Washington Babylon — May 1, 2008, 8:26 am

Journalism Ethics Lessons from the Iraqi War’s Chief Salesman

In his new blog, Jeffrey Goldberg complains that he recently was insulted by Matt Haber of the New York Observer. Haber cited an old item I wrote which said that Goldberg had helped sell the Iraq War with reporting that relied “heavily on administration sources and war hawks (and in at least one crucial case, a fabricator).” Goldberg said that in doing so, Haber had “repeated a discredited accusation made by an ethically-challenged journalist about my reporting.”

Presumably I am “ethically-challenged” because I went undercover for a story last year in which I posed as a flunky for the Stalinist government of Turkmenistan and tricked several top Washington lobbying firms into offering, for huge fees, to improve that regime’s image. Which, though I admit to a certain bias here, strikes me as being a lot less ethically-challenged than Goldberg having written articles in the run-up to the Iraq War that read like Bush administration talking points on Saddam Hussein having WMD stocks and ample ties to Al Qaeda. Goldberg so slavishly aped the administration’s views that President Bush and Vice President Cheney both publicly cited his work in making the case for war.

As to my “discredited accusation,” here’s what I wrote about Goldberg back in 2006, detailing his stenographic work for the administration. Many other writers have documented Goldberg’s outlandish pre-War work, including this recent item by Spencer Ackerman and this 2003 article by Jason Burke of the London Observer, which demolished Goldberg’s reporting.

Also, in her 2007 book Echoes of Violence: Letters from a War Reporter, the highly-regarded German reporter Carolin Emcke further shredded Goldberg’s work. In a review in BookForum, Eliza Griswold writes:

Most interesting, however, is a thirteen-and-a-half-page section titled “On Journalistic Misjudgments,” in which Emcke examines the work of Jeffrey Goldberg, whose New Yorker article “The Great Terror” was published in the lead-up to the Iraq war and advanced the administration’s argument that there was indeed a link between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda. Several weeks after Goldberg’s article appeared, Emcke traveled to Kurdistan and interviewed Mohammed Mansour Shahab, the so-called Al Qaeda link. While Goldberg had taken this source’s account to be true, Emcke, like others after her, found the story of Shahab (aka Mr. Fridge) to be incredible. Baffled as to how Goldberg could have taken him seriously, she contacted the reporter and subsequently writes about their exchange. “It is not our mistakes that endanger our credibility,” she concludes, “but our unwillingness to handle them critically.”

I guess the reporting of Ackerman, Burke, and Emcke (among many other critics of his work) is entirely “discredited” too, eh Goldberg?

P.S. Do not miss Ackerman’s delightful piece on Goldberg yesterday.

Share
Single Page

More from Ken Silverstein:

From the November 2013 issue

Dirty South

The foul legacy of Louisiana oil

Perspective October 23, 2013, 8:00 am

On Brining and Dining

How pro-oil Louisiana politicians have shaped American environmental policy

Postcard October 16, 2013, 8:00 am

The Most Cajun Place on Earth

A trip to one of the properties at issue in Louisiana’s oil-pollution lawsuits 

Get access to 165 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

September 2015

Weed Whackers

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Tremendous Machine

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

A Goose in a Dress

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Genealogy of Orals

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
Romancing Kano·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

I recently spent a semester teaching writing at an elite liberal-arts college. At strategic points around the campus, in shades of yellow and green, banners displayed the following pair of texts. The first was attributed to the college’s founder, which dates it to the 1920s. The second was extracted from the latest version of the institution’s mission statement:

The paramount obligation of a college is to develop in its students the ability to think clearly and independently, and the ability to live confidently, courageously, and hopefully.

leadership
service
integrity
creativity

Let us take a moment to compare these texts. The first thing to observe about the older one is that it is a sentence. It expresses an idea by placing concepts in relation to one another within the kind of structure that we call a syntax. It is, moreover, highly wrought: a parallel structure underscored by repetition, five adverbs balanced two against three.

Article
The Prisoner of Sex·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“It is disappointing that parts of Purity read as though Franzen urgently wanted to telegraph a message to anyone who would defend his fiction from charges of chauvinism: ‘No, you’ve got me wrong. I really am sexist.’”
Illustration by Shonagh Rae
Article
Gangs of Karachi·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“In Karachi, sometimes only the thinnest of polite fictions separates the politicians from the men who kill and extort on their behalf.”
Photograph © Asim Rafiqui/NOOR Images
Article
Weed Whackers·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Defining 'native' and 'invasive' in an ever-shifting natural world poses some problems. The camel, after all, is native to North America, though it went extinct here 8,000 years ago, while the sacrosanct redwood tree is invasive, having snuck in at some point in the past 65 million years.”
Photograph by Chad Ress
Article
The Neoliberal Arts·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“College is seldom about thinking or learning anymore. Everyone is running around trying to figure out what it is about. So far, they have come up with buzzwords, mainly those three.”
Artwork by Julie Cockburn

Percentage of Britons who cannot name the city that provides the setting for the musical Chicago:

65

An Australian entrepreneur was selling oysters raised in tanks laced with Viagra.

A naked man believed to be under the influence of LSD rammed his pickup truck into two police cars.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Subways Are for Sleeping

By

“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”

Subscribe Today