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George W. Bush's presidency since 2005
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Smirkingly Shirking on an Iraq War Bet
Editor's Note: Right-wing pundit Jonah Goldberg made a swaggering bet two years ago -- that by this time Iraqis and Americans would agree the war was worth it. Is it time for Goldberg to pay up?
In this guest essay, which first appeared at AlterNet, media critic Jeff Cohen recalls the pro-Iraq War hubris that dominated the right-wing opinion classes after George W. Bush secured a second term in 2004 and the Republican Party mused about a one-party state:
There are many shades of right-wing 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:
"Let's make a bet. I predict that Iraq won't have a civil war, that it will have a viable constitution, and that a majority of Iraqis and Americans will, in two years time, agree that the war was worth it. I'll bet $1,000 (which I can hardly spare right now)."
The two-year period came due this Thursday. 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 right-wing 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:
"In the weeks prior to the war to liberate Afghanistan, a good friend of mine would ask me almost every day, 'Why aren't we killing people yet?' And I never had a good answer for him. Because one of the most important and vital things the United States could do after 9/11 was to kill people."
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. (Full disclosure: In 2000, he and I wrote relatively friendly point/counterpoint columns for Brill's Content.) 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 it fired renowned columnist Robert Scheer, whose Iraq analysis had been breathtakingly accurate.
Despite financial upheavals, the highly profitable Tribune Co. has plenty of money, as it lays off journalists en masse and squeezes the life out 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.
Jeff Cohen is the founder of FAIR, and author of Cable News Confidential: My Misadventures in Corporate Media.
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