Jeffrey Goldberg is very busy as editor of The Atlantic so it’s understandable that he trots out old reporting in a piece denouncing Donald Trump as a peddler of conspiracy theory for questioning the official coronavirus death toll.
But look at the old reporting: Back in Cairo in 2001, an Islamist told Goldberg that Arabs didn’t execute the strike on the World Trade Center. So Goldberg is back to his old beat, telling us what a scary neighborhood Israel is in.
The Middle East is a cauldron of conspiracy, a place where the most bizarre theories often have real policy consequences.
But credulity is hardly confined to the Middle East, and Goldberg doesn’t have a right to lecture anyone on the topic. Famously, in the runup to the Iraq war, Goldberg’s own credulity contributed to the rush to a bad judgment. He propagated a few conspiracy theories that turned out to be bogus, and disastrously so.
In 2002, as neoconservatives and other foreign policy hardliners were gearing up to push the United States into war with Iraq, Goldberg published a high-profile article in the New Yorker titled “The Great Terror,” which spotlighted the case for invading the country, in part by using discredited sources — both in Iraq as well as in the George W. Bush administration — to argue that Saddam Hussein was in league with Al Qaeda.
Despite the article’s severe flaws — many of its claims proved to be erroneous —it proved influential among war hawks and credulous media outlets. In awarding Goldberg a prize for best reporting on human rights, the Overseas Press Club (OPC) stated: “In this exposé of the crimes of the Iraqi regime, Goldberg described Saddam Hussein’s horrifying gas attacks against Kurdish villages, investigated ties between Iraq and al Qaeda terrorists and explored the scope of Iraq’s chemical weapons arsenal. Goldberg spent six months on this assignment, often from places that were off limits to western journalists. A former CIA director, James Woolsey, called the story ‘a blockbuster.’” The OPC neglected to note that Woolsey was one of the key neoconservative proponents for attacking Iraq.
During the lead-up to the Iraq War, Goldberg made media appearances and published several articles criticizing opponents of an invasion for being naïve about Middle East politics. He made exaggerated claims about the Hussein regime’s efforts to weaponize biological agents and grossly underestimated the impact of an invasion.
Goldberg dealt with innuendoes that turned out to be false. His article was partially titled: “In northern Iraq, there is new evidence of Saddam Hussein’s genocidal war on the Kurds—and of his possible ties to Al Qaeda.” A few months later, the Guardian found his source and found him to be unreliable.
Ken Silverstein wrote in Harper’s that Goldberg had fallen for fantasy beliefs:
“In urging war on Iraq, Goldberg took highly dubious assertions — for example, that Saddam was an irrational madman in control of vast quantities of WMDs and that Iraq and Al Qaeda were deeply in bed together — and essentially asserted them as fact. From these unproven allegations, he demonstrated that an invasion of Iraq was the only rational policy.”
Then in 2010, in an “Atlantic” article titled “Point of No Return,” Goldberg propagated the idea, based on lots of interviews in Israel, that Israel was going to attack Iran within the year if the United States didn’t do the responsible thing and attack first. “I have come to believe that the [Obama] administration knows it is a near-certainty that Israel will act against Iran soon if nothing or no one else stops the nuclear program.”
Again, Goldberg seems to have been duped/believed what he wanted to believe. Israel did not want to attack Iran, as various security figures have acknowledged in recent years; it was evidently using Goldberg to bluff in order to get the U.S. to do so. The article’s inaccuracy has been widely criticized, including by Stephen Walt who lamented that “compliant media organizations . . . have provided a platform to disseminate these various dark prophecies.”
Goldberg’s latest article is titled: “The Conspiracy Theorists Are Winning. America is losing its grip on Enlightenment values and reality itself.”
We could have used some of those enlightenment values and reality back when Goldberg was stirring his own cauldron of conspiracies.
Thanks to Peter Voskamp, Donald Johnson and Yakov Hirsch.