I was hoping in vain it seems for some sort of partial retraction of Jeffrey Goldberg's latest series of harrumphs against yours' truly. I believe private conversations should not be used as weapons against others in public debate. I also don't pretend to speak for anyone but myself. On both counts, Goldberg violates the ethics I try to live up to, by misrepresenting a conversation we once had that I assumed was confidential and by the following:
As we've learned over time here at The Atlantic, there's no arguing with the guy.
Who is "we" at the Atlantic? Speak for yourself, Jeffrey. Don't co-opt others. What I think Goldberg is referring to is my refusal to back down on Israel's intransigence toward the US these past three years. There is plenty of arguing with me, as readers well know. But there isn't much bullying that works. As for the ad hominems, I'll leave those to the experts in such matters.
But the accusation of conscious lying is a serious one. And just as Goldberg simply asserts that Peter Beinart's book is "filled with errors and omissions" but refuses to cite any, so his bald claim that I have "lied about what have written, what I think, what I believe, and what I've reported" is unsubstantiated. Because it cannot be substantiated. And because such an accusation is a serious professional one, I challenge him to name the alleged lies, or withdraw the accusation.
Here, I might add, are actual untruths:
"[Sullivan] consistently grants the regime in Iran the benefit of the doubt on the nuclear issue."
Where have I done this once – let alone "consistently"? Here's another:
"[Sullivan] is oblivious to the existence of anti-Semitism."
There are simply far too many passages and essays and posts and reviews in my own work – including, I might add, robust condemnations of my own church's disgraceful history – that prove this is utterly, inalterably untrue.
And my point was not that he got something wrong, which is his non-defense defense; we all do. It wasn't even that he might have been lied to by Netanyahu in order to produce a cover-story to advance the Israeli government's agenda over the American administration's. (Who in the world hasn't been lied to by Netanyahu, as even the fiercely pro-Israel French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, has observed?). It was Goldberg's reaction to suspecting he could have been misled that stopped me in my tracks:
I'm not saying Jeffrey was in on the bluff. I am saying that his reaction to the idea of being misled is not exactly outrage, which troubles me.
His by possibly being misled is that it is clear he'd be quite delighted to have played a part, even if unwitting, in a possible game of bluff, even if implausible, because it might work to America's and Israel's advantage.
But you cannot both express this excitement and pose as "merely a reporter". A person who is excited about being a player in a game of bluff that could lead to war or peace … is a player, not a reporter. And a player with real fire, with the lives and deaths of human beings at stake. It was not his "thinking out loud" that "offended" me, as he now tries to spin it. It was that his thinking out loud raised serious questions about his role as an objective reporter, who was caught musing hopefully about his having written a cover-story about Israel's determination to go to war with Iran that was, in retrospect, fed by possible lies, bluffs and deceptions.
Look: you cannot be a player delighted in retrospect to have conveyed bluffs in a game of lethal geopolitics and also claim to be a mere reporter. It's about as convincing as Rush Limbaugh's self-description as a mere entertainer. The right response of a journalist to the possibility of being lied to and misled by a source in a foreign government is anger and introspection. Goldberg's response wasn't. That's worth knowing. It makes his latest conviction that Israel isn't bluffing … well, subject to an asterisk.