Jeffrey Goldberg and Jack Shafer

Who Would You Vote For?
An email conversation about the news of the day.
Feb. 5 2001 1:30 PM

Jeffrey Goldberg and Jack Shafer

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Shafer,

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I can't believe it. You're setting a new land-speed record for pissing me off. 

For the record, I am not a "pro-war Israeli rightist." I am a bleeding heart, give-peace-eight-or-10 chances, liberal, guilt-ridden American-Israeli Jew who, by the way, believes that war is coming (Wednesday at 8 a.m., if my latest calculations are correct).

And no, you're not going to get me to play the Jack Shafer game, that "Shame the reporter into revealing publicly who he would vote for" shtick of yours. I will not answer that question on principle and also because I genuinely don't know the answer.

I am not alone in this. There is an ocean of difference between an Israeli election and an American one. By October of last year, I believed that those American voters who were still declaring themselves to be undecided were morons. That or they loved seeing their names in David Broder stories. In Israel, it's different. The stakes are terribly high, and people are genuinely tortured by the choice they face tomorrow, in part because they know that neither candidate can deliver peace.

Since you're an honorary Semite, I was wondering who would you vote for. No squirming please, just answer the question.

In re your slice-and-dice job (deserved) on that L.A. Times story, I will tell you an amusing (at least to me) little story: About three months ago, I attended a press briefing in Jerusalem given by Maj. Gen. Giora Eiland, who was then the Israeli army's operations chief.  Of course, the reporters, especially the Europeans, were wildly hostile; they were especially critical of Israel's shoot-to-wound policies. (They had apparently not thought through one of the obvious alternatives.) At one point, an L.A. Times reporter (not the author of today's story) raised her hand and said, "I've only been in the country four days, but it seems to me ..."

The rest of her statement was irrelevant; everything you need to know was contained in those 13 words. At another point in the same press briefing, as Eiland was concluding a discussion on Israeli tactics, a Newsweek reporter--not the regular correspondent, but a big-foot parachutist from New York--leaned over to me and, with a smirk on his face, whispered, "Ve haff our vays." In other words, in this shmuck's mind, the Israeli army and the Nazis are interchangeable.

Do you get the sense that I have stored up some bile on this subject?

I completely agree with you on something else (How's that for comity?): Those mawkish, Oprah-style ledes are just everywhere, and they are terrible. But they don't annoy me as much as another cheap device used daily in even the biggest and best papers: the big-surprise third graph. I haven't found any today (I will confess I have not had much time to read this morning; I was having maxillofacial surgery--oh, sorry, that was you), but they are also everywhere. These are stories that begin like this:

For Harriet and Murray, domestic life is sheer bliss. They never fight, and they're deeply in love. Murray helps prepare the evening meals, and Harriet is a compulsive cleaner. They spend their idle moments in each other's arms, and they may soon decide to have children. They are an average American couple, except for one thing: They're both monkeys! Harriet and Murray are the newest residents of the National Zoo's Primate House. ...

The problem with these stories--beyond the soul-killing lack of creativity--is that they never surprise. Why? Because the headline invariably reads, "Monkeys Settle Happily Into New Home," and there's a big picture next to the story of two goddamn monkeys.

That's my gripe for the moment. Over to you. And please, no goading. You know I'm easily goaded.

Jeff

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