Get Access to Print and Digital for $23.99 per year..
Subscribe for Full Access
[Washington Babylon]

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.

More from

“An unexpectedly excellent magazine that stands out amid a homogenized media landscape.” —the New York Times
Subscribe now