January 31, 2008
Keeping it fair and balanced at the Los Angeles Times
Q&A with Op-Ed Editor Nicholas Goldberg
(Page 3 - Previous Page)NG: Sure. We get cartoons on a not-infrequent basis that we look at and say there's something that's offensive about this, that we think people are going to react badly. Sometimes we're willing to run them anyway because we want to be provocative. We don't want to offend people needlessly or gratuitously.
JJ: What do you think about these media watchdog groups who count editorials and send in corrections all the time?
NG: I've heard from CAMERA often since I've been here. In many ways, they're performing a useful and valuable service: They're holding our feet to the fire, to make sure that we get our facts right and that we correct our mistakes. They force us before we publish to think hard about the fact that there are a lot of people watching and that we'd better get it right. That part of their mission is valuable.
But sometimes they assault us with so many complaints -- some of them small and some of them large, some of them meaningful, some of them silly, some of them simply meant to irritate. I sometimes think that they're trying to cause us so much work and hassle in an effort to dissuade us from publishing the kinds of pieces they disagree with. I certainly don't intend to be scared out of running a piece by a Palestinian author that's critical of Israel just because I'm worried that CAMERA may not like it.
JJ: Is this the hottest issue of all your many different issues?
NG: I think at most big papers in the country, the issue of Israel is the most controversial subject there is. In Los Angeles, the issue of the Armenian Genocide is very controversial. The war in Iraq is controversial. But there's no question -- when we run pieces on Israel and Palestine we'll get a huge reaction. Every article that makes someone happy will make someone unhappy.
JJ: Does that make you feel like you are doing your job, because there are people who are happy and unhappy?
NG: If we publish a strong opinion on one side of any issue we'll always make other people unhappy. That's part of the job. I'd never expected that everyone would be happy with what we ran. But I guess it's disappointing to me the degree to which people don't want to read opinions that are at odds with what they believe.
I have always been interested in hearing what people I disagree with have to say; I want to hear their arguments. I want to be able to unravel their arguments, I want to be able to contradict their arguments or maybe be persuaded by their arguments. It's not interesting to me to pick up the Wall Street Journal Op-Ed page and read only opinions on one side of the ideological spectrum.
But many readers apparently only want to see things on the Op-Ed page that validate what they already believe. I'm not just talking about the Middle East, but other subjects as well. That's apparently the way some people are. But it's too bad. People gain a lot by reading arguments that they don't think they agree with.
JJ: Are there other Arab or media groups doing the same thing?
NG:For years and years there were not. There are several groups of people who now solicit op-ed pieces from important or thoughtful or smart Palestinians to make sure their works are translated well into English and to make sure they get to the right people at newspapers. I get a lot of those. That was an attempt on the Palestinian side to match what's going on on the Israeli side. But there's no Arab or Palestinian media advocacy group that comes and reads pieces very closely and tells us, "You made a mistake here, you made a mistake there."
JJ: You're not responsible for the letters page, but would you say the response in letters is equal on both sides of the issue?
NG:We get far more letters from people supportive of Israel writing in, either to agree with something we wrote or to attack something we wrote. There are no question that letters come much more heavily from Jews that from Arabs, from pro-Israel people than anti-Israel people.
JJ: Do you think there is an objective truth when it comes to the Middle East or it's just a difference of opinion?
NG: There is certainly truth when it comes to the facts, and there is truth when it comes to the history, and it's very, very difficult sometimes to find out what that truth is. It's the job of reporters and historians to try to dig as deeply as they can to try to get to that truth. But the Middle East is so emotional that the subject is so emotional and there's so much bitterness and so much history and so much anger that it's hard to cut through to the facts and you have to look at it through this prism of opinion.
In this issue more than others there's a really valuable role for opinion pieces to play. And you can really learn a lot from opinions. It's very unusual for Jews and Israelis to think about what's gone on that part of the world from a Palestinian point of view. I think it's hard for the Palestinians to understand what they look at as "The Nakba," and to see the Jewish experience. To that end, essays and commentary and the kinds of pieces we run in the Sunday op-ed section can really be important if people will read them.
What I found is that many people are much too closed-minded to read pieces by others who they don't agree with. But we keep publishing them.