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 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 Mohamed 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 grâce to Goldberg’s credibility fell on February 9 of this year in the London Observer, administered by Jason Burke, its chief reporter. Burke established beyond doubt that Goldberg’s great source is a clumsy liar who did not even know the appearance of Kandahar, whither he claimed to have journeyed to deal with bin Laden, and who confected his fantasies in the hope of a shorter prison sentence.
Then, 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 support the hypothesis, rather than the reverse.” In other words, torture the data until the data confess. It’s a disgraceful piece of brown-nosing (of Rumsfeld, Tenet et al.), devoid of even the appearance of independent journalism. “Reporter at Large”? Remnick should retire the rubric, at least for Goldberg, and advertise his work as “White House Handout.”