Both Jeffrey Goldberg, elevated a little over a year ago to managing editor of The Atlantic, and his predecessor and mentor, James Bennet, now the NY Times op-ed page editor, have embarked on a process of normalizing the alt-right, via hiring its devotés to grace their respective pages.
The latest instance is Goldberg’s hiring of the deeply misogynist, Kevin Williamson. In the pages of The National Review and his own tweets he’s advocated the execution (by hanging) of any woman who’s ever had an abortion and the doctors and nurses who performed them. He also once likened a 9 year-old African-American boy to a “primate.”
As this article in Boing Boing points out, Goldberg didn’t hire Williamson in spite of his noxious hateful views, he hired him because of them: “”I recognized the power, contrariness, wit, and smart construction of many of his pieces. I also found him to be ideologically interesting.”
Here’s an example of the “wit” and smart construction” Goldberg admired in Williamson’s National Review:
He glances slyly from side to side, making sure his audience is taking all this in, before raising his palms to his clavicles, elbows akimbo, in the universal gesture of primate territorial challenge.
Goldberg, apparently dazzled by the author’s elegant stylings didn’t bother to ask himself why it was necessary to compare a nine year-old boy to a monkey. And what is a “universal gesture” of “territorial challenge,” anyway? Do Black people have a special kinship to primates that we white people lack?
Further, I’m sure there were elegant Nazi prose stylists who articulated their ideas with “power” and “wit.” Does that mean they should’ve gotten their own column in The Atlantic?
Although it’s unsurprising that Williamson deleted his Twitter account, where much of his most virulent hate was spewed, it wasn’t the new hire who did this of his own accord in order to cover his tracks, as many similarly embarrassed celebrities do when “found out.” No, it was Goldberg himself who suggested that Williamson ditch the account. And the Atlantic’s managing editor wasn’t sheepish or apologetic about this act of subterfuge. In fact, he embraced it and said it signaled a new-found maturity on Williamson’s part:
A couple of months ago, in one of our conversations, I mentioned some of his more controversial tweets, and in the course of that conversation, he himself came to the conclusion that Twitter was a bad place for him to be, and he spiked his account. I took this to be a positive development and a sign of growth.
How is wiping out the record of your worst, most incendiary social media commentary a positive development? Rather, it’s a sign of someone trying to cover their tracks. If Goldberg hired Williamson to espouse his provocative ideology, does he think deleting his past will moderate those views?
There is little likelihood that Williamson’s views will mature or moderate. Instead, it’s much more likely that it will be The Atlantic that will be changed, and not for the good. The addition of Williamson as a contributor indicates the normalization of alt-right hate in the pages of what were once considered liberal publications. Under the guise of seeking “diversity,” both Goldberg and Bennet have hired a woman-hater, a climate denier, and “unwoke” feminist hasbara hack (Williamson, Bret Stephens, and Bari Weiss, respectively).
Some of these hires, while not identified with the alt-Right, have a soft spot in their heart for the world’s repressive regimes, including Israel and Saudi Arabia. Both Stephens and Bari Weiss are proud members of the journalist-wing of the Israel Lobby. Their columns regularly offer hasbara to the readers of the Times. Similarly, Goldberg himself recently did one of his infamous puff interviews with none other than Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed ibn Salman. The latter has been on a world tour and charm offensive designed to introduce himself on the world stage. Despite pursuing a bloody war in Yemen which have killed tens of thousands of civilians, journalists like Goldberg serve as willing participants in the campaign to repair his reputation.
UPDATE: After I wrote the majority of this post, Goldberg decided to fire the columnist he had so fulsomely praised only days earlier. Apparently the coup de grace was a National Review podcast which Media Matters exposed in which Williamson made the same comments which he tweeted above. Goldberg must’ve seen a difference between tweets which Williamson could erase from Twitter and a podcast which couldn’t be erased (since National Review owned it and wasn’t about to “disappear” it). In fact, the managing editor’s statement explaining the firing implicitly stated that there is such a difference. Which seems ludicrous on its face. But then again, that’s Goldberg. I like this HuffPo headline: Atlantic Fires Kevin Williamson After Suddenly Realizing He Believes The Things He Says. This closing sentence in his statement is a heaping helping of hypocrisy:
We are striving here to be a big-tent journalism organization at a time of national fracturing. We will continue to build a newsroom that is, as The Atlantic’s founding manifesto states, “of no party or clique.” We are also an organization that values a spirit of generosity and collegiality.
What both Goldberg and Bennet are each doing in their way is trying to accommodate the new spirit of Trumpism, as if it represents a legitimate political perspective in American life. One that we should and will have to deal with for years to come. I, on the other hand, disagree. Donald Trump is an aberration. He will fade into oblivion. He represents nothing with any staying power. Yes, his followers do represent a clique in American politics. And that clique will remain. But Trump will have so discredited their views that they will either move on to another standard-bearer or they too will fade into oblivion. American is stronger than a tin-pot dictator, an almost accidental president. We will return to sanity, or at least a greater sense of it. And those editors who tried to accommodate the monster by opening their doors to those who served as apologists for the monster and his ideas, will pay a professional price for their myopia. At least that is my hope.
Bennet even hired (for twelve hours) Quinn Norton, a libertarian hacker advocate who spewed homophobic and racist slurs in her Twitter feed like a drunken sailor. She also befriended major figures on the alt-Right; figures Bennet himself said didn’t deserve space in the Times op-ed page. Unlike Goldberg, his mentor pleaded ignorance of Norton’s social media persona. Though how, in this day and age, you can hire a columnist without reviewing their social media account is beyond me. After her firing, who gave Norton space to defend and explain herself? Jeffrey Goldberg and The Atlantic, of course.
Goldberg’s Kahanist Past
Returning to Goldberg and Williamson, though there has been much consternation over the latter’s hiring, no one has noted an important element of Goldberg’s own past which would might make him eager to take on Williamson as his protegé: in his own memoir, Goldberg writes that he was a devoted admirer of Meir Kahane:
…I came across the writings of Meir Kahane…and it was Kahane who provided a not un-[Black] Panther-like, but specifically Semitic model of self-defense. Kahane was the Brooklyn rabbi who founded the Jewish Defense League in 1968 to shake Jews out of their fatalistic and feminized passivity. He argued, infamously, in favor of the bat, the bomb, and the gun. (“Every Jew a .22,” he said, to the shame and horror of the Manhattan Jewish élite and to the secret joy of every beaten-down Jewboy in the tristate area.) . . .But for a time he held all the answers for me. In the locker room, I was a kike, but in the sanctuary of the library, I was a revolutionary kike, one of Kahane’s chayas, a beast, a street-fighting Jew.
Here is Goldberg reveling in the power a gun gave him as a Jew after he joined the IDF:
I was exceedingly happy – the rifle was electric with the promise of Jewish power – and so, too, were my new comrades, all of us from the Diaspora, most of us having lived our lives in the company of quisling Jews who, for reasons inexplicable and bizarre, believed that the main lesson of the Shoah was that those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it, instead of the actual lesson of the Shoah, which is that it is easy to kill a unilaterally disarmed Jew but much harder to kill one who is pointing a gun at your face.
As late as the 1990s, he consoled Kahane’s children after his assassination by calling him a great man:
“When [Kahane’s] grandsons asked me what I remembered of him, I answered, ‘He had very profound thoughts,’ which was true.”
What in Meir Kahane’s ideology is “profound?” And why would a person then-embarking on a career as a serious journalist believe it to be? In fact, Goldberg has never renounced these views. One may assume he no longer holds them. But he’s never explained his youthful brush with Jewish fascism. Nor has the media ever confronted him with his ideas and asked him to explain himself.
Goldberg has undergone a remarkable transformation from a young Kahanist to a respected mainstream editor in little more than two decades. It strikes me that Goldberg may see Williamson as a similar sort of “project.” He may see in the latter’s outrageous rhetoric accompanied by a gifted incendiary style, a reflection of his own youthful self.
Bennet as Goldberg’s Mentor
It’s noteworthy that James Bennet, Goldberg’s former boss at The Atlantic, performed much the same mentoring role in the latter’s career. Bennet gave him a column which was more like a blog, in which he could write about issues of the day. He was actually a glorified blogger who espoused distinctly pro-Israel views. He also wrote for Bloomberg View, sharing an approach that was similar to his colleague there, the pro-Israel neocon, Eli Lake. The former was known for his provocative attacks on “anti-Israel” figures (I was once such a target, where he falsely called me an “anti-Zionist with Jewish parents”). He was a pro-Israel attack dog, a more centrist version of Matt Drudge.
But Bennet put him on the road to serious journalism. He interviewed Pres. Obama multiple times. When the latter needed to reassure American Jews that “had Israel’s back,” he used interviews with Goldberg (some in the Oval Office, no less) to do so. Earlier, when he wrote for Bloomberg, he interviewed Netanyahu as well. Politicians used him, but he used them as well to gild his credentials as the pre-eminent national journalist of record on Israel-related affair.
When Bennet deplaned for the Times, Goldberg consummated his transformation by being named The Atlantic’s managing editor. Now he seeks to do something similar to Kevin Williamson.
Bennet’s Normalization of the Alt-Right at the Times
In his new digs, Bennet has attempted to orchestrate a similar normalization of formerly taboo alt-right rhetoric in the Times’ editorial pages. He’s published an entire page there devoted to the ramblings of Americans who voted for Donald Trump. He hired Bret Stephens from the Wall Street Journal, an articulate advocate for climate change denial and Islamophobia, among other things. In addition, he hired Bari Weiss, whose previous career had consisted in college of a campaign to fire Palestinian academic, Joseph Massad from Columbia University for his alleged anti-Israel views. Later, she wrote for the Tablet Magazine, largely funded by two Likudist Jewish foundations.
In her new role, she’s accused leading members of the feminist movement of “embracing hate.” That is, being anti-Israel or anti-Semitic. She’s argued that it’s perfectly kosher to be a Zionist and a feminist, all while ignoring the significant deficits woman face in Israeli society. Weiss is a pro-Israel cheerleader and polemicist who wields feminism as a cudgel to beat the “woke” feminist and Black Lives Matter movements.
In a secretly recorded pep-talk he gave to his staff at the Times, Bennet justified the publication of an op-ed penned by an Israeli settler. The Huffington Post summarized some of the more offensive elements of his argument:
“Arabs can live in Israel, as other minorities do, with personal rights, not national rights.” One of the “alternative paths” offered was “an exchange of populations with Arab countries,” in which “Palestinians in Judea and Samaria would be offered generous compensation to emigrate voluntarily.”
Here is how Bennet justified publishing this claptrap:
I felt strongly that we should publish the piece and we did, as did others. Because this particular viewpoint is hugely consequential. It actually is creating reality on the ground. To pretend that somehow we would be — either to think that we were legitimizing that point of view by having it in our pages or to tell ourselves that we were somehow changing the reality by not allowing it into our pages seems to me to be deluded a little bit.
Keep in mind that the settler who penned this op-ed, was the PR flack for the Israeli Jews stealing Palestinian homes in Hebron. Further, his piece justified Israeli ethnic cleansing, the expulsion of undesirable Palestinians from their own homeland. Since when is the publication of views which violate international law and hearken back to the policies of Nazi Germany proper journalistic practice for an erstwhile liberal, humane publication?
There is a difference between adding ideological diversity to the editorial pages of publications and normalizing hate speech. Just because this country has elected Donald Trump president does not mean that the hateful, ignorant views he espouses need to be represented formally by columnists hired to represent regularly. Further, if Goldberg and Bennet were serious about really adding diversity, they would hire columnists who represented truly progressive views. Why not a regular column by Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Linda Sarsour, Shaun King or the like? While it is true that every once in a blue moon (four years ago, in this case) a columnist from Israel’s 972 Magazine pens an op-ed in the Times, this is the exception rather than the rule. No left-wing analyst has ever been hired as a regular columnist.
I also find it interesting that Bennet does not report to the Times’ executive editor, Dean Baquet, but rather to the owner himself. A.G. “Arthur” Sulzberger. This makes the editorial page a reflection of the owner’s views rather than a carefully-managed journalistic product. It is more like Sulzberger’s pet project than a thoughtfully-conceived, well-balanced editorial venture. There are, of course, other publications whose editorial pages reflect such monochromatic views, like the Wall Street Journal. But readers don’t want the Times to mirror the Journal’s fervent myopia. They want it to reflect a progressive, consistently liberal and humane editorial perspective. Something it no longer does (if it ever did).
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.