Guilt by Publication

Over at the Atlantic Monthly website, Jeffrey Goldberg is ragging Glenn Greenwald for the sin of publishing in the American Conservative. Goldberg’s argument, not spelled out explicitly but vaguely smeared by implication, seems to go like this: the American Conservative was founded by Pat Buchanan, a well-known anti-Semite; by publishing in TAC Greenwald is making common cause with Jew haters.

Greenwald is a skilled polemicist, more than able to take care of himself. He quite rightly  describes Goldberg as using a “guilt by association” technique. I would call it a “guilt by publication” argument.

To see what’s wrong with Goldberg’s lines of reasoning, let’s apply it to another magazine. Goldberg has occasionally written for the New Republic. Marty Peretz, publisher of  TNR from 1974 to 2007 and still a presiding spirit at the magazine, is a notorious anti-Arab bigot. (See note below). For anyone who believes in human equality, Peretz’s anti-Arabism is fully as noxious as Buchanan’s anti-Semitism. If Greenwald is to be condemned for writing for the American Conservative, Goldberg is equally tainted by his links to the New Republic.

Of course, this sort of “guilt by publication” argument is silly. Both the American Conservative and the New Republic are mixed bags, featuring alike decent, intelligent writers as well as crazed ethnocentric ravings. So the fair thing to do is to judge writers for these magazines on a case by case basis, rather than lumping them all together into a common stew.

Note: For Peretz’s record of anti-Arab bigotry, see the lengthy dossier compiled by Matt Duss.

Here is a choice example from the New Republic’s website published November 19, 2006 (and later taken down):


I actually believe that Arabs are feigning outrage when they protest what they call American (or Israeli) “atrocities.” They are not shocked at all by what in truth must seem to them not atrocious at all. It is routine in their cultures. That comparison shouldn’t comfort us as Americans. We have higher standards of civilization than they do. But the mutilation of bodies and beheadings of people picked up at random in Iraq does not scandalize the people of Iraq unless victims are believers in their own sect or members of their own clan. And the truth is that we are less and less shocked by the mass death-happenings in the world of Islam. Yes, that’s the bitter truth. Frankly, even I–cynic that I am–was shocked in the beginning by the sectarian bloodshed in Iraq. But I am no longer surprised. And neither are you.

For Peretz, it seems unimaginable that people could be shocked by all types of violence, whether inflicted by Arabs or Americans or Israelis.

8 thoughts on “Guilt by Publication

  1. I know a lot of energy has been put into labeling Buchanan an anti-Semite (since he opposed Iraq I and criticized the Israel lobby and neocons before it became respectable to do so) but I’m unaware that he ever said or wrote anything genuinely anti-Semitic. Certainly nothing anti-Semitic has been published in The American Conservative. So this purported equivalency between Peretz’s bigotry and Buchanan’s is unfair to Buchanan.

  2. TACreader: I don’t use terms like anti-Semite or anti-Arab lightly. In Buchanan’s case, my calling him an anti-Semite is based on the real and persistence animus that can be found whenever he’s writing about Jewish issues, not just with respect to Israel or American policy in the Middle East but also his World War II revisionism. But I agree that as far as I’ve seen nothing that’s appeared in TAC can be remotely described as anti-Semitic.

  3. Jeet, I love your writing man, but I gotta wonder if this is the same blogger who is constantly using any connection to Commentary magazine to declare that someone’s weirdest thoughts represent the neo-con philosophy, and of course, anyone else who’s ever been connected with Commentary. They all represent each other with everything they do right? Or is that just Commentary?

  4. David: It’s fair enough to say that might be too quick to use Norman Podhoretz as an all purpose key to neo-con thinking. But there are reasons for that approach: Podhoretz has been hugely influential and he did run a tight ship at Commentary, so that under his many years of editorship (and now under the editorship of his son) everything the magazine follows a pretty narrow ideological line. I don’t think that’s true of New Republic or The American Conservative, both of which publish a wide range of writers with conflicting points of view.

  5. “Both the American Conservative and the New Republic are mixed bags, featuring alike decent, intelligent writers as well as crazed ethnocentric ravings. So the fair thing to do is to judge writers for these magazines on a case by case basis.”

    This description of the two magazines is itself unfair. In addition to Peretz’s terrible articles, TNR has also long published articles that criticize racists and racism. I happened to re-read one about Jorg Haider earlier today, and I recall many essay-reviews about the Holocaust, the Ron Paul exposé, a string of articles about Rwanda etc. As letters from readers often pointed out, a strange feature of TNR was how it could be so sensitive to race in some areas but totally close-minded and ethnocentric about Israel. In the case of the American Conservative, by contrast, I’m not aware of them devoting similar space to criticising and exposing racism. This suggests that while Peretz and Buchanan may be comparable, the two magazines they edited were not.

    I agree that Greenwald’s smear is indefensible, but I’m not sure the guilt by association argument is always silly. I would never write anything for a publication that promoted Holocaust denial, or some other cause I find deeply offensive, on the grounds that I would not want in any way want to be associated with what they represent. This suggests to me that it can sometimes be meaningful to judge someone by where they publish, and whether it is silly or not to do so will vary depending on the publication.

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