In Prisoners, Goldberg writes, “There seemed to be no greater mission than that of a muckraking reporter, and it was, I told myself, a calling in harmony with organically Jewish values, of a certain kind; not the values found in the tribe-and-law books such as Leviticus, but the universal values found in the justice-seeking books of the Prophets. The Jews in journalism tend to be among the more deracinated members of the tribe, because the mission of journalism is most attractive to people free of the burden of sectarian loyalty. (It is one of the unnoticed ironies of anti-Semitism that many of the Jews accused of controlling the media are notable mainly for their disloyalty to the dictates of tribe.)”

Goldberg’s reporting identity is very much tied up in his Jewish identity. He writes frequently on issues concerning Jews, and occasionally on anti-Semitism and anti-Zionist bias (which, he has argued, to a certain degree are one and the same). Before we met in March, there had been a flurry of arguably anti-Semitic rants circulating—including Charlie Sheen’s calling Chuck Lorre, the creator of his hit TV show, Two and A Half Men, “Chaim Levine,” and clothing designer John Galliano’s drunken praise of Hitler in a Paris bar.

The best way to deal with outbursts like these is through “ridicule and fun,” Goldberg says. “In our world today, you have an Iranian government that seeks the physical erasure of a member state of the UN. You have another situation where the leading Muslim Brotherhood theorist in the world, the most popular, argues that Hitler was sent by God to punish the Jews for their iniquities.

“So there’s anti-Semitism … and then there’s anti-Semitism.”

In Goldberg’s March 1 blog post on Sheen, Galliano, and related subjects—headlined “Jews, Jews, Jews, Jews, Jews!”—he noted, “One of the great advantages of being Jewish—and there are many (we invented both ethical monotheism and whitefish salad, after all)—is that though there are only about 14 million of us on the whole planet (18 million before World War II, Mr. Galliano), people can’t stop talking about us! It is very exciting to be a part of so many different fantasies.”

Some fellow journalists feel that, particularly when it comes to Israel, Goldberg wears his heart too much on his sleeve. Andrew Sullivan, until recently Goldberg’s colleague at The Atlantic, calls him an excellent journalist, whose “expertise in this area is much deeper than mine” and whose “emotional commitment is far deeper,” but says that sometimes he’s “a little too close to those in power, especially in Israel.”

Sullivan is quick to emphasize that, despite any political disagreements, he and Goldberg get along well. “He’s very funny, and in person, we hit it off,” Sullivan says. “But on Israeli and Jewish questions, he reflects a worldview and sensibilities I have discarded. I don’t think coddling Israel has helped it, and I think the settlements need to end now. Jeffrey doesn’t disagree, and yet he always seems to take Israel’s side in the end. That frustrates me, but we remain friends.”

On the other hand, Andrea Mitchell CW’67, NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent, believes Goldberg’s personal convictions enhance his journalism. “It comes through in his book and his daily reporting that he cares about the people who are affected by the policies he reports on,” she says. “ It’s the humanity of what he does that I think is so unusual.

“He is not your average reporter, who goes to briefings and spews out the info that’s handed to him,” Mitchell adds. “He digs and travels and has great sources overseas, and he’s original. He has a rising reputation as one of the most thoughtful people about Middle East policy.”

Mitchell, who when we spoke was just back from a trip through the Middle East with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, which Goldberg had also been on, described him as one of the kindest and funniest people on the trip—and one of the hardest-working. “All the rest of us flew back from Tunisia, but he stayed to do more reporting. He’s not part of the conventional wisdom. He always tries to find something special and unique, and I think that’s why people so appreciate his writing and his journalism.”

Given the lead time before this magazine comes out, Goldberg is reluctant to prognosticate on the revolutionary winds sweeping the Arab world. “This period in Middle Eastern history demands analytical humility—that’s a quote that will stand up over the next few months,” he says. “The Internet is this vast mall demanding insertion of information and opinion, but we’re in the prologue of the long book here.”

It’s too hard to gauge democracy’s foothold in such a short period of time, Goldberg believes. While “freedom is better than non-freedom, that includes the significant caveat that it turns out that the Shah wasn’t as bad—though obviously he was a miserable creature—as what came after.”

Current events in the Arab world have combined to throw all the disparate schools of thought on foreign policy into doubt. “Neocon, liberal interventionism, realism, these are all sort of proven inadequate—realism especially,” he says. “I’ve always been arguing that foreign-policy realism is just cynicism and it’s not sustainable in the long term. The provisional lesson, though, may be that dictators cannot repress their way to stability forever. It’s foolish to think that dictators and absolute monarchs should be seen as long-term investments.”

But arching his eyebrows, he adds, “Who knows?”

As we’re leaving lunch, I tell him I’d venture that, even with an undergraduate degree from Penn, he probably still wouldn’t know what will happen next in the Middle East.

“Any minute, I’m going to go back to Penn,” Goldberg replies. “With any luck, my transcript has yellowed with age to the point where it’s unreadable.”

He admits that he’s now somewhat concerned about the academic choices he made—as a father of three children, whom he hopes will go to and finish college, he knows he’s “not a good role model,” at least in the educational realm.

“I got lucky and got to earn a living doing what I want to do,” he says. “But I’ll have so little moral power to argue when they come to me and say, ‘Dad, I want to take a leave of absence and go be a snorkeling expert.’ I don’t have much of a leg to stand on.”


When she’s not writing for the Gazette, Jordana Horn C’95 L’99 is the New York correspondent for The Jerusalem Post.

 


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FEATURE: Journalism, Jews, and Jeffrey Goldberg by Jordana Horn
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