Humor as Propaganda (con’t): Goldberg on Colbert

I recently wrote a piece on humor as war propaganda for AlterNet. With that story in mind, I’d like to point you to an interview with Jeffrey Goldberg on yesterday’s episode of the “Colbert Report” with satirist Stephen Colbert. The idea of laughing about Israel — or the United States — attacking Iran is only one more step in the process of what Stephen Walt, at his Foreign Policy blog, called “mainstreaming war with Iran.” Writing at the time about the initial release of Goldberg’s recent controversial Atlantic piece on the likelihood of Israel attacking Iran, Walt wrote:

[…S]avvy people-in-the-know should start getting accustomed to the idea. In other words, a preemptive strike on Iran should be seen not as a remote or far-fetched possibility, but rather as something that is just ‘business-as-usual’ in the Middle East strategic environment. If you talk about going to war often enough and for long enough, people get used to the idea and some will even begin to think if it is bound to happen sooner or later, than ”twere better to be done quickly.’

Watch the Colbert clip:

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Jeffrey Goldberg
Colbert Report Full Episodes 2010 Election Fox News

In between chortling about the “existential threat” to Israel posed by Iran, Goldberg fails to mention that the threat is not actually as simple as Goldberg or Colbert make it out to be. “One plus one equals two with the Israelis,” said Goldberg. “‘We can’t let this country develop a nuclear weapon if they seek our destruction.” Colbert chimes in, “For some reason they’re paranoid about people wanting them dead having a nuclear bomb.”

But in his Atlantic piece, even Goldberg acknowledged that the threat to Israel was not as simple as, like he put it on Tuesday, “one plus one equals two”:

Israeli policy makers do not necessarily believe that Iran, should it acquire a nuclear device, would immediately launch it by missile at Tel Aviv. […]

The challenges posed by a nuclear Iran are more subtle than a direct attack, Netanyahu told me. […]

Other Israeli leaders believe that the mere threat of a nuclear attack by Iran — combined with the chronic menacing of Israel’s cities by the rocket forces of Hamas and Hezbollah — will progressively undermine the country’s ability to retain its most creative and productive citizens.

The last point was made to Goldberg by Ehud Barak. It was a particularly convoluted threat, as pointed out by Salon‘s Justin Elliot, who noted that the idea behind Barak’s thesis undermines basic tenets of Zionism.

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. I’m glad you highlighted this. I thought Colbert was awful. He didn’t just give Goldberg a platform, he pretty much endorsed his propaganda. It just didn’t come across as satire. He was clearly using humor as propaganda. I wonder why though? Colbert had always struck me as the sharper one of the Comeday Central hosts.

  2. Walt overstates the case re accumstoming people to the idea of a strike on Iran. The psychological effect is not that great, or at least not decisive.

    Colbert is watched by twenty-somethings who are not policy-makers. What happens on his show means nothing in terms of what happens in the real world, which is not a construct of young couch-potatoes.

  3. Yeah I saw the Colbert interview with Goldberg. I hated it. I

  4. As I was about to say… I am not going to watch Colbert ever again. This pro-Israel propaganda that he and Jon Stewart espouse is too much. They distort Iran and Arabs in general and present Israel as the victim. Even during the horrific Operation Cast Lead, the most Stewart could say was that Bibi and Tzipi had cute nicknames. Colbert came across like a Neocon in that interview. They really believe this nonsense that Israel is being threatened by Iran which does not habve nor does it intend to develop a nuclear bomb program. They are pointing at shadows and claiming there’s a terrible monster in there.

  5. Colbert is watched religiously by our 60-something household for what is undoubtedly the most trenchant political analysis on cable. That said, his ‘chiming in’ comments with Goldberg were deeply disappointing – a far cry from his usual ability to deflate with the over-reaching overstatement that points out the absurdity of the position with which he is ostensibly agreeing.

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