by Matt Raab
Georgetown University’s Institute for the Study of Diplomacy (ISD) presented Jeffrey Goldberg, Editor-in-Chief of The Atlantic, with the 2016 Edward Weintal Prize for Diplomatic Reporting at a dinner event in Copley Formal Lounge October 20. The event, highlighted by Goldberg’s remarks on the United States and the world the next president will inherit, also included an introduction by Atlantic President Bob Cohn and a conversation between Goldberg and Jim Hoagland, the two-time Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and foreign correspondent for The Washington Post.
“The depth of Jeffrey Goldberg’s reporting represents the very core of what we celebrate as the continuing legacy of Teddy Weintal and the Weintal Prize for Diplomatic Reporting,” said Ambassador Barabara Bodine, ISD Director.
The Weintal Prize is open to journalists in both print and broadcast media. The list of eminent recipients since the first Weintal Prize was awarded in 1975 includes Tom Brokaw, Christiane Amanpour, Stobe Talbott, Don Oberdorfer, Marvin and Bernard Kalb, David Ignatius, Cokie Roberts, Sylvia Poggioli, and Daniel Pearl (posthumous).
Goldberg, promoted to editor-in-chief of The Atlantic earlier this month, began his career with The Washington Post, and has served as a foreign correspondent around the world, including particularly in-depth experience in the Middle East. He has authored a number of significant articles–Cohn noted a dozen Atlantic cover stories written by Goldberg, and is the author of Prisoners: A Muslim and a Jew Across the Middle East Divide, a book based around Goldberg’s relationship with an Palestinian prisoner in an Israeli prison.
Ambassador Bodine introduced the speakers and ended the night by presenting, in lieu of an academic chair, the actual chair Goldberg was sitting in, inscribed with his name. In between, topics ranged from the journalistic process to the foreign policy of President Barack Obama, viewed through the prism of Goldberg’s celebrated 19,000 word article “The Obama Doctrine,” based on several multiple-hour interviews with the president.
Goldberg commented on the content and creation of the article, detailing the difficulty of covering the depth of the process of policymaking and of the people who do it.
“Complicated people are contradictions. This is something that I learned very early on in covering [Obama] over the last 10 years. We in journalism have, we do have a bias, we have a really deep-seated bias, but the bias that we have is a bias towards coherence,” Goldberg said. “Stories have to make sense. You have to tell a story in the way that has a beginning, middle, and an end, that has all the answers in it. And in approaching the President I realized that this is not going to completely square up, and so you have to deal with it in all its complexities.”
He also spoke on the comparative foreign policy perspectives of Hillary Clinton and Obama.
“Hillary is very different in that, a) she has a bias towards action b) her biography is so utterly different from Barack Obama. Hillary has a much more developed sense that the things that we did in the Cold War were worth doing, even when they were ugly, because they achieved a larger goal,” Goldberg said, citing an interview he had with Clinton where she demonstrated how she “embraces the role of world leader [for the United States] and wants to engage that role in a traditional American manner.”
Goldberg also spoke about the current election cycle. He highlighted the danger a Trump presidency would pose to U.S. international standing, and spoke on the journalistic difficulties of covering an election like this one, which has so often become mired in debates on fact and lies that have fragmented the media.
“It’s not the fault of the journalists who don’t know how to [cover this election] when somebody is untethered from observable fact. When he is ‘I didn’t say that’ … it’s a real challenge, how do you write that, how do you say that this guy is lying, and eventually people have come to the conclusion that you say ‘this guy is lying.’ But we’re very early in terms of understanding what this means.”
Drawing on personal experience and interviews he conducted, Goldberg showcased his unique grasp on the foreign policy issues that define the United States today, the grasp that has had allowed him to become one of the preeminent foreign policy journalists of his time.
“This [discussion] has been absolutely fantastic. It has been exactly what the Weintal prize is supposed to be celebrating, and the kind of discussion that this school likes to have, wants to have, should have,” Ambassador Bodine said to Goldberg in her closing remarks. “You are a superb continuation of the legacy of Teddy Weintal, so thank you for being with us.”