War Backer's Gambling Debt
February 08, 2007
Jeff Cohen is the founder of Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting and author of Cable News Confidential: My Misadventures in Corporate Media. In 2000, he and Jonah Goldberg wrote opposing columns in Brill’s Content.
There are many shades of rightwing punditry in our country. Among the shadiest is Jonah Goldberg. With arrogance seemingly matched only by his ignorance, Goldberg was just being Goldberg when he offered this wager two years ago:
The two-year period comes due today. Even Goldberg now realizes his prediction was totally wrong—with poll after poll showing most Americans do not “agree that the war was worth it.” (Not to mention what Iraqis think of the war or Goldberg’s boast that “Iraq won’t have a civil war.”)
So shouldn’t Goldberg—or somebody—pay off the $1,000?
The bet was offered near the end of an overheated blogo-debate between Goldberg (at National Review Online) and Dr. Juan Cole, the Middle East scholar from University of Michigan. In proposing the wager to Cole, Goldberg goaded: “Money where your mouth is, doc. One caveat: Because I don’t think it’s right to bet on such serious matters for personal gain, if I win, I’ll donate the money to the USO.”
Cole reacted to the proposed bet with disgust—calling it symbolic of “the neo-imperial American Right. They are making their own fortunes with a wager on the fates of others, whom they are treating like ants.” Wrote Cole: “Here we have a prominent American media star ... betting on Iraqis as though they are greyhounds in a race.”
Just before Goldberg proposed his bet to Cole, the professor had fumed: “Goldberg is just a dime-a-dozen pundit. Cranky rich people hire sharp-tongued and relatively uninformed young people all the time and put them on the mass media to badmouth the poor, spread bigotry, exalt mindless militarism, promote anti-intellectualism and ensure that rightwing views come to predominate.”
“Relatively uninformed” seemed accurate to me, but I wondered about the “mindless militarism” charge—although I knew Goldberg was one of dozens of pundits who mindlessly cheered on the Iraq invasion (and suffered no consequences). Then I saw a 2003 column in which Goldberg wrote of “bombing Afghanistan forward into the stone age” and relished this anecdote:
Since Goldberg felt compelled to tell us—as he gallantly offered the $1,000 bet—that it was money he “can hardly spare right now,” you may wonder about his ability to pay. A look at his bio shows that Goldberg has had a high-flying career in mainstream media—from CNN contributor to PBS producer to USA Today Board of Contributors. One would think he could easily afford $1,000, especially for a charity like the USO. But who knows—maybe Goldberg has racked up huge gambling debts from ignorant wagers like the one tendered to Cole.
So I have a solution. Let the Tribune media conglomerate pay the $1,000. Not only does Tribune syndicate Goldberg’s column, it was Tribune’s Los Angeles Times that added the analytically impaired Goldberg to its columnist roster in November 2005, at the same time as it fired renowned columnist Robert Scheer, whose Iraq analysis had been breathtakingly accurate.
Despite financial upheavals, the highly-profitable Tribune Company has plenty of money, as it lays off journalists en masse and squeezes the life out of once proud newspapers like the L.A. Times .
Professor Cole may be right to dismiss Jonah Goldberg as a “dime-a-dozen pundit.” But it’s time to hold media corporations like Tribune responsible for elevating the Goldbergs and their reckless predictions—as they strangle newspapers and silence serious journalists like Bob Scheer.