Thursday, August 4, 2011

Jeffrey Goldberg busted

For the last ten days Atlantic writer Jeffrey Goldberg has struggled to explain how an inflammatory post he published on July 22 was radically altered subsequently to make it seem less imbalanced – without however alerting readers that it had been changed. Goldberg initially blamed the Norway attacks unequivocally on Muslim terrorists. But then as events that Friday were demonstrating how foolish his rush to judgment had been he appended seven new sentences to the original post, raising the possibility of right-wing terrorism and suggesting that all along he was just exploring various theories about who was responsible. Three days later, when Goldberg learned that I’d turned up evidence to show that he’d revised his post without acknowledgment, he went back to the post and added a nearly incomprehensible and dubious update explaning how that transpired. When this ‘gibberish update’ was greeted derisively by various journalists, he quietly slipped yet another explanation into the post briefly restating his version of events and accusing his critics of trying to undermine him for ideological reasons (I call this one his ‘Checkers update’).

Goldberg has maintained throughout – in vague terms – that misleading readers was entirely unintentional and the product of a single technical glitch. Goldberg claims that he originally did set the additional seven sentences apart, preceded by the label “UPDATE”, but later in the day when he appended a further ‘update’ the original label was accidentally omitted.

I’ve found no evidence to back up his story and have provided several grounds for doubting his explanation of events. Furthermore, although Goldberg promised in the ‘gibberish update’ to look into the electronic trail of his various updates to the post and thus clarify what actually transpired, he hasn’t said a word since then about it. I've pointed out repeatedly that he could simply use The Atlantic’s logs to show how his post changed over time. Goldberg has never responded to that suggestion or brought forward any actual evidence beyond his own assertions. His integrity and that of The Atlantic have been called into question, and he has declined to rebut the allegation in detail. Indeed, Goldberg has said that it is his critics who need to prove his story is false.

Well, a serious hole in his story just showed up. It was raised by commenter ‘Robinisms’ at my original post on the Goldberg scandal, who noted another telling (but until then overlooked) change Goldberg made to his original post: Goldberg inserted a new clause into the middle of his first paragraph. This insertion clearly was designed to make his original post seem more circumspect; it adds an element of caution to a paragraph that originally lacked it entirely. It is a change that Goldberg’s explanation plainly does not justify.

I quote the entire post as originally published:

I'm following news of the Norway attacks like the rest of you, and am curious to see, among other things, Norway's response. I hope it is not to pull troops out of Afghanistan; this would only breed more attacks. So, why Norway? It doesn't seem likely, on the surface. There are many countries with more troops in Afghanistan than Norway; and there are several countries whose newspapers have printed cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. My first reaction is two-fold: 1) Jihadists did this in Norway because they could. Norway is pretty well-known among homeland-security types for being among the softer, less-defended countries of the West, and 2) Norway is making moves to expel a jihadist called Mullah Krekar, who is one of the founders of Ansar al-Islam, the al Qaeda-affiliated group that operated in Iraqi Kurdistan with some help from Saddam's intelligence services. This could be a message about his coming deportation.

Of course, asking the question, "Why did jihadists attack (x)?" could lead people to believe that these sorts of attacks are responses to particular events. They are not. At the deepest level, they are responses to Western existence.

When Goldberg appended the seven new sentences later that day, these original sentences remained the same with a single exception. He slipped a new clause into the fourth sentence of the first paragraph, which he did not mark in any way as a revision:

It doesn't seem likely, on the surface, if this is jihadist in origin.

The new clause turned the first two paragraphs of the post into a hypothetical exercise, which they had not been in the original. So even if Goldberg did add “UPDATE” before the long section he appended, as he claims, he had doctored the original post sufficiently with the surreptitious insertion of this clause that he might have hoped to deflect criticisms that he had rushed to judgment.

I see no way that Goldberg can explain away this clause under his current story, except by making it even more baroque than it already is.

The very surreptitiousness of this insertion tends to strengthen my original impression that Goldberg's unacknowledged revision was meant to mislead readers.

1 comment:

  1. See also this post, which has new evidence that proves Goldberg's story is not accurate. Turns out he amended his post without acknowledgment not once but at least twice.