Commentary: A Little Transparency Please

“COMMENTARY is America’s premier monthly magazine of opinion and a pivotal voice in American intellectual life.”

about Commentary

Though I don’t subscribe to Commentary, I read its “Contentions” blog daily. “Opinion”? Definitely. “American intellectual life”? Keep dreaming.

I certainly don’t respect any intellectuals who can’t realize that journalism requires some basic disclosures. This is not about a list of Commentary‘s top private donors (though I’d love to have a look). It’s a matter of simple journalistic ethics, which might be too much for the flagship neoconservative rag.

A publication cannot have a writer cover a letter from an advocacy organization to a U.S. government official by another contributor to the publication without somehow saying so. This is patently obvious. (I’ll floss here, and say that Ethics was the only class I got honors in at Columbia Journalism School.)

What’s more, not only did Alana Goodman cover the letter by Noah Pollak, on the letterhead of his Emergency Committee for Israel, she didn’t even name him. Pollak, who is the letter’s only signatory, wrote often for Commentary before last summer, when he launched ECI, a right-wing Israel lobby organization. Now he writes less frequently, but has contributed to “Contentions” as recently as Monday, 21 February.

The letter was to Dennis Ross, a senior White House adviser for the Middle East, expressing “surprise” that the official would be speaking at the upcoming conference of the liberal Israel lobby group J Street. Pollak asked Ross to use his speech to counter potential criticisms of Israel from other conference speakers.

As for attributing the letter in her post, Goodman wrote only:

The Emergency Committee for Israel has outlined some of the troublesome statements made by other conference speakers in a letter it sent to Ross today. …

The Emergency Committee for Israel has rightly asked Ross to “seize this moment to explain why the Jewish State is not just one of our closest allies, but a country that fully deserves the admiration and moral support of all Americans.”

Naturally, the post was picked up by the neoconservative Washington Post pundit Jennifer Rubin, who used to work with Pollak at Commentary. Rubin recently traveled on ECI’s dime to Israel and the Occupied Territories (where she made a swell case for the one-state solution). I wouldn’t put Rubin on the hook for having worked with Pollak, but this is where the one-time disclosure gets problematic. How much wining and dining was done on this trip anyway?

Rubin’s bit on the ECI letter, in her morning round-up, was simply this:

Awkward: Middle East adviser Dennis Ross is asked why he’s going to a J Street conference with so many anti-Israel characters.

Ross’s attendance is especially cringe-inducing in light of this: “Four Kadima MKs who accepted an invitation to speak at this weekend’s J Street conference in Washington faced criticism on Wednesday from colleagues in their faction who said they should not be supporting the left-wing American lobby.”

The “awkward” link goes to Alana Goodman’s Commentary post. Why? Surely Rubin has enough of a relationship with Pollak that he forwarded her the letter yesterday when it appeared online. He’s an advocate, and she has an opinion blog at a mainstream outlet, and they just took a long trip overseas together.

The “anti-Israel” comment is a label Rubin has a penchant for slapping on any even mild critic of the Jewish state, so I won’t bother with that. But why would the astute Jennifer Rubin think that it’s “cringe-inducing” that members of Kadima, a center-right Likud spin-off, would have a problem with a liberal lobby group? Isn’t that politics as usual?

Oh yeah, Rubin doesn’t think “liberal Zionism” exists, having declared the term an oxymoron. That’s the kind of rigid ideological neoconservatism I would expect from this triumvirate of Commentary zealots. I don’t know why I’m surprised that the journal has sunk to such low journalistic — let alone intellectual — standards.

Ali Gharib

Ali Gharib is a New York-based journalist on U.S. foreign policy with a focus on the Middle East and Central Asia. His work has appeared at Inter Press Service, where he was the Deputy Washington Bureau Chief; the Buffalo Beast; Huffington Post; Mondoweiss; Right Web; and Alternet. He holds a Master's degree in Philosophy and Public Policy from the London School of Economics and Political Science. A proud Iranian-American and fluent Farsi speaker, Ali was born in California and raised in D.C.



  1. You may have gotten your honors in ethics, but I got mine in Leninism, and this is a classic case of front group saturation.

  2. You may have gotten your honors in Ethics but I got mine in Leninism, and this is a classic case of front group saturation.

  3. Ethics, dumbass, that won’t make you any money. Lol. Probably why you are a fairly obscure journalist. Now Judith Miller, there’s a lady that didn’t get honors in Ethics. And, somehow, (perhaps with the help of barbiturates) I think she sleeps well in her well appointed home.

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