Ken Silverstein has a pro-Hezbollah piece up at the Observer. Yeah, you read that right. The world is changing. The piece contains an excellent discussion of the achievements of Jeffrey Goldberg, the leading American journalist on Israel/Palestine issues, granted access by President Obama lately (because he speaks to the Israel lobby). Silverstein says he is an awful reporter who fabricated a moral case for invading Iraq.
Much of the American media’s coverage of the Middle East is simplistic and boring, and is naively sympathetic toward one side or the other. Among the most awful of all reporters covering the Middle East—and naturally among the most successful—is Jeffrey Goldberg. During the run-up to the Iraq War he authored a series of highly influential and resoundingly inaccurate pieces, which made and advanced the Bush administration’s case for invasion.
(I’m not the most impartial analyst of Mr. Goldberg’s oeuvre. Over the years, I’ve written about his excesses and distortions for various news outlets. In response, he has, among other things, derided me as “ethically challenged” because I once went undercover to pose as a foreign businessman who was seeking to hire a lobbying firm in D.C. to see how far—and how low—major D.C. lobby shops would go to secure a lucrative contract from a dictatorial regime. Short answer: Very far and very low.)
Mr. Goldberg strenuously sought to tie together Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden, and he also fabricated a “moral” case for invading Iraq on the grounds that Saddam was nothing less than a latter-day Hitler. Not only did he air the unconfirmed WMD allegations of Ahmed Chalabi as unassailable inside intelligence, he also propagated as gospel the ravings of a Kurdish prisoner who claimed to have proof of the Saddam-Al Qaeda link. But unlike some reporters—for example, Judith Miller, who covered Iraq for The New York Times—Mr. Goldberg never faced a moment of pundit reckoning. Instead, he’s failed steadily upward, gliding seamlessly from The New Yorker to Atlantic Monthly and now writing for a variety of publications. In writing about the Middle East, Mr. Goldberg has consistently served as a mouthpiece for the Israeli point of view.
It’s worth examining a two-part series Mr. Goldberg wrote for The New Yorker in 2002 when he traveled to Lebanon and elsewhere to report on Hezbollah. His resulting lurid two-part series won a National Magazine Award—a distinction that now looks like the journalistic equivalent of Henry Kissinger winning the Nobel Peace Prize.
In the first of the two stories, very little happens. Mr. Goldberg travels to the land of the hijab to meet a shadowy Hezbollah operative who allegedly kidnapped Americans 20 years ago. He never did meet the operative, but he stared down a “stiff and unhappy-looking man” whom Hezbollah had sent to “assess my intentions.” Our hero then returns to Beirut after downing three Pepsis at a café.
In the second story, Mr. Goldberg followed his terrorist quarry back to the New World, seeking evidence of Hezbollah sleeper cells in America and Paraguay. He found very little to support his thesis. Mr. Goldberg’s most sensational revelation concerned a Hezbollah cell in Charlotte, N.C., led by a Lebanese immigrant named Mohamad Youssef Hammoud. “In the course of a year and a half [the cell] sold $7.9 million worth of cigarettes illegally in Michigan and sent some of the profits to Hezbollah in Lebanon,” Mr. Goldberg reported. What he didn’t note was that of that money, a paltry $3,500 was sent to Lebanon. Hammoud said money he helped send to Lebanon went to support Hezbollah’s efforts to distribute books at schools and improve public water systems.
Mr. Goldberg closed his story with this chilling discovery:
“Investigators in North Carolina found anti-American propaganda among the belongings of several of the cell members … [and] a series of photographs taken in Washington, D.C. In one of them, a member of the cell stands in front of the Washington Monument, smiling. In another, two members are posing in front of the White House.”
Probably half of the American population has similar photographs taken during trips to Washington. An astute analyst of Middle Eastern affairs will recognize, however, that Arab-American cigarette smugglers don’t smile while standing in front of monuments unless they’re planning to blow them up. (The case went to trial soon after the 9/11 attacks. Even at this moment of maximum public alarm, a North Carolina jury was deadlocked on the charge that Hammoud actually lent material support to a terrorist group. It came back with a conviction only after the judge ordered jurors to keep deliberating. Hammoud is still serving time but maintains his innocence. (His brother, Chawki Hammoud, was found guilty of charges that included cigarette smuggling and racketeering.)
More than a dozen years later, Mr. Goldberg remains a respected commentator on the Middle East. It’s a pity, because his work obscures rather than illuminates, and in fundamental ways.
Well lots of folks have not had their pundit reckoning, even as Jeb Bush gets pummeled, justly, for vacillating on whether the war was a bad thing. Last night at the 92nd Street Y, Ari Shavit twice twitted Peter Beinart for the fact that Beinart also supported the disastrous Iraq war, once saying he had “messianic” ideas about the war. Beinart nodded, seeming to acknowledge responsibility. Jim Fallows has tried to enforce some accountability re Bill Kristol.
“Genuine Q: What is the track record of accurate predictions or principled commentary that keeps getting B Kristol onto Sunday talk panels?”