In the Arena

Nonsense…and more Nonsense

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Let me get this straight: Our intrepid Aryn Baker’s “conflict-of-interest” in writing the cover story about the plight of women in Afghanistan is…that…she’s married to an Afghan who has done some work for the Karzai government? And that’s why she wrote this story that supposedly is pro-war? Oh please. And how is it allegedly pro-war? Because it truthfully presents a terrible moral dilemma–that if Afghanistan proves resistant to our attempts to save it from itself (a very likely scenario, by the way), a great many women are going to suffer at the hands of the Taliban. Does anyone doubt the truth of that? Can anyone question the accuracy and sensitivity of Aryn’s reporting of this important story? Or do the left-wing media critics, just like their squalid counterparts on the right, feel a need to discredit every bit of reality that falls outside their worldview?

Aryn Baker has risked her life for this magazine–and for you, her readers–in Afghanistan. She has been a courageous combat reporter and a thoughtful analyst of the political situation and in Afghanistan and Pakistan. I have never detected the slightest bit of bias in her reporting–except a bias for telling the truth. For some couch potato press critic to question her integrity is obscene. I’m proud to be her colleague.

Glenn Greenwald also displays his usual inability to understand what journalism is all about in his latest attack on Jeff Goldberg–which is so flimsy that I assume Greenwald only undertook it in order to continue his recent vamping about Goldberg’s alleged politics. The boy does need his vendettas to amp the hits on his site.

In this case, he has taken a mistaken assumption from one of Jeff’s New Yorker pieces–that Saddam Hussein had a nuclear program–and inflated it into the hilariously grotesque notion that Jeff’s excellent cover story in the Atlantic about Israel’s desire to take out the Iranian nuclear program is an act of propaganda.

It isn’t. It’s an act of journalism. Goldberg allows Bibi Netanyahu–who seems truly damaged in Jeff’s piece–to speak for himself. The result is chilling. Netanyahu compares Iran’s possible acquisition of a nuclear weapon to the holocaust. Can’t walk around the block with Bibi without hearing about the Nazis, apparently–but Greenwald stupidly mistakes Goldberg’s reporting of this fact for his agreeing with this fact (and whether he does or not is irrelevant) the same mistake the New York Observer critic makes with Aryn’s reporting of the plight of women in Afghanistan.

Netanyahu also apparently believes that Iran is run by a bunch of madmen. It isn’t. As regular readers know, I’ve campaigned for the last several years against those neoconservatives who claim that Ahmadinejad is in charge of the nuclear program. He isn’t. (I got kicked off the McCain plane during the 2008 campaign for pointing out that Supreme Leader is, uh, the real boss and in charge of the nuclear program–McCain had been hyping Ahmadinejad because his anti-semitism scared people like my parents.) My takeaway from ¬†Jeff’s piece was that the Israelis are even more freaked by the Iranian threat than I’d thought. A certain amount of concern is not irrational, given the menacing presence of Iran’s client Hizballah–which provoked the 2006 war by kidnapping Israeli soldiers– and its 45,000 rockets on Israel’s northern border, but the Holocaust is not around the corner. Which means I’m more freaked out by the Israelis than I was before I read it–hardly the reaction that Greenwald thinks Jeff is trying to elicit.

I don’t know where Jeff Goldberg stands on attacking Iran. I suspect he may be more in equivocal about it than I am–but then, I’m vehemently opposed. No matter what Jeff thinks, his Atlantic piece has no secret agenda–any more than my reporting last month that the Obama Administration has revived its study of the military option. We’re just bringing you the news, folks. Any and all attempts to smear this very good piece of reporting as propaganda is propaganda. And also something I don’t usually associated with the driven Mr. Greenwald: deeply unsmart.

In the light of morning, I believe I oversimplified what journalists like Jeff and me do. We do various things. Sometimes we bring you the news. Sometimes we bring you opinions. Sometimes we do both. I don’t know that there are any set rules about when we do what–and it’s something I should think about–but I know that there are times when mixing reporting with opinion just seems inappropriate. In April, for example, when I wrote the Time Magazine cover about the futile efforts to reopen the Pir Mohammed school in Kandahar Province, I kept my own opinions about the war out of it–it just didn’t seem right to insert editorial comment; it was important to let the story speak for itself. The following week, I wrote a column in which I described my extreme doubts about the Afghanistan strategy and the prospects for success there. That seemed appropriate, too.

I know it’s a lot to ask of readers that you discern when we’re giving you news and when we’re giving you opinions–and it’s true that even when we’re giving you news, the quotes we use and the scenes we observe are edited by our predispositions. But in this case, it seems very clear to me: Goldberg isn’t making an argument, he’s reporting the mood in Israel as he sees it. (Indeed, he wrote somewhere–in his blog, I presume–that he’d be following up the cover story with a piece expressing his opinion of the situation. I can’t wait to read it and, I suspect, disagree with him.)