The ongoing fracas over David Samuels’ lengthy New York Times Magazine profile of Obama-whisperer Ben Rhodes has churned up a bit of media gossip about a half-forgotten Jewish journalism mystery from five years ago.
Riveted? Read on, Tablet/JTA/Forward staffer/ex-staffer.
In summer of 2011, Tablet made a big announcement: Jeffrey Goldberg was moving “Goldblog,” his argumentative, well-read blog, from The Atlantic’s website to Tablet’s.
In his post announcing the move, Goldberg wrote that his new Tablet blog would allow him to go on at length on topics of narrow Jewish interests without fear of boring his Atlantic readers.
As an example for a topic he might explore, Goldberg cited “doctrinal differences between the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee.”
It was an unusual suggestion, and one that, in retrospect, could have contained some hint of the trouble to come. Do the ADL and the AJC have “doctrinal differences”? Perhaps. Does anyone, including Jeffrey Goldberg, actually care what those doctrinal differences are? Doubtful.
Still, Tablet had just won a National Magazine Award for Marc Tracy’s excellent work at The Scroll, and scooping up a marquee name like Goldberg seemed less like a shocking coup than a natural step for a flourishing brand.
Goldberg wrote in his June post that he would start writing for Tablet the following month. Then he didn’t. In the fall, Tablet announced some new regular contributors (including Judith Miller). No mention was made of Goldberg. Those waiting for Goldberg to explicate his understanding of the ADL and AJC’s doctrinal differences were left hanging, forever.
Now, in a response to Samuels’ New York Times Magazine piece, Goldberg has offered a bit of red meat on how the deal fell apart.
In his May 5 article, Samuels described Goldberg as one of the “handpicked Beltway insiders” who “helped retail” the Obama administration’s arguments in favor of the Iran deal. The assertion is not sourced, and it’s a bit jarring in context: Goldberg is one of only two journalists mentioned by name in the entire article.
Goldberg, understandably, was upset, especially because he was not given a chance to react to the characterization before the story went to press.
In a post on The Atlantic’s website on Monday afternoon, Goldberg attacked Samuels. He said that Samuels had a “longtime personal grudge” against him that should have been disclosed. The nature of that grudge? According to Goldberg, it’s a result of his unconsummated move to Tablet.
Some background: In addition to being a magazine writer with bylines in places like the New York Times Magazine and The New Yorker, Samuels is also the literary editor of Tablet. His wife, Alana Newhouse, is Tablet’s founder and its editor-in-chief.
Goldberg doesn’t give too much detail about why the Goldblog deal fell apart, but he outlines the nature of the “grudge.” “I accepted the [Tablet] job, but then I quickly came to feel that [Newhouse] and David…weren’t dealing with me in a straightforward way on a number of fronts,” he writes. “Ultimately, I chose to stay at The Atlantic.”
And that’s not all. According to Goldberg, there’s been a low-level guerilla war between him and Tablet ever since. He continues: “Since that time, I have been the intermittent target of criticism in Tablet.” He also claims that Samuels has been badmouthing him to mutual friends.
I did a quick search of Tablet’s site, and didn’t see much in the way of attacks on Goldberg. In fact, a year after the contretemps, Samuels called Goldberg a “very good writer” in a Q&A with Norman Finkelstein (who is not a Jeffrey Goldberg fan, to say the least.)
Goldberg, on the other hand, did take at least one big swipe at Tablet. In 2012, he slammed a very bad piece that called Holocaust survivors “villains.”
I’ve reached out to Newhouse to ask whether Goldberg’s version of the Tablet-blog-that-wasn’t comports with her own. I’ll update this post if I hear back.