without saying, but doesn’t: the point here is not that the attack on Iraq is comparable to these above-referenced invasions. It may or may not be, but that’s irrelevant.
No, it’s not irrelevant. If he’s going to compare the U.S. in Kurdistan with Nazi Germany in Sudetenland, Greenwald can’t just slink away by saying those actions “may or may not be comparable.” He can’t plead ignorance, can’t get away with a litigator’s trick. And if he truly is ignorant–it certainly seems so–perhaps he should take the time to study up on the situation, or perhaps take up Jeff’s invitation to visit Kurdistan, before he goes off comparing Kurds to Sudeten Germans. But then, that would involve…reporting, wouldn’t it?
Actually Joe, you’ve completely missed the point.
Let’s put this in words Joe can understand- If Israel were to be attacked, occupied, and have millions of her citizens murdered or killed in an invasion by Egypt, six years from now, it would not be ok to point to that immoral invasion and say “But look how happy the Palestinians are!” Which is precisely what Goldberg was doing, and exactly what Greenwald was pointing out. Even worse, Klein needed a reader to point out the very fact that Greenwald himself insisted the invasion of Iraq and the Nazi invasions are not the same. Now that’s some close reading of something that really upset you!
Joe noted that he was interrupting his vacation for this outburst- for his sake, I hope it was written from the hotel bar, because he completely missed the point. And for the record- I really like reading Joe Klein- most of the time.
*** Update ***
We’ve now got the spectacle of two prominent journalists, one for Time, one for the Atlantic, willfully misinterpreting someone’s remarks and screaming that person is a Nazi lover and hates America. Godwin wept.
Hamilton Nolan at Gawker:
Glenn Greenwald wrote a column about Jeff Goldberg, the Iraq War, and the moral issues surrounding invasions of countries, in which he mentioned Germany’s invasion of the Sudetenland, among other examples. Quote: “It should go without saying, but doesn’t: the point here is not that the attack on Iraq is comparable to these above-referenced invasions.” Time’s Joe Klein responded: “And now, Greenwald—who, so far as I can tell, only regards the United States as a force for evil in the world—has laid out the incredible notion that the liberation of the Kurds, which Jeff celebrates (and so do I, and so do civilized people everywhere) as a happy byproduct of George W. Bush’s dreadful war in Iraq, can be compared to the Nazi seizure of the Sudetenland.” Joe Klein is the world’s best reader.
UPDATE: Kevin Drum
UPDATE #3: Jeffrey Goldberg