Jeffrey Goldberg has an arrangement with the White House, and understanding that arrangement is key to understanding the interview he just conducted with President Obama.
The arrangement works like this: Goldberg is provided exclusive access to the president at critical moments, in exchange for soft and flattering coverage of the president’s Middle East policies, especially his policies toward the state of Israel.
So, in the most recent interview, Obama says that without the creation of a Palestinian state, Israel is doomed, and that Israel is preventing the creation of said state. The Jewish State, Obama implies, is committing suicide. But none of these dramatic claims, or the alleged facts that undergird them, were met with the slightest resistance from Goldberg, who knows not to challenge the president too forcefully.
Thus, in 2012, days before AIPAC’s annual policy conference, and during an election year when Obama wished to be portrayed as tough on Iran, Goldberg was invited to the Oval Office to hear Obama boast—obviously with the intention of the following words becoming the headline of the piece, which they were—“As President of the United States, I don’t bluff.”
Thus, a week before the January 2013 election in Israel would extend Benjamin Netanyahu’s premiership, Goldberg produced a “scoop” from the White House that had Obama commenting repeatedly in private that “Israel doesn’t know what its own best interests are.” This was a clear attack on Netanyahu—and one that Obama should have known, if he were more perceptive or self-disciplined, would only result in giving Bibi a crucial boost.
Thus, in the past year, Goldberg has created something of a journalistic template in which he argues that no matter how inept and prevaricating Obama’s handling of a particular foreign policy crisis might be, we must take the president seriously when he insists he will stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons.
In the spring of 2013, Goldberg argued that if Bashar Assad used chemical weapons on civilians, “Obama must act.” Goldberg offered policy recommendations, such as establishing a no-fly zone and initiating special forces raids. When Assad did use chemical weapons and Obama did not act, Goldberg covered for both the administration and himself by arguing that Obama’s reluctance to use force was in fact evidence of his willingness to use force—in this case, husbanding American power for the eventual showdown with Iran.
Other examples typically begin with some handwringing to make the White House PR seem less obvious. Sure, the Obama administration might misunderstand certain aspects of this issue. Golly, these are tough choices to make. Of course, there's a lot to quibble with in the administration’s execution. But inevitably the reader encounters the all-important bottom line: Whatever Obama ended up doing is precisely what should have been done.
Now, with the publication last night of his most recent pre-AIPAC conference one-on-one with Obama, Goldberg has collected his latest reward.
Goldberg could have challenged President Obama’s mendacious presentation of the facts about Israel and the Palestinians. When the president claimed Netanyahu is the one impeding peace talks, Goldberg could have asked him whether the numerous reports detailing Palestinian rejections of John Kerry’s “framework” proposal in recent weeks are false.
When the president claimed that Israel faces a demographic crisis if a Palestinian state isn’t created, Goldberg could have asked him to back up the claim with real numbers. There is no demographic crisis, especially not post-Gaza withdrawal, but there is a demographic crisis invented by the left that is used to threaten Israel with the loss of its democratic legitimacy.
When the president claimed Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian people are almost Gandhi-like in their desire for peace, Goldberg could have asked him why Abbas demands that Palestinian mass-murderers be let of out Israeli jails merely as a precondition for talks—and why, when the mass-murderers are released, Abbas and his people celebrate them as national heroes.
When the president cited “more and more restrictive policies in terms of Palestinian movement,” Goldberg could have asked what the president was referring to, given that Netanyahu has reduced the number of checkpoints in the West Bank by three-quarters since he has been in office. There are only 13 today.
When the president claimed the Palestinians are desperate for peace with Israel, Goldberg could have cited extensive polling data showing the opposite. He could have asked the president whether the polls are wrong, or whether his perceptions are wrong.
But Goldberg never asked Obama any of this. It was perhaps the softest interview of the president since Obama donor Chris Hughes interviewed the beneficiary of his largesse for the debut of the new New Republic in 2013.
Why so soft? Because Jeffrey Goldberg was doing his real job.
Noah Pollak is executive director of the Emergency Committee for Israel.