January 31, 2008
Keeping it fair and balanced at the Los Angeles Times
Q&A with Op-Ed Editor Nicholas Goldberg
(Page 2 - Previous Page)NG: My personal feelings about this situation are immaterial. Regardless of what I think, I certainly believe that that the opinion pages of the L.A. Times are a place where people can argue all sorts of things that can totally disagree with my feelings. And we publish writers from Alan Dershowitz and Natan Sharansky on one side, and Edward Said and Khaled Mashal from Hamas on the other. These are important issues, complicated issues, life-and-death issues.
JJ: Are there any positions or people that you would not publish on the opinion page?
NG: A lot of people ask me (particularly Jews who get angry about some of the things we've published on the page), "How can you run this stuff? Aren't there some things that don't deserve to be published? If Adolf Hitler came to you and wanted to publish something on your opinion pages, would you publish him?"
That's a hard question. Some things are so offensive, so wrongheaded, so racist, that we wouldn't publish them. We do have certain standards. But at the same time, we try to err on the side of publishing rather than not publishing. If I got a piece in tomorrow from Osama bin Laden, chances are I'd publish it. If I had received a piece from Saddam Hussein in the run-up to the Iraq War, I'd have published that. I think it's important for readers to hear all different sides.
JJ: Some pro-Israel media watchdog groups say that by publishing articles by members of Hamas you are fomenting propaganda against Israel or disseminating disinformation.
NG: If a guy from Hamas writes a piece, he's probably trying to propagandize. Much of what is submitted to the Op-Ed page is propaganda. Still, I think that publishing these points of view can sometimes be extremely important.
It's important for people in the United States to know what Hamas thinks, or to know what Hamas says; when Hamas won an election in Gaza we took that seriously, and we wanted to know what the new prime minister had to say about it. And we published a piece he wrote about what could be expected in the months and years ahead. Will it all come to pass? Was he trying to put one over on us? Can he be trusted? Well that's for you, the reader, to determine.
JJ: CAMERA, the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America, published advertisements alleging that you put out 50 percent more pro-Arab Op-Eds than pro-Israel Op-Eds in a 19-month period and that your pages are biased.
NG: I think their numbers are misleading. They took a bizarre time period of 19 months for some reason ending last July, and they left off a number of pieces that we've run on the Op-Ed page that didn't seem to help their cause.
I went back and I looked at the pieces that we've run in the last year and a half, and what I found was that about 30 pieces we ran were highly supportive of Israel, from people on the right or people who were defenders of the Israeli government like Alan Dershowitz, Michael Oren, Max Boot, Natan Sharanksy, Moshe Ya'alon, Yossi Klein Halevi and Zev Chefets. I also found a handful of pieces that were pretty centrist, for example, by American diplomats writing about the future of the peace process.
Then I found about 30 pieces that were critical of Israel. But these 30 pieces weren't "pro-Arab," as CAMERA would want you to think: 17 of those came from Jews or Israelis who are Zionists, who are pro-Israel, but who are in some way critical of Israel. Of the remaining writers, there's a small number that a group like CAMERA would say are terribly offensive. For instance, we've published Jimmy Carter; John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, who wrote "The Israel Lobby"; UCLA professor Saree Makdisi; and on two occasions we published representatives of Hamas.
That's my count, and it's quite different from theirs. My count shows a balance.
JJ: Is balance something that you're interested in?
NG: Balance is important to us. Not just on this issue, but on all issues. We do not do a scientific count saying, "If we ran a piece on this side, then we must run a piece on that side tomorrow." We want to get the best possible pieces, so we don't keep a day-to-day count of what we have to run next. But yes, over time, we certainly are extremely interested in not tilting too far to one side or the other; we definitely keep an eye on it.
JJ: CAMERA also alleged that the illustration accompanying the Walt-Mearsheimer piece on Jan. 8, which showed a Jewish Star shackling Uncle Sam, was anti-Semitic and echoed a Der Stermer Nazi cartoon from 1938.
NG: They said it echoes Nazi imagery. I would say that's an unfortunate coincidence -- but that's all it is. We're not Nazis here at the Los Angeles Times; we're not anti-Semites. The fact is that before the State of Israel was created, the use of the Star of David in an illustration like that was meant to represent "the Jews." Today the Jewish star, which sits on the Israeli flag, is used by illustrators not just as a religious symbol, but as a national symbol. That's what it was meant to represent in this case. The illustration was about American politicians feeling pressure to support Israeli policies, which was what the piece was about.
I don't think the illustration was anti-Semitic or Nazi-like.
JJ: Are there criteria for illustrations and cartoons, in terms of whether this will offend people?