Sam Norich, the publisher of the Jewish Forward, disappointed me today. After e mailing him twice and leaving an office voice mail message asking him to answer questions I had about Ari Morgenstern’s threats against the Forward and Zeek and related matters, all he could muster was the feeble virtual non sequitur below published as a comment at my blog.
A little background for those new to the story. The Forward’s right-wing op-ed editor Daniel Treiman published a mendacious op ed by John Hagee which I critiqued (with the assistance of Rachel Tabachnick) here on Sunday. In the course of that post, I was critical of Treiman’s editorial judgement and some other related matters. But the vast majority of my post was a point by point rebuttal of Hagee’s miasma of lies and deceit.
Note that there is not a single word defending what Hagee peddled to Forward readers. Not a single substantive rejoinder to my post. Here is Norich’s response:
To Richard Silverstein,
I received your email early Saturday morning asking to speak with me, and intended to contact you on Sunday, until I read your post of Saturday night titled “Jewish Forward helps Hagee wash away his sins.” Having read your smashmouth treatment of the Forward I saw no point in responding to your request, not even after your second email, on Sunday evening, asking for “an opportunity to hear your side of the matter before I publish.” A peculiar sequence.
But your readers deserve better. I would guess that many of them would welcome a clear expression of John Hagee’s views on issues of concern to Jews in particular, though not only to us. It’s precisely because the op-ed in question is so markedly different in tone and emphasis compared to some of Pastor Hagee’s previous statements that it bears serious consideration by the audience it was addressed to. To be sure, the piece should raise questions in the minds of knowledgeable readers, about the evolution of the author’s own thinking about these issues, about the differences between his views and those of some other spokesmen for Christian Zionists and evangelicals, and indeed about how those views will inform the positions that Pastor Hagee and Christians United for Israel will be taking in the months ahead. I’m proud of our editors’ decision to run the op-ed and eager to see where it takes us. Your readers and ours can be sure that the Forward will continue to report on this subject, and that we’ll continue to do so independent of the forces and agendas arrayed on these issues inside and outside the Jewish community.
I cannot speak for Zeek. We have a co-marketing agreement with Zeek and as part of that arrangement we host that publication on our web site, TheJewishDailyForward.com. That brings the editorial offerings of each publication to the attention of the other’s online readership, but they have no say about our editorial judgments and we have no say about theirs.
Finally, I want to correct just one error of fact in your post, for the record. Neither Daniel Treiman nor anyone else at the Forward removed the comments that had been posted to the Hagee op-ed. We’re still trying to understand how that happened, and how a second, identical version of the op-ed was posted for several days, before we removed it. Our tech team have reason to doubt that it was the result of foul play; they are looking into whether an improper character in one of the tags or in the text of a comment could have taken down the connection between this piece and our commenting system. We’re working to restore that connection.
Samuel Norich, Publisher, The Forward
Apparently, the publisher and managing editor (after writing this critical post I was blacklisted by her) of The Forward are so thin-skinned that they cannot accept serious criticism of their editorial judgment. Norich’s response is sophistry. Instead of dealing with the fact that Hagee lied through his teeth and sold The Forward readers a bill of goods, Norich says that the piece reveals the “evolution of Hagee’s thinking.” I’ve got news for Norich. Megalomaniacs’ thinking doesn’t “evolve” except in ways that allow them to aggrandize themselves further. And I call Hagee a megalomaniac because he sees himself as God’s agent in the world whose job is to midwife the End Times.
We Jews would never accept such a figure (though we did in earlier times in the form of Shabbtai Tzvi and Jacob Frank and look how well that ended). It pains me to think that The Forward has aided and abetted Christian fundamentalism‘s answer to Shabbtai Tzvi.
Norich calls my treatment of The Forward “smashmouth” which is patently untrue. The vast majority of the post dealt with the content of Hagee’s op ed which I treated with the derision it deserved. In one paragraph, I criticized the editorial judgement of Dan Treiman and called him right wing (which he is). That is the sole basis of Norich’s claim that I smashmouthed The Forward. Gee, it makes you wonder how they would react if someone really took ’em to the woodshed.
A few comments on Norich’s statement. Normally, it’s a good thing for a publisher to stand by an editor. As long as the editor has performed his job properly. But when an editor has not done so, for a publisher to defend him may appear honorable and proper, but it does a disservice to the newspaper they both serve. I can only hope that Sam Norich has the qualities of a politician who is able to speak to a public audience differently than an internal one. I can only hope that Norich understands how deficient and damaging the Forward piece was and will deal with it in ways he would prefer not to reveal publicly.
Norich’s claim that the Forward and Zeek are independent entities and that he does not get involved in the latter’s business is not entirely true. In fact, Ari Morgenstern, when he wished to complain about Rachel Tabachnick’s in Zeek which criticized Hagee did so to Sam Norich. There is a danger in making claims that shade the truth as Norich has done. In fact, Ari Morgenstern threatened Zeek with a lawsuit via Norich. What I wanted to ask Norich, and which he refused, was what was said in that conversation. Perhaps the reason he won’t talk to me directly is that the contents of that conversation might not be flattering.
I do know that the conversation Norich had with Morgenstern concerned Kaiser enough that she said she fully expected a lawsuit. I also know that she found herself a pro bono attorney to represent the publication in the event of such a lawsuit, which she fully anticipated. And Norich would’ve been derelict in his duties had he not consulted The Forward’s own attorney to determine whether the Forward had any liability in this matter. Undoubtedly, the attorney would’ve responded, No. But The Forward, in the person of Norich, was very much involved in this matter.
Might John Hagee’s piece have become part of this entire conversation between Hagee’s side and The Forward? This again is a question Norich could’ve answered if he’d had the guts to talk to me.
And here’s another derelection of editorial duty on the part of Treiman in vetting this piece before publication. I know Hagee’s rhetorical style. I’ve also consulted others who’ve followed Hagee’s career, preaching and writing for years. We both agree that the Forward piece contained nothing of Hagee’s normally flamboyant, dramatic style. It contained nothing of the vividness or imagery of his standard theological rhetoric. So in fact, I suspect (without having a smoking gun to prove it) that Hagee did not write this piece. I strongly suspect that he trusted his Jewish advisors to do so for him and it was submitted in his name. But Dan Treiman doesn’t know enough about Hagee’s MO nor his writing style to have sussed this out. So here’s a question for you, Sam. Did you or Dan at any time ask whoever submitted this piece whether Hagee wrote it himself? And who sent you the piece? Was it Morgenstern or did it come from Hagee? Did you ever see any notations, edits or even a signature from Hagee on the piece he allegedly submitted?
I know that normally a newspaper can accept on faith that a writer who submits a piece has written it himself. But this case is different. Here we’re dealing with an author who has lied about his views in the piece he is attempting to publish. An author attempting through artifice and deceit to inveigle himself into the good graces of The Forward’s largely suspicious readership. Did Dan Treiman know this? If not, why not? And how does Sam Norich with a straight face defend The Forward’s accepting a piece for publication such as this? And has he gone back to Morgenstern and Hagee to demand an explanation of the multiple deviations from his previous theological record that are evident in what he wrote for the Forward?
Finally, Norich’s claim that I made an error in saying that Tabachnick’s comments in the Hagee article thread were deleted is only partially true. As a webmaster, I have never faced the type of technical glitch he describes in which the Hagee article was “disappeared” from the Forward site and the comments lost. But I do know that any decent webmaster retains copies of his website for just such an eventuality. It is not very hard to go back to the last iteration of the site and find the lost post and restore it with its comments. And if somehow the comments became separated from the article itself there is a site online which retains all the comments for this article and if Norich really wishes to restore them I can get him the URL. Finally, why does the current iteration of the Hagee article online not offer any opportunity to post comments? In essence, they’ve closed comments for the article.
I’m sorry to be so harsh, but I think Hagee has performed a type of malpractice on The Forward and the publication has been taken. And I say this as someone who has admired The Forward over the years and written very strong positive statements about it in this blog. I do not say this as an enemy. I say this as someone who is deeply disappointed when a friend has let them down very badly.
One final note: John Hagee and Avi Morgenstern are very litigious fellows. So I make crystal clear that everything stated above about John Hagee’s authorship of this article is my considered opinion and not a statement of fact.
The title of this post is a reference to the seminal Chaim Grade story, My Quarrel With Hersh Rasseyner, about a quarrel between two Jews, one who has lost his faith and another who has retained his, despite being a Holocaust survivor.