The Atlantic’s Editor-in-Chief Jeffrey Goldberg is the poster boy for the failure of meritocracy in America. The man is simply gravity-defying with his ability to fail upwards. For proof, I encourage you to look no further than this interview with Nieman Lab about gender inclusivity at the Altantic that Goldberg did today.
Goldberg, whose crowning achievement in journalism prior to leading the Atlantic was heading up the New Yorker’s Iraq War cheerleading efforts, took part in a conversation with Nieman alongside executive editor Adrienne LaFrance, who by all available evidence should definitely have Goldberg’s job.
From the interview:
JEFFREY GOLDBERG: [Women in editorial leadership] is a top-tier priority for me. It’s in the basket of the top 2 or 3 things I have to get done. We have some opportunities for expansion — like the [post-Emerson uptick in hiring] — that give me the room to maneuver.
Yes, I love to have a basket of things I need to do every day, which includes “Complain about how we’re not doing enough in Syria,” “Try to poach writers from the National Review,” and “More women maybe.”
This, to be clear, is the highlight of the interview for Goldberg. From there, it gets so much worse, with Goldberg tripping all over his own dick, repeatedly pointing out that the Atlantic definitely does not have hiring quotas or anything nefarious like that, and throwing out some very casual sexism and racism to boot (emphasis mine):
GOLDBERG: I am lucky in that I have my own personal gender advisor. My wife [Pamela Reeves] advises Melinda Gates on gender issues. She introduced me to the concept — which you don’t have to be married to a gender specialist to understand — that women are judged on experience and men are judged on potential.
When I really thought about that early on as editor, it helped me to look at the world in a different way. I began to look, inside and outside the organization, at who did not fit traditional models of what editorial leadership might look like. I studied their potential, their innate leadership abilities, their competence and ambition — and I thought, I’m surrounded by amazing talent, and it’s under-utilized talent. Adrienne is a perfect case in point, but we’ve done this now probably a dozen times or more.
Of course Jeffrey Goldberg is both a “my wife” guy and also a “I began to look into this sexism thing and was rather shocked at what I found” guy. Of course. Nothing else would make sense. Although maybe he should listen to his wife advisor more, because the rest of this interview sucks even more ass. Like this:
GOLDBERG: My number-one goal is to find the best leadership talent to run The Atlantic. It’s in The Atlantic’s best interest, it’s in my best interest. By opening up the possibilities of younger people, women, and people of color, by imagining their rise in a deliberate way, I’ve just widened the pool of potential leadership. So it serves The Atlantic.
Please, hold the applause. Later, Goldberg refers to his legacy of shit in order to cast a blanket claim over predominantly Muslim countries in the Middle East:
And I think everything gets better [with more women], by the way. I used to cover the Middle East...
You sure did.
...and I think the thing that hamstrings Middle Eastern countries more than almost anything else is that they tend not to tap into half their population’s potential and intelligence. When half the people are women and they’re just not being used for the betterment of society, you’re not going to be a dynamic country. It’s the same principle applied to any field, any place.
As someone who helped sell a war that fucked up this entire region for over a decade, the lasting effects of which will be felt for generation, listen to my thoughts on what “hamstrings Middle Eastern countries.”
As bad as this is, the big kicker comes later, when Goldberg talks about “acknowledging” where he and the Atlantic have “fallen behind”:
GOLDBERG: We continue to have a problem with the print magazine cover stories — with the gender and race issues when it comes to cover story writing. [Of the 15 print issues The Atlantic has published since January 2018, 11 had cover stories written by men. —Ed.]
It’s really, really hard to write a 10,000-word cover story. There are not a lot of journalists in America who can do it. The journalists in America who do it are almost exclusively white males. What I have to do — and I haven’t done this enough yet — is again about experience versus potential. You can look at people and be like, well, your experience is writing 1,200-word pieces for the web and you’re great at it, so good going!
That’s one way to approach it, but the other way to approach it is, huh, you’re really good at this and you have a lot of potential and you’re 33 and you’re burning with ambition, and that’s great, so let us put you on a deliberate pathway toward writing 10,000-word cover stories. It might not work. It often doesn’t. But we have to be very deliberate and efficient about creating the space for more women to develop that particular journalistic muscle.
Those 11 times since January 2018 that men have written Atlantic cover stories includes a horrible piece on trans people by Jesse Singal of all people, a neofascist David Frum screed on why the left needs to get tougher on immigrants, and a wildly boring George Packer story about Richard Holbrooke. If these guys could write an Atlantic cover story, there is nothing inherent or requiring extensive training that prevents a woman (or anyone who isn’t a man) from writing an Atlantic cover story. It’s completely due to choice—the choice to hire a cisgender person to write about trans people, the choice to have a white, Canadian-born former Bush administration official write about immigration from Central America, and the choice to allow George Packer to publish a 15,000-word book excerpt about what the career of a relatively obscure diplomat he was personally friends with Means For Our Nation. That choice was Jeffrey Goldberg’s.
Goldberg was immediately and predictably pilloried for this excerpt on social media. At first, he claimed he was misquoted:
Then, he backtracked:
Then, the author of the piece, Laura Hazard Owen, jumped in to say no, he wasn’t misquoted, but he was being “somewhat misconstrued.”
If you take Goldberg’s assertion as a standalone claim, you could make the case that he meant that women (and other people who aren’t white men) aren’t given the chance to do these cover stories. What makes this ridiculous however, is that he prefaced that comment with handwringing about how difficult it is to write a cover story, and more importantly, how “not a lot of journalists in America can do it.” A lot of journalists in America are not white men! I promise you they can do it.
There is one job, however, that I’m now absolutely convinced that almost any land mammal could do: Atlantic editor-in-chief. I’ve reached out to Goldberg for comment, and will update with any response I receive.
Update, 3:30 p.m. ET: A response from the big man himself: