Hacks and Heroes: Meet the New Yorker's Goldberg; Israeli Draft Resisters; Bulworth Screenwriter Lashes New York Times; Are Drunks' Dreams Corrupt?
by Alexander Cockburn
March 1, 2003
Who's the hack? I nominate The New Yorker's Jeffrey Goldberg. He's the new Remington, though without the artistic talent. Back in 1898, William Randolph Hearst was trying to fan war fever between the United States and Spain. He dispatched a reporter and the artist Frederic Remington to Cuba to send back blood-roiling depictions of Spanish beastliness to Cuban insurgents. Remington wired to say he could find nothing sensational to draw and could he come home. Famously, Hearst wired him, "Please remain. You furnish the pictures and I'll furnish the war." Remington duly did so.
I wouldn't set The New Yorker's editor, David Remnick, in the shoes of a Kong-sized monster like Hearst. Remnick is a third-tier talent who has always got ahead by singing the correct career-enhancing tunes, as witness his awful reporting from Russia in the 1990s. Art Spiegelman recently quit The New Yorker, remarking that these dangerous times require courage and the ability to be provocative, but alas, "Remnick does not feel up to the challenge."
That's putting it far too politely. Remnick's watch has been lackluster and cowardly. He is also the current sponsor (Marty Peretz of The New Republic was an earlier one) of Goldberg, whose first major chunk of agitprop for The New Yorker was published on March 25 of last year. Titled "The Great Terror," it was billed as containing disclosures of "Saddam Hussein's possible ties to al Qaeda."
This was at a moment when the FBI and CIA had just shot down the war party's claim of a meeting between Mohammed Atta and an Iraqi intelligence agent in Prague before the 9/11 attacks. Goldberg saved the day for the Bush crowd. At the core of his rambling, 16,000-word piece was an interview in the Kurdish-held Iraqi town of Sulaimaniya with Mohammed Mansour Shahab, who offered the eager Goldberg a wealth of detail about his activities as a link between Osama bin Laden and the Iraqis, shuttling arms and other equipment.
The piece was gratefully seized upon by the Administration as proof of The Link. The coup de gr‚ce to Goldberg's credibility fell on February 9 of this year in the London Observer, administered by Jason Burke, its chief reporter. Burke visited the same prison in Sulaimaniya, talked to Shahab and established beyond doubt that Goldberg's great source is a clumsy liar, not even knowing the physical appearance of Kandahar, whither he had claimed to have journeyed to deal with bin Laden; and confecting his fantasies in the hope of a shorter prison sentence.
Another experienced European journalist, whom I reached on the Continent at the end of this week and who visited the prison last year agrees with Bourke's findings. "I talked to prisoners without someone present. The director of the prison seemed surprised at my request. With a prison authority present the interview would be worthless. As soon as we talked to this particular one a colleague said after 30 seconds, 'this is worthless. The guy was just a story teller.'"
The European journalist, who doesn't want to be identified, said to me charitably that Golbberg's credulity about Shab "could have been a matter of misjudgment but my even stronger criticism is that if you talked, as we did and as I gather Goldberg did, to anybody in the PUK [the Kurdish group controlling this area of northern Iraq] about this particular Islamic group all of them would tell you they are backed by Iran, as common sense would tell, you. Look where they are located. It's 200 meters across one river to Iran. That's what I find upsetting. Misjudging a source can happen to all of us, but Goldberg did talk to generals in the PUK. I think it's outrageous that New Yorker ran that story."
Finally, I hear that a New York Times reporter also concluded after talking to the prisoners that there was one who was obviously lying and who would say anything anyone would like to hear about Al Ansar and Saddam, Saddam and Al Qaeda. I have not been able to talk to this reporter, though it would not have been surprising for the Times to have tried to check up on Goldberg's "scoop".
An American with a lot of experience in interviewing in prisons adds, "It's tricky interviewing prisoners in the first place -- their vulnerability, etc -- and responsible journalists make some sort of minimal credibility assessment before they report someone's statements. but the prisoner said exactly what Jeffrey Goldberg wanted to hear, so Goldberg didn't feel that he needed to mention that the prisoner was nuts."
On February 10, amid widespread cynicism about the Administration's rationales for war, Remnick published another Goldberg special, "The Unknown: The C.I.A. and the Pentagon take another look at Al Qaeda and Iraq." This 6,000-word screed had no pretensions to being anything other than a servile rendition of Donald Rumsfeld's theory of intelligence: "Build a hypothesis, and then see if the data supported the hypothesis, rather than the reverse." In other words, decide what you want to hear, then torture the data until the data confess.
This last piece of Goldberg's was a truly disgraceful piece of brown-nosing (of Rumsfeld, Tenet et al.), devoid of even the pretensions of independent journalism. "Reporter at Large"? Remnick should retire the rubric, at least for Goldberg, and advertise his work as "White House Handout." I should note that Goldberg once served in Israel's armed forces, which may or may not be a guide to his political agenda. At all events, mention of the IDF allows me to shift from the polluted stream of Goldberg's disingenuous fantasies to purer streams.
Draft Resisters in Israel: Now the Crackdown
Now the heroes.
There are certainly some brave young souls these days who take their moral duty seriously. For months the Israeli military authorities and the Sharon government have been quietly worried by the specter of serious civil disobedience, most notably from conscientious objectors. Now the Israeli government is really turning up the heat on the refuseniks. Neve Gordon, a professor at Ben Gurion University, says the authorities worry that resistance to military service, either for reasons of pacifism or abhorrence at the prospect of committing war crimes in the occupied territories, might spread to more draft-age kids.
Among those who face possible court-martial is Yoni Ben-Artzi, nephew of former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Ben-Artzi, sentenced to multiple thirty-day terms, has been in jail now for more than 200 days. He is a conscientious objector, a status that has standing in international law, signed by Israel. Nonetheless, the military prosecutor refuses to recognize his status as a CO, even though in the case of Uri Yakobi, held in jail as a CO for almost half a year, the IDF acknowledged on February 25 that he was unfit for military service and released him.
Yakobi is more fortunate than the other high school seniors who have refused to be drafted. Despite the fact that the COs have announced their willingness to serve the state through some kind of civil service, Chief of Staff Moshe Ya'alon and military prosecutors are punishing the young men again and again for the same "offense," as noted above in the case of Ben-Artzi.
Although political refuseniks are punished severely, thousands of yeshiva students are routinely exempted from military service, as are some women refuseniks (such as the daughter of Ya'alon, the aforementioned chief of staff, a man who recently described Palestinians as a cancer needing "chemotherapy").
The authorities are being rough on some of the political resisters. Take the case of Haggai Matar, who helped initiate the high school refusenik movement in 2001 and who has been in jail for more than 130 days. Matar, now facing court-martial and a possible three years in prison, has denounced the occupation, speaking last year in a number of cities across the United States.
Instead of court-martialing kids who refuse to commit war crimes in the territories, Israel should court-martial the war criminals themselves, as Belgium recommends. Shin Bet chief Avi Dichter recently canceled a trip to Belgium, fearing the Belgians would try to arrest him because of Israel's conduct in the territories. Dichter was scheduled to deliver a lecture on international terror at a conference. For more information on the campaign to release the conscientious objectors email firstname.lastname@example.org †or visit
Bulworth Screenwriter Lashes New York Times
Screenwriter Jeremy Pikser, a stalwart CounterPuncher, sends us this bulletin on his dealings with an insitution recently hailed by one servile courtier of the Fourth Estate (yes, we mean Eric Alterman) as a shining example of indy journalism.
"I don't know if you were able to attend the spectacular evening of poetry and genuinely exciting, inspiring spirit of resistance at Avery Fisher Hall on Monday, where 20 orso major poets and/or actors braved the blizzard and were cheered by over 2,000 in the audience, or if you saw the disgustingly fraudulent account of the evening in today's (weds) New York Times, but here is a letter I sent to the Times. I'm sending it to you, since no letter I've ever sent to the Times has ever been published, and I doubt this one will either. I could have gone on for pages about the lies and inaccuracies in the Times article, but that would have only made its chance of publication smaller." -- Jeremy
Herewith Pikser's Letter to the NYT's Frank Rich:
To the Editor:
Re: Ambiguity is a Guest at a Reader's Evening Feb, 19.
Poetry is often ambiguous and open to differing interpretations, but only a willfully perverse misreading of "Poetry Not Fit For the White House" could produce such a shamefully inaccurate and distorted report as the one tendered by Kalefa Sanneh. Sanneh claims "hardly any of the poets read poetry of their own," while, in fact, of the twenty poets who were able to brave the blizzard or send poems to be read by others, fifteen read their own poetry. Those who did not were hardly "passing the buck" or "ducking," but, in the spirit of Sam Hamill's original appeal, giving voice to others who oppose war in poetry. WS Merwin, sent a poem written specifically for the occasion, part of which said: "I think of the frauds in office at this instant devising their massacres in my name." Every participant in the evening was clearly standing up and saying, "Not in my name."
Screenwriter and member of the working group of the Not In Our Name Statement of Conscience, sponsors of "Poetry Not Fit For the White House."
Sleep, Not Sottish Stupor, Knits Up Raveled Sleeve of Care
This just in from Martin Maloney.
"Although it is obvious that Jack McCarthy enjoyed entirely too much writing his biting criticism of Christopher Hitchens' self-serving and self-delusional "functional alcoholic" article, he was right on point. (BTW, I enjoyed entirely too much reading it, too!)
"There is a sound scientific basis for the conclusion in this sentence from Alexander Cockburn: 'And as I've said, I do think his gargantuan levels of drinking affect his journalism, and his grip on the truth and that's a public issue too.' Sleep, real sleep, is essential to mental health. When we sleep, we dream, and dreaming is the way that we update ourselves to recent events. Dreaming is the way that we resolve conflicts between what has just happened with what we already knew about the world around us.
"People who pass out from high doses of narcotic drugs (alcohol included) don't sleep. Rather, they lapse into unconsciousness, which differs from real sleep, and they don't dream. On occasions when they don't actually pass out, the dreams that they have are corrupted by the fact that the events that they've experienced occurred in a drug-induced fog.
"People who don't accurately remember things as they happened, and then who subsequently integrate those faulty memories into their personality, lose their 'grip on the truth.' In short, it would not be a gratuitous ad hominem attack to call Christopher Hitchens a bona fide nut case."
Alexander Cockburn is the author The Golden Age is In Us (Verso, 1995) and 5 Days That Shook the World: Seattle and Beyond (Verso, 2000) with Jeffrey St. Clair. Cockburn and St. Clair are the editors of CounterPunch, the nationís best political newsletter, where this article first appeared.